Virtual desktop infrastructure can offer cost savings and ease network management, but it doesn't come without challenges for networking pros -- especially when they're trying to support bandwidth-hungry applications that must travel between an end user device and the data center for processing.
Enterprises are trying to expand their use of virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) as users spread out to branch and home offices. But not all applications were designed with VDI in mind, particularly real-time, UC and collaboration platforms.
The virtualization of real-time traffic -- like voice and video -- comes with hefty computational and bandwidth requirements. These demands on the network often result in delay, server overload and network bottlenecks during the trip back and forth from the data center, and can wreak havoc on the enterprise network, said Simon Bramfitt, founder and principal analyst at Concord, Calif.-based Entelechy Associates LLC.
As real-time applications become critical to business continuity, vendors must work on shortening the distance traffic must travel to ensure a functional VDI.
Cisco VDI: Supporting real-time applications
Vendors have been working to reduce the network demands of UC and collaboration applications in a VDI environment by capturing and processing rich media traffic locally on a media engine at the endpoint and avoiding the round-trip to the data center.
Cisco users have been able use instant messaging or presence features in a virtual environment for a while, but the vendor didn't support rich media aspects of its Jabber UC platform, including video and voice. Now Cisco has announced an expansion of its virtual desktop computing and collaboration architecture -- Virtualization Experience Infrastructure (VXI) -- to fully support those UC applications on virtualized workspaces.
The software -- Virtualization Experience Media Engine (VXME) -- can be deployed via the VDI management console and allows Cisco Jabber to use the computing and processing resources of the local user devices. VXME software lives locally on a thin client. It is currently supported by Cisco's 6215 VXC thin client, and it is compatible with Cisco VXI running Citrix XenDesktop 5.6, Citrix XenApp Published Desktop version 6.5 or VMware View 5.1. Cisco plans to support Windows-based thin clients and Windows PCs, said Phil Sherburne, vice president of IT architectures at Cisco.
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"To do voice and video calling in a virtual environment, the media traffic has had to be sent to the data center, and that design is flawed," Sherburne said.
Raw video and voice traffic traveling over the WAN eats up bandwidth, and results in a poor user experience. Cisco VXME allows real-time Cisco Jabber traffic to use the compute and processing resources of the local media engine, eliminating the extra hop that bandwidth-hungry UC applications must take between users and the data center. "The goal is to provide users with the same level of experience and quality as you would have running [UC applications] natively on a full-scale PC, in a virtual workspace," Sherburne said.
VDI: Eliminating the middle man
While there will always be some degree of delay when they use bandwidth-intensive voice and video applications, enterprises should be able to avoid hairpinning communications through a data center, said Gunnar Berger, research director of desktop, application and server virtualization at Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Research Inc.
The Cisco VDI strategy -- processing data locally -- removes the extra steps between users, lowering latency and improving user experience, Berger said. "Most vendors are still stuck on hairpinning, but Cisco's offering avoids this strategy for audio and video -- which is a big deal for users," he said.
Since the data is going directly from one desktop to another, an enterprise doesn't burn bandwidth to the data center, Entelechy Associates' Bramfitt said. "If an enterprise is using VDI and wants to virtualize real-time applications, hairpinning will create an impractical user experience," he said. "And if applications like UC are important to the enterprise, this is the strategy they have to have for VDI."