Catching Up with Our CTO: VDI at the Speed of Light

Traditionally, virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) has been frustrating slow, cloud data centers and Nasuni are changing that.

March 5, 2020

“Nothing travels faster than the speed of light, with the possible exception of bad news, which obeys its own special laws,” writes Douglas Adams in his universal work of genius, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Unlike bad news, IP networks can be frustratingly slow—especially when it comes to virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) that’s stretched halfway around the globe.

Back in 2014, I was at AWS re:Invent when Amazon introduced WorkSpaces. “You, the IT professional, can now provision a desktop computing experience in the cloud for your users,” boldly stated their announcement. It seemed a simple enough proposition. Everything is going to the cloud. Why not the desktop too? What wasn’t apparent then was that the cloud stood to plow through the obstacles that had for decades been holding VDI back as a technology. Despite all of its potential, VDI was expensive, hard to operate, and just as likely to open the gates of end-user wrath. We expected a cloud architecture to bring down cost and simplify deployments; however, what wasn’t self-evident then was that the cloud would give VDI its first global footprint.

For the first time, global organizations can deploy VDI close enough to all their employees—no matter where in the world they happen to be. The major cloud providers know they are onto something here. That’s why they are making significant investments in cost reduction, through multi-tenancy, and simplicity—really orchestration dressed up as SLAs.

The promise of VDI for large enterprises has always been about simplicity and control. Instead of investing in traditional hardware at remote and branch offices, companies would prefer to move end-user desktops to the cloud. They would like to give these locations the tools they need without having to deploy, maintain, and refresh excess hardware at each site.

We have been supporting this use case with Nasuni clients for years, and the main limitation to widespread adoption has been the speed of light. Ultimately, VDIs must sit somewhere. If the physical location in question is too far from the users attempting to access their cloud-based tools, virtualization begins to crumble. Latency-sensitive applications can’t tolerate long delays. Users become frustrated as they are forced to deal with poor performance, which slows their productivity.

Light isn’t fast enough when information has to travel and hop through hundreds or thousands of miles of interconnected pipes. The large public cloud providers are finally addressing this limitation. When AWS described its Outposts initiative at the recent re:Invent conference, I heard some concerns that this would impinge on the Nasuni model. In fact, the opposite is true. This is one of the more exciting public cloud developments I can remember, because it dovetails perfectly with our technology and the needs of our customers, and finally solves the VDI performance problem. VDIs begin to falter when the delay is over 15 milliseconds. Outposts is going to be guaranteeing a maximum 20 milliseconds—close enough for bad news and the speed of light.

This is transformative, and AWS is not alone in its efforts. The other major providers, including Azure Cloud Storage and Google Cloud Platform (GCP), are going to be deploying more metal in more locations. In effect, the cloud is expanding, extending its reach. If you manage a global organization with 50 offices around the world, every one of those locations will likely be closer to a high-powered cloud data center or Outpost. The latency problems that plague organizations today will be eradicated because the information will traverse a shorter distance. The speed of light isn’t changing—data simply won’t have to travel as far.

Organizations will be able to satisfy their performance SLAs. End-users will be physically closer to their virtual desktops and able to work at the speed and performance levels they’re accustomed to. Yet physical infrastructure at each site can be reduced dramatically, and organizations can start to see the economic benefits of shifting to virtual infrastructure. A couple of weeks back, I spoke to a client who was successful in cramming 5 users into a single VDI instance in Azure. This approach dramatically brings down the cost of VDI below physical desktop levels—which is where it needs to be.

Outposts and other globally distributed deployments solve the last mile problem for VDI. Organizations in which workers need to collaborate are still left with the problem of how to tie all of those disparate cloud regions into one. That’s where Nasuni brings the world together. Nasuni cloud file services is the file synchronization and data protection engine at the center of this virtual-infrastructure-in-the-cloud model. With Outposts, remote offices won’t be talking to a data center halfway across the continent anymore to get to their virtual desktops. They’ll be connecting to one close by, and with Nasuni, all they need to deliver fast file performance to their VDI users is a simple Internet connection.

And all this magic is no longer your problem. The tech giants are guaranteeing that maximum 20-millisecond delay. They are the ones on the hook for maintaining the hardware and SLAs. You won’t need to worry about managing and maintaining traditional infrastructure. You’ll be able to focus on your real business.

I’m thrilled about what’s coming. For the last decade we had to battle the traditional storage world with their decades of hardware-heavy investments. Now it’s all going to the cloud—if not the end-users, then their desktops. Amazon, Azure and GCP are eating the data center and not every file storage solution is suited to function optimally within them. With its its cloud-native file system UniFS®, infinite scale, WORM (write once, read many) versioning and global file synchronization capabilities, the Nasuni platform is best-in-class for cloud VDI deployments. Here at Nasuni we are laser focused to ensure our technology remains fast and easy to deploy across all of the major cloud providers.

Everything that matters is going to the cloud, and UniFS is there to ease your transition. So, whatever you do…

Don’t Panic!

Revised: 3/26/2020

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