03-03-15

Top vBlog 2015 Voting Is Open!

Anyone who know me knows that I am as shamelessly competitive as the next man, but if you hadn’t heard, voting is now open in the annual 2015 Top vBlog competition, over at vSphere-Land.com. There are dozens and dozens of fine blogs from which to choose, from the industry heavyweights such as Duncan Epping and Frank Denneman, to jobbing journeymen like me.

I’ve already voted in the poll and in keeping with the spirit of the competition, I’ve not voted for myself and neither have I voted for anyone who is a friend but whose blog I don’t commonly visit.

Why vote?

Blogs take time, money and energy to keep going. More often than not, they are written in the author’s own time and on web sites paid for out of their own pocket. Certainly in my case, I’ve learned a lot over the years from blogs, and if you’ve been in this game long enough, a blog posting somewhere (usually from years back) will have got you out of a pickle at some point.

By voting for your favourite blogs, it’s your way of giving these folks a pat on the back for the fine work they continue to do, not just about VMware products but also related ecosystem products such as networking, storage and utilities. It costs you nothing except about 10 minutes of your valuable time and you should pick the blogs you read and enjoy the most. I read Duncan and Cormac Hogan’s blogs a lot, so I made sure I voted for them. There are no massive cash rewards for this, just the knowledge that people enjoy and respect the effort that goes in, and more than anything else, the willingness to share it.

So vote now!

The poll is open until 19th March, but don’t leave it until the last minute or you’ll just forget. As I said earlier, the whole thing is simple and takes 10 minutes, tops.

I will! What’s involved?

Basically pick your 10 favourite blogs and then rank them into order of preference. I won’t say who I voted as number 1, but I suspect it will be the same as many others!

Then choose your favourite storage blog, your favourite scripting blog, favourite VDI blog (cough Virtual Fabric, cough, splutter!), favourite new blogger and favourite independent blogger. There are also categories for favourite news site and favourite podcast.

Enter your e-mail address (not shared with anyone) , complete the captcha and you’re done! Do it now and pat your favourite blogger virtually on the back!

Click here to vote.

16-02-15

Elite Implementer Status : A Few Thoughts

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(Image taken from vmware.com)

There is a lively thread going on over at LinkedIn regarding the new VCx 6.x tracks that I felt compelled to jot down a few thoughts on. Firstly, once the new track becomes live, the VCAP level certs will be renamed to VCIX (VMware Certified Implementation Expert) and will require two exams as before. One for administration and one for design. So far, so good. Two exams as before, presumably of similar lengths as the VCAPs now with the same core set of skills being measured. However, instead of having two certifications to your name (VCAP-DCx and VCAP-DTx), you’ll have one. Fine, I suppose it makes sense and I don’t have a problem with that.

Now comes the interesting bit – “Elite Implementer status will be granted for candidates who complete multiple VCIX certifications”. I’m glad VMware have recognised the amount of effort and skill required to complete multiple Advanced tracks, however these exams aren’t yet live (I’m guessing it will be  around VMworld time before we see them in the wild) and there are a lot of people out there whose VCAP certifications are current and have completed multiple tracks.

In my opinion, there is no reason why VMware cannot enact this change right now. It costs them nothing and provides recognition to those who have spent a minimum of around 12/14 hours sitting these tough VCAP exams and getting through them. Think about it. Yes, we’d all like to be VCDXs, but the crushing reality is often that this certification requires a level of commitment way over and above anything I’ve seen from any other certification. I simply don’t have the time and energy to commit to around 100-150 hours on putting together a design and submitting it to VMware and then defending it in front of a panel, much as I’d love to.

The VCAP exams are tough, make no mistake. Not only do you need to have “operational” experience with all the respective products, but you also need to have a good understanding of the overlapping ecosystem – such things as third party solutions, Active Directory, Group Policy, storage, networking and more. Anyone with a VCAP cert has been through the mill to get it and deserves a pat on the back. To have both design and administration certs for multiple different VMware technologies elevates you to another level still.

So in short, come on VMware, recognise your multi-track vRockstars now and give them Elite Implementer status. It’s a small gesture that will go a long way and keep existing holders motivated for when the 6.x track comes on line. For more information on the 2105 track announcements, please visit MyLearn.

Comments and opinions are welcome, maybe with enough weight we can make it happen!

 

29-01-15

VCP-DT6 – What’s New?

I noticed the other day when looking for something entirely unconnected that the latest iteration of the VCP-DT has sneaked out, somewhat under the radar. The exam is intended to test your skills around the full Horizon View stack, including Workspace, vCenter Ops for View and Mirage. AppStacks doesn’t make it in there, but that’s not a great surprise. The ink is barely wet on the acquisition paperwork, so I suppose that will form part of the VCP7 track, or whatever it gets called.

So then, what’s new? The most obvious items that leap out from the exam blueprint are Mirage and Horizon Workspace. If you’ve been hiding under a rock or EUC stuff just isn’t your thing, Mirage is a product acquired from Wanova a couple of years back which performs layered image management of physical and virtual desktops. Horizon Workspace is a web based portal that runs from a Linux appliance which can present virtual desktops, applications and such via a unified web portal.

The exam itself is 120 questions, which does sound like rather a lot but you have 120 minutes in which to answer them all, so 1 question per minute. Even I can work that one out! If English isn’t your mother tongue, then you get an extra 30 minutes.

So other than Mirage and Workspace, what else does the exam cover? As you’d expect, as View requires a vSphere stack, there are some questions relating to the install and configuration of vCenter and ESXi hosts. That’s been in there since the start, so no real surprises there. You’ll also need to know the basic building blocks of a View infrastructure, so Connection Servers and the like. I notice the blueprint makes mention of RDSH (Terminal Services in old money), which of course is new in View 6.x., so as well as firewall rules you’ll need to know how to manage RDSH. There are also objectives around creating RDSH farms and desktop and application pools for RDSH apps.

View Cloud Pod architecture is featured as objective 2.6 – this again is a new feature of View 6.x and is lovingly referred to by me alone it seems as Linked Mode for View. This is where you can have two separate View instances and tie them logically together as one for fault tolerance and high availability.

Section 5 is pretty heavy on VMware Mirage, so my inference here is that you’re going to have to know this product reasonably well if you want to pass the exam. Installation and configuration seems to be the order of the day, so know how to install and configure the major components such as Management Server and Console, Web Manager, Mirage Server and Mirage Gateway Server. If you’ve not come across Mirage before and you want a primer to get you going for the exam, I recommend giving the free VMware Hands On LabHOL-MBL-1455 – Managing Desktops with VMware Mirage“a go.

Section 6 hammers Workspace Portal. As users become more and more mobile and have expectations of a consumer type “App Store” environment, I forsee Workspace Portal becoming ever more popular. It can also serve as a single point of entry for virtual desktops, RDSH applications and ThinApps. Again, if you don’t have time to spin up a test environment and you want to get to grips with the product a bit better, try the hands on lab “HOL-MBL-1453 – VMware Workspace Portal – Explore and Deploy“.

Virtual SAN gets a mention in objective 9.2. I suppose this is more of a product awareness thing, as in it’s first iteration it has a reasonably narrow use case in my opinion, certainly in the EUC space. Again the Hands On Labs come to the rescue to give you the insight on the product basics, try “HOL-SDC-1408 – VMware Virtual SAN 101“, which I would expect to give you enough knowledge to get past any questions you might have about Virtual SAN.

Finally, objective 12.3 covers off vCenter Operations Manager for View. Yes, I know it isn’t called vCOps anymore, but there was obviously a timing issue with the exam and the rebranding of the product! V4V is basically a View specific driver that snaps into the regular vCOps product, so you’ll need to know how to do that too. Guess what? There’s a lab for that! Have a look at “HOL-MBL-1452 – Horizon View – Use Cases” to get a first hand view of what V4V is all about.

As for me, I doubt I’ll sit this exam unless I have to (maintain Partner status etc.) as I’ll wait for the VCAP updated exams. I actually prefer the VCAP exams as they focus a lot more on “doing” rather than memorising numbers of scale and things like “What version of SQL do I use for vCenter?”. I’m also busy at the moment with other vendors’ certs, so hopefully the VCAP updates are a few months off yet!

If I get some time, I’ll try and put together a short study guide for the VCP6-DT exam, so I’ll tweet about that if and when it happens.

23-12-14

AirWatch Local Event Review

IMG_20141210_094337648_HDR

A bit dated I know, but on 10th December my wanderlust took me to Milton Keynes, the home of concrete cows and the National Bowl. As an aside, I have mixed feelings about the place – saw the Foo Fighters there in 2011 and had one of the best days of my life but then I paid £7 for fish and chips at the same event, which frankly brought me out in a cold sweat. They weren’t even that good!

Anyway, I digress. The purpose of me attending this event was to get a much better idea of what the AirWatch suite of products is all about. Obviously I’m primarily a Horizon View and EUC guy and now that VMware have acquired AirWatch, there is an obvious overlap between the two technologies. In point of fact, some of the AirWatch solution is now bundled in the Horizon Suite. The event itself was for both partners and end users, and looking at the name tags there was quite a decent spread of industries represented, from partners to local government, education, legal and emergency services.

The day was hosted by Dave Horton of AirWatch and basically took the form of a single presenter with multiple different focuses throughout the day, which was slightly unusual but seemed to work pretty well and there was a good flow to proceedings. I’d assumed beforehand that AirWatch was simply another MDM solution, but as it turned out I couldn’t have been further from the facts. Each section I broke down below.

Company Update

As at 2014, the company has 14,000 customers worldwide which represents growth of 8,000 from two years ago when the figure was 6,000 customers. The interesting thing about AirWatch as a suite of products is that not only is it the market leader, but it is in the top right corner of the Gartner Magic Quadrant. I take some industry analyst information with a grain of salt, but I know these sorts of facts hold a lot of influence with C-level decision makers, so this is an important differential for AirWatch to have.

What struck me about the customer breakdown was the breadth of industries where the AirWatch solution was present. As a snapshot, see below:-

  • 4 out of 5 Fortune 500 companies
  • 6 out of 10 top airlines
  • 3 out of 5 top ranked universities
  • 2 out of 3 worldwide hotel groups

So as you can see from above, the solution doesn’t just fit well in one vertical but across many, and I thought this pretty impressive. 17 languages are supported, from support through to the software interfaces themselves and technical support. Product development is primarily centred on Atlanta but there is also a development centre in Bangalore. There is a strong presence in the UK out of the Milton Keynes office which hosts technical support, sales, Professional Services and marketing.

AirWatch was acquired by VMware for $1.5bn, which I think the presenter said was the same worth as YouTube when that was bought. Take that, fact fans!

AirWatch 7.3 Release Highlights

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Dave then went over what is new in version 7.3 of the product, which I think he said has been available for around three months now. It’s easier to break this down into bullet points, see below:-

  • MDM – Enrolment to MDM can be restricted and there is a new feature for custom terms of use/EULA
  • QNX Agent support – this is at a fairly early stage but QNX is Linux based and forms the basis for BlackBerry 10 OS. It is also used in an increasing number of things such as cars and also appliances (Internet of Things, etc)
  • It is now possible to create a temporary administrator account for troubleshooting
  • Smart Groups can be created to exclude users from profile assignments (less restrictive for VIPs, for example)
  • Profiles now have version control
  • Compliance rules can be applied per platform (iOS, Android, WinPho etc.)
  • There is a self service portal where a user can self register a device into AirWatch, thus reducing impact on the Service Desk
  • Android is not easy to develop to, as there are up to 16,000 variants of the code out there on devices
  • Samsung SAFE and KNOX are now supported
  • Amazon Fire devices, HTC devices now fully supported with silent application install and uninstall prevention
  • OSX AirWatch AppCatalog now supported and the Apple Device Enrolment Program is also supported, iOS can be pre-locked when shipped
  • Windows 8.1 now has MDM APIs and a VMware Fusion profile
  • Windows 8.1 has remote lock, enablement of Metro applications without a Live ID, agent compliance with Windows Updates, BitLocker enforcement and Firewall status
  • Rugged Android and Windows Mobile support
  • Mobile Application Management has application wrapping, Volume Purchasing Program renewable sTokens. Integration with Horizon Workspace
  • AirWatch Inbox application now optimised for iPad with 1 click conference call
  • AirWatch Tunnel provides SSL-VPN on iOS
  • AirWatch agent can tell if a device has been rooted or jailbroken, if the device has been compromised a remote wipe can be performed
  • Secure Content Locker can whitelist/blacklist file types and creation of secure content on mobile application is now supported. Possible to set policy to require uploads to be backed up to corporate storage
  • Geofencing uses GPS to tie profiles to physical locations, though this is not as feature complete as NPS
  • App wrapping now supports single sign on
  • Applications flagged as corporate and managed by AirWatch will be deleted by Enterprise Wipe even if it is a public applications from iTunes etc.
  • URLs can be transparently redirected to use SSL-VPN

Laptop Management

IMG_20141210_104017658

  • Configuration management of laptops can provide the following features:-
    • Connections to wi-fi, VPN, Ethernet etc.
    • Certificates
    • OWA and Outlook accounts
    • Proxy settings
    • Software distribution over the air
    • Automated workflows for installation

IMG_20141210_105613864

  • Asset tracking can provide the following features:-
    • Detailed laptop and end user inventory
    • Export reports and logs from the AW console
  • Enterprise wipe removes applications and it’s data because the app has a sandbox – other data is left intact (including personal data)
  • AirWatch Inbox and browser currently available on Windows only
  • In the profile wizard, hover over the platform with the pointer to see what policies can be enforced (wi-fi, FDE, etc)
  • Device or user profiles can be used
  • BitLocker keys can be stored in AirWatch
  • Full Disk Encryption for personal and/or corporate applications on OSX
  • Android Secure Launcher features:-
    • Highly restricted
    • Drag and drop icons onto simulated screens in management console to simulate the end user experience
    • Add wallpaper, folders, app icons etc to the start screen
    • Device restart always restarts on secure launcher

Windows Phone 8.1

  • Blacklist applications by vendor, i.e. Rovio
  • Disable Store option
  • Lock wi-fi settings
  • Silent install and update

Android

IMG_20141210_103643426

  • Android Workspace is classed as managed which is not as featured as MDM managed but is a better option for BYOD use cases as opposed to corporate devices
  • Analytics, so which applications are used and when and for how long, web browser which sites are visited and for how long etc
  • Workspace provides “dual persona” mode for personal devices, so corporate information can be wiped leaving personal data intact

Content

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  • Dynamic watermarks can be added – can see who may have leaked corporate documents. Fully customisable.
  • Set effective expiration date for documents
  • Content can be stored anywhere:-
    • AirWatch Cloud
    • Office 365
    • OneDrive
    • Google Docs
    • Amazon S3
    • SharePoint on premises
    • Hybrid solutions
    • Network share
  • Documents stored in Secure Content Locker can be edited, annotated and add comment tags, also has activity feed
  • New in 7.3 is creation of documents in SCL
  • Report on content statistics – expiring content/missing devices etc
  • SCL can be used with MDM, Workplace or standalone mode
  • SCL is HTML5 so drag and drop files and multiple file selection is available
  • 36 repositories available – anything that supports the CMIS standard is supported
  • Use the Mobile Access Gateway (MAG) when services are not public facing
  • SCL sync client for Windows and Mac OSX like DropBox with automatic synchronisation
  • Share documents on SCL with external users, password protection provided
  • AirWatch MarketPlace has partner solutions that integrate with AirWatch
  • Real time chat collaboration with audit compliance and encryption like BBM. Integration with Lync is on the roadmap

The main takeaway from this event was that AirWatch is far more than just mobile device management. I went there with a pre-conceived idea that it was basically for management of iOS and Android devices, but it’s a whole lot more. I know that we are getting good traction at ANS around Secure Content Locker, as many customers want “Enterprise Grade DropBox”. It was interesting to see how consumer electronics have bled features and expectation into the usually highly management and slow to react corporate environment.

The other thing I was very impressed with was the management interface for AirWatch. It was very slick and very well designed, and the workflows seemed very intuitive. Obviously a demo only shows you so much, but I hope to get much more hands on in 2015 with the product suite, it’s easy to see why it is the market leader and well regarded by industry analysts. It can cover a wide spread of use cases and platforms and has excellent integrations into other platforms which may already be in customer use. I also liked the way that the issue of preserving corporate data and ring fencing personal data on non corporate devices has been addressed in this release.

 

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Apologies for the poo pictures – the perfect storm of a camera phone and the projector not being too bright!

 

02-12-14

Teradici University Videos

A mercifully brief blog post today – if you’re looking to get down and dirty with PCoIP (and who isn’t?), there are some excellent free training videos on Teradici’s website. You will notice that they’re a little dated (2010 in some cases) but fundamentally the ideas remain the same and you can certainly take the knowledge forward into View 6.x deployments. You can also register for free on the support site, where there are some other tools and bits and pieces, but well worth the effort. Also worth a look if you’re studying for any View exams, some of the video content lends itself to sitting the two View VCAP exams.

The videos themselves are no longer than 30 mins, which makes them bite sized enough even for my gnat like span of attention. Check out the links below for further information:-

Teradici University landing page

PCoIP Protocol Introduction

PCoIP Protocol Implementation

PCoIP Protocol On The Network

PCoIP High Level Overview

Troubleshooting PCoIP Deployments

 

28-11-14

Notes From The Trenches : Horizon View Multimedia and Graphics Tuning

In the last few weeks I’ve spent a lot of time with different customers from different verticals looking at the performance of multimedia playback and hardware graphics rendering for applications. I thought I already had a good grasp of how all of these technologies work and how best to tune them, but it’s not until you’re presented with varying requirements that it really puts your skills to the test trying to find bottlenecks and in some cases, turning what you think you knew on it’s head.

This post relates solely to VMware Horizon View, but I guess could be applied to any virtual desktop solution, whether that be XenDesktop, vWorkspace or anything else. From a View perspective, we are always hammered with the message “know your use cases”. In many ways, this message gets saturated to the degree that a touch of snow blindness kicks in and you just make some general assumptions about what will work and what won’t.

To recap, at the very least before starting a View proof of concept (PoC), you should be asking yourself the following questions :-

  • How many users will require multimedia playback?
  • What level of quality is expected? 480p? 720p?
  • Will the videos be in full screen or will a smaller window suffice?
  • What applications will require OpenGL or DirectX support?

By covering off the above points, you put yourself in a position where the proof of concept can address a high proportion of user requirements. Don’t beat yourself up though if you don’t nail it 100% out of the gate, getting it right on day one is unheard of! Taking each point in turn, let’s look at why the responses to these points matter.

How many users will require multimedia playback?

Quite often, organisations limit access to video streaming sites such as YouTube, Vimeo, iPlayer and others to preserve office bandwidth. From a View perspective, this can do you a favour but there are always uses that may well slip under that radar and result in users having a degraded VDI experience that gives the solution an unmerited bad name. News websites such as Sky News or BBC News all have multimedia content these days, from radio interviews to video clips in small boxes with a full screen option.

The result of this question will help determine an appropriate pool design. If you have users that will use a lot of video (presenters, trainers, academics, for example), then it would make sense to have a dedicated pool of desktops for these users with more resource than would be given to “regular” users. Also, VMware’s recommendation is that good quality multimedia playback requires 2 vCPUs per virtual desktop, which in turn affects your infrastructure sizing requirements as this will impact your host:desktop consolidation ratios.

If the answer to this question “all users” then the next step is to determine what quality is expected.

What level of quality is expected? 480p? 720p?

If there are users expecting full screen 1080p native performance at 60 fps (same as a blu ray player etc.) then this level of expectation should be reset. The nature of a virtual desktop solution means that this won’t be achieved due to bandwidth, compression, hardware resource and other potential bottlenecks along the way. Remember a blu ray player has a single cable running from it to the TV, so there isn’t a bunch of other traffic flying down that cable, the cable length is typically less than a metre (or 3 feet 3⅜ inches in old money!) so it’s barely even an apples to oranges comparison.

In a View environment, PCoIP is the display protocol of choice. RDP is also available, but generally lacks the flexibility and tuning options afforded to us by PCoIP. In addition to this, there are several hardware options to help augment and improve the PCoIP experience. If you recall, Teradici are the owners of PCoIP and VMware use this protocol in View and Teradici have both host card based and zero client based options to offload PCoIP processing to dedicated hardware.

One other thing worth bearing in mind is that in my experience, the human eye can’t really tell the difference between 720p and 1080p, so if you get mired in discussions with end users about this, you’re kind of missing the point. If you can deliver video at a good resolution (720p) and a good frame rate, the rest is just splitting hairs in my opinion.

Will the video be in full screen or smaller screen?

This fact obviously matters because the larger the video playback surface area, the more resource required to push it along. In the tests I’ve done, standard 480p video in a full screen uses around 20MB more GPU RAM than a video embedded into a web page (BBC News is a good example of this). If full screen high quality video playback is required, you need to factor this into pool designs and the PoC. As always though, benchmark it yourself during the PoC phase, as your mileage will inevitably vary.

What applications will require OpenGL or DirectX support?

As we ascend to the more demanding groups of users, it’s key to know who requires extra grunt on their virtual desktop. This again affects pool design but also means that some consideration will need to be given to specialist graphics hardware to enable these users to work effectively in a virtual environment as they do in the physical world. Some examples of applications requiring this level of support include but are not limited to:-

(All OpenGL apps)

  • Adobe After Effects, Photoshop CS3/CS4, Premiere Pro
  • AutoCAD
  • Google Earth
  • Google SketchUp
  • Scilab
  • Virtools

DirectX seems to be typically used in gaming, so it’s debatable whether or not there’s a use case there in general environments. That being said, one recent customer teaches computer game design and coding, which would place this use case right in the middle of your View deployment.

What are my options?

There is a very good white paper from VMware that discusses graphics acceleration in View and is well worth a read. It focusses primarily on the NVIDIA GRID solution which I’ve discussed previously and is available here. So let’s say you’ve done your scoping exercise and completed a desktop assessment, where do you go from here? There are lots of resources out there if your Google-Fu is up to snuff that will tell you what the different varieties of hardware there are, I’m just going to provide a simple reference based on my testing.

Multimedia Playback

For good multimedia performance, look for a thin or zero client with the Teradici chip installed. I recently tested the 10Zig V1200P Zero Client with a customer and I have to say the multimedia performance was exceptional. This was partly due to the excellent bandwidth to desktop that the customer had, but also with the Tera2 chip installed, the PCoIP processing gets offloaded to a dedicated hardware device, in a similar way to say a TCP/IP Offload Engine works on a network card. Of course it goes without saying that performance with hardware vs software will always be superior and this was the case in my experience.

If you can’t stretch that far budget wise, ensure you follow best practice and have 2 vCPU per virtual desktop as video playback is a purely CPU based operation. If you run up Task Manager on two desktops, one uniprocessor and one multiprocessor, you should see the difference in CPU spiking during multimedia playback. Remember though not to oversubscribe vCPU – there is not a linear improvement the more vCPUs you add to a desktop, in actual fact you could slow the whole environment down. This is well known in the virtualisation community and there is a good explanation as to why here. So in short? No more than 2 vCPUs per desktop unless a specific use case calls for it, which would be dependent on multiprocessor desktop applications.

Applications requiring OpenGL or DirectX support

Primarily in the case of OpenGL, I have seen improved performance using NVIDIA GRID K1 cards operating in vSGA mode. As stated in a previous post, make sure you have the latest versions of ESXi, Horizon View and the NVIDIA VIB on the ESXi host. So how much better is hardware acceleration? A picture says a thousand words, so I’ve pictured below the output from Passmark 3D test that shows a desktop using software rendering and 128 MB video RAM and a desktop using hardware rendering with 128MB video RAM.

IMG_20141120_134042929 IMG_20141120_134035087On the same two desktops I’ve also got the 2D Passmark test results shown below:-

IMG_20141120_133950443 IMG_20141120_134005415

Apologies for the general rubbishness of the pictures, they were taken with a phone camera, but it gives you a sense as to what kind of performance you can expect with hardware acceleration. Thankfully Passmark is a free tool and can be downloaded from here.

How much Video RAM should I allocate to my pool?

Great question and somewhat subjective. VMware state that if you are using Windows 7 with Aero (and let’s be honest, most people are) that you should set a value between 64MB – 128MB in the pool settings (I couldn’t find any change in this advice for View 6). In my experience, this is fine for basic use cases, but where multimedia is required and especially good quality video playback, that won’t be enough. We talk all the time about right sizing View deployments, but one gap really in the analysis for me is to how to right size video RAM per pool.

I found a free utility called GPU-Z which is really useful for benchmarking performance during multimedia playback and determining the high watermark for video RAM usage. This can then be taken forward into the View design and ensure multimedia users have enough resource for their use case. GPU-Z can be downloaded here and is pretty simple to use. For my testing purposes, I ran it up during normal Windows navigation (starting and closing apps, web pages etc.)

gpuz-1

The above screenshot shows the tool running on a laptop and gives you the kind of idea of what information can be gleaned. The Sensors tab is the one with all the key information, the screen shot below shows the “idle” state of the GPU during normal operations.

gpuz-2

As you can see above, we’re already at 206MB of video RAM and we’re not really doing anything. If your pool is set to the recommended 128MB RAM, there is an obvious pinch point there already. This will lead to degraded multimedia performance as there isn’t sufficient resource. Playing a small screen video from the BBC News website, the video RAM usage climbs to 284MB as shown below.

gpuz-3-video-sm

And then finally on the full screen version of the video, the usage climbs still further to 363MB. So in this particular case, you’d be looking to set an initial high pool watermark of 370MB video RAM (for example) to give the user sufficient horse power for video playback in View. That being said, the results will most likely be lower in a virtual environment, so make sure you continue to monitor usage during the PoC phase to ensure that the pool video RAM size is neither under or over specced.

gpuz-4-video-lg

Conclusions

In summary, I’d say look at the following:-

  • Review end user requirements for graphics performance, including multimedia and application support
  • Spend time tuning PCoIP if you find that bandwidth is a constraint, but remember this is usually a balance and/or trade off between picture quality and playback smoothness. Audio quality is also affected by tuning maximum audio bandwidth
  • Conduct a PoC to level expectation appropriately
  • Use free tools such as Passmark and GPU-Z to accurately benchmark the environment and right size the capacity
  • Obtain eval units if you are going down the thin/zero client route and test out all the different use cases you know of to see which unit is most appropriate
  • vSGA with NVIDIA GRID cards can be very cost effective when applications require additional 3D resource
  • Consider the use of a Teradici APEX 2800 card to offload some graphics processing to dedicated hardware in the host (caveat : I haven’t tested this and Teradici – feel free to loan me one!)

18-11-14

download

UK VMUG Event Review

Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending the fourth UK-VMUG annual conference at the National Motorcycle Museum in Solihull. For those that didn’t make it, I’ve put together an event review for your viewing pleasure. Apologies for the crapness of the pictures, taken with my phone unfortunately!

 

Joe Baguley Keynote

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After a brief introduction from VMUG leader Alaric Davies, the day started with the now usual keynote from Joe Baguley, CTO for EMEA. This year the keynote was entitled “Rant as a Service” and after setting the scene for around 30 minutes, the key message is still around software defined enterprise. It was my interpretation that there was a small pop at a hyper converged company whose name may or may not contain nuts on the basis that EVO:Rail and EVO:Rack can give you the same level of support and performance without having to buy into a single vendor. I’ve been feeling for a while that there isn’t a lot of love lost between the two parties, and I don’t know if that’s true, but I don’t find it particularly helpful when constant implied barbs are being traded. Just my opinion!

The point of EVO:Rail is to have the infrastructure up and running within 15 minutes. The value here is that you can go to 8 partners and pick which stack and value add you want. It’s not a single vendor lock in as such, as most customers already have an existing relationship with the likes of Dell, etc. EVO:Rail is 2U in size and has four blades installed. Not dissimilar to Nutanix and UCS in that respect, though of course the UCS chassis has a larger form factor. For larger installations or special use cases such as VDI with NVIDIA graphics, the bigger EVO:Rack will be required.

One interesting line was the ongoing idea now that abstraction and obfuscation takes place in as much as key components such as disks and raid controllers are being replaced by software and public and hybrid cloud solutions. This of course is becoming transparent to the “end user” as we move towards a hybrid cloud type of world. If a disk controller fails, it’s OK, software can take care of that. Lose a data centre? That’s OK too, we’ll just move to another one in the background. I’m not sure we’re totally there with that one yet, but it’s an interesting concept none the less.

Then we had the discussion about what is “Enterprise Scale” these days? As consumer electronics demands increase exponentially (photo uploads, data requirements, data production, etc) then most things these days really are “Enterprise” grade as they have millions of people using them daily, not just the tens, hundreds or even thousands in an “enterprise” environment.

White boxes are also now are taking the place of large monolithic proprietary solutions. EVO:Rail again was mentioned as an example of this, where you get a pre-built, predictable and validated vSphere environment from whichever hardware vendor you prefer. The irony that you’re still locked into VMware technologies was missed at this point, but I think I see where the point is here.

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VMworld Update – Julian Wood

I then went to the VMworld Update session with Julian Wood. One thing I’d have to say is that there was too much to fit in for 40 minutes. That’s not Julian’s fault – as he noted, once you look into it, there are so many product releases, updates and acquisitions to keep track of that you could spend all day talking about it! There was some discussion around the vRealise suite (I’m not spelling it with a “z”!),  what that means and how there is on and off premises solutions for that now. vRealise is essentially the management and automation tools bundled into a suite, so products such as vCloud Automation Center, Log Insight, vCenter Operations Manager etc.

CloudVolumes was also discussed, where applications are installed to a VMDK and then this VMDK is connected and presented to desktops in a fraction of the time it takes to do ThinApp etc. As I was listening to this, I started to think “what are the storage requirements though?  Read intensive, or are blocks cached.  How does this work?”. “Do we require any back end infrastructure such as MS-SQL etc.?”

On the EUC side, big strides continue to be made and VMware are really competing with Citrix in the application presentation stakes, as well as adding further improvements to the core View product, including Cloud Pods (or Linked Mode for View, as I like to call it!), where you can break the current scalability limits but also provide an additional site failover for virtual desktops if required, plugging one gap in the previous product set.

vSphere Futures – Duncan Epping

The next session was with Duncan Epping. His sessions are always well attended as he’s usually on the bleeding edge of what the company is doing internally, plus I’ve found him to be pretty honest in his responses to some issues that have cropped up, especially around Virtual SAN. I made quite a few notes around what was discussed, and it’s probably easier to break them down into bullet points:-

  • All flash Virtual SAN coming, to increase the configuration options for two slot blades, where currently you need flash for cache and spinning disk for content
  • Virtual volumes (VVols) policies coming that will based per VM
  • This functionality will be based on an array that supports virtual volumes
  • IO filters directly in the hypervisor for those arrays not VVol aware
  • Storage DRS VM IOPS reservations, so we can migrate workloads to other storage if reservations are not met
  • Storage DRS has better awareness of thin provisioning, dedupe and replication
  • Resource and Availability Service is a new web based tool that uses exported DRS settings to simulate failure of resources and ensure design is correct, validating such things as Admission Control settings
  • FT support for up to 4 vCPU
  • No more vLockstep or shared VMDK for Fault Tolerance,  10Gbps networking will be required
  • The ability to vMotion “anywhere”, requirement is that both vCenters must be in same SSO domain
  • vMotion has a 10ms latency tolerance now, working on 100ms tolerance for long distances
  • The vCenter Appliance will scale as well as Windows version now, and will be the future of vCenter releases
  • SQL server supported externally for the vCenter Appliance
  • Task pane will be coming into bottom of Web Client
  • Less nested right click options to make the Web Client interface cleaner
  • Task  concurrency, performance  charts and other features will be introduced into the Web Client
  • Linked Mode will be available for the vCenter Appliance
  • Content library for ISOs etc, replicated across sites. Also includes templates, OVFs etc. Same as Hyper-V Libraries, by the sounds of it

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One very interesting thread was around Project Fargo. This in essence is a “re-imagining” of the snapshot process and will allow for the creation of Windows virtual machines in around 2 seconds. In the lab, Linux VMs were spun up in less than that, the overhead on the Windows side was mainly down to customisation and joining AD etc. Another way of thinking about it is “Linked Clones on steroids” in the sense that you have a parent virtual machine and lots of child virtual machines. Duncan’s blog entry as linked above goes into some good detail on what you can expect from this initiative.

Horizon View Architecture and Design – Barry Coombs & Peter Von Oven

I then went to the session by Barry Coombs and Peter Von Oven about Horizon View Design and Architecture. This session wasn’t really a “death by PowerPoint” session, but more a key points and brief discussion at a high level as to what you should be looking for in a good Horizon View design. There are always little nuggets or anecdotes that can be useful that maybe you haven’t come across before that only really come out of experience. One good point from this session was that you should never let the IT team speak on behalf of the end users, so in other words, don’t assume IT know necessarily what the user experience is like, because they can’t know every individual use case.

The key point of performing a desktop assessment phase and also a proof of concept was also re-iterated, and I can’t agree with this enough. To chat to IT and some end users is not enough. It’s useful as part of the whole engagement, but you also need key performance metrics and also a proof of concept to see what works and what doesn’t work. Think of a PoC as the first draft of a document that requires lots of iterations to get it “just right”. To perform a desktop assessment and some stakeholder interviews and then think you can roll an effective VDI environment first time out of the gate is total fantasy.

Any VDI deployment (whether it’s View or AN Other solution) should be an improvement on the current “physical” end user experience. Again this is a given. If you’re spending time and money replacing a solution people are familiar with and comfortable with, it needs to be visually an improvement on what they already have, or the solution will simply acquire a “bad name”. One interesting idea was the notion of having a “Departmental Champion” – an end user who wants to positively influence the outcome of the project. They can interface with other users and help cascade information and feedback backwards and forwards. This can give you a view inside the PoC that you would not normally have.

Some other brief points included not forgetting to factor in VM and graphics overhead when right sizing a solution, these are commonly forgotten about (guilty!) and user concurrency should be measured in advance. Generally I use the rule of thumb of 80% concurrency, but in an organisation that has shift patterns, this may not be appropriate. Make sure the solution scale!

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EUC Update – Peter Von Oven

My next session was another EUC session, this time with Peter Von Oven from VMware. Again, a lot of key messages came out pretty thick and fast, so a bullet point summary is included below:-

  • VMware’s strategy is still the three pillar strategy of SDDC,  EUC and Hybrid Cloud
  • AppVolumes (formerly known as CloudVolumes) will be available in December
  • Horizon Workspace can disable icons based on physical location. It’s context aware in that sense. So for example, R&D portal is not accessible from Starbucks, but is from a corporate LAN
  • Horizon Workspace provides a central point of management
  • AppVolumes will be in the Enterprise Edition of Horizon View
  • View 6 makes it possible to co-exist and transition from XenApp environments
  • Windows 2008 or 2012 server required for RDSH Application Publishing, and can mix and match if required
  • Easier than upgrade to XenApp 7.5 in the sense that a new infrastructure does not need to be stood up
  • Seamless application remoting,  even on Mac
  • Use vCOps for View and do a 60 day assessment of your environment – though I’m not sure you get the same level of information as you do with say Stratusphere FIT
  • Use thin clients not zero for unified communications in VDI
  • Fully supported by Microsoft for Lync over PCoIP
  • Webcam and mic done using USB redirection
  • Use case for Thinapp is portability and isolation, AppVolumes for performance
  • Application catalogue allows user self service of applications, can remove after 30 days etc
  • Workspace Suite is Horizon + AirWatch, includes Horizon Advanced for Workspace
  • vGPU like Citrix,  coming Q1 next year – vGPU is covered here and is essentially dedicated hardware VGA acceleration but with the consolidation ratio of sVGA. Still uses NVIDIA driver for application validation and support
  • Horizon Flex out in December, delivers containerised desktops in much the same way as the old VMware ACE product
  • No dependency for Horizon Flex on Mirage at the back end
  • Requires Flex policy management server and provides time limits, grace period, remote lock and wipe, USB lock down, etc

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Cisco and VMware – Chris Bashforth

For my final breakout of the day, I went to the Cisco partner presentation on UCS and VMware View. I have to say I didn’t find this session all that useful. I don’t know if it was due to the graveyard slot at the end of a long day or if it was just the general dryness of the topic, but I never really felt like the audience engaged with the speaker and the atmosphere fell a little flat. We were given a brief overview of UCS for those who have never seen it before and then a quick run through of the blade and chassis models available and which are recommended for VDI deployments.

I’m still quite new to UCS having been a HP guy all of my career, so there were some interesting items in there but I didn’t feel I got a lot out of this session and left a little disappointed. For those folks wanting to use NVIDIA GRID cards in their UCS deployments, you will need to use C class rackmount servers for this purpose, with two slots available per server for this purpose. B class blades are densely packed and simply do not have the space to accommodate this card.

One thing to correct is the speaker’s comment that NVIDIA vDGA will support 8 users per server – this isn’t true. Direct passthrough means that you connect the physical VGA card to the virtual desktop on a 1:1 basis. I can only assume he got mixed up with the upcoming vGPU which will be a similar passthrough arrangement, but with the ability to get a higher consolidation ratio of up to 8. If I misinterpreted these comments, please feel free to let me know.

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Closing Keynote – Chris Wahl

The closing keynote was from Chris Wahl, industry legend and double VCDX. The force is strong with this one! The session was entitled “Don’t Be a Minesweeper”. I went into the session wondering what the correlation was between stealing bits of beer from tables (my definition of a Minesweeper) and the IT industry, but it turns out he was referring to the cheesy clicky clicky game of previous Windows’ vintages. The general gist was that automation is the way forward, we’re seeing that now, and it pays dividends to be ahead of the curve by learning some scripting now. Whether that be PowerShell, PowerCLI, Python or anything else.

I did particularly enjoy Chris’s attempt at using British slang. Top marks to him for differentiating between bollocks (bad) and dog’s bollocks (very good). It’s not always easy for an American to grasp such as concept depending on whether or not said objects are canine connected, but I think he did pretty well!

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Summary

Overall it was a very good day and a hearty well done to the VMUG committee who put it all together. This was my third VMUG-UK and each time it just keeps getting bigger. I don’t know how many showed yesterday, but I heard on the Twittervine that nearly 600 had pre-registered, which is absolutely fantastic. I did wonder if the event is now starting to outgrow the venue – the solutions hall was packed and difficult to navigate and lunch and brew breaks got quite cramped for space, but that’s a relatively minor thing.

I didn’t get much chance to look at the booths in the solutions hall, but it’s difficult when you’re a partner with long standing relationships with vendors to have something new to talk about sometimes. I did however get to see some old ex-colleagues as well as chatting to some folks I hadn’t seen in years, which was great.