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Beat VDI deployment challenges; find the best VDI storage

Companies that want to stand up a VDI deployment can choose from a variety of storage options, from traditional storage technologies to more creative approaches, such as layering.

The best VDI storage isn't necessarily the newest solid-state drive; it's whatever gives virtual desktops the space they require.

Storage is one of the biggest VDI deployment challenges that IT departments face. But there is no standard kind of storage companies should use for their virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) environments. There are a variety of different options that all work.

One of the best VDI storage options is hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI). Several vendors sell hyper-converged systems with VDI software included, and HCI's modular, performance-matched hardware is ideally suited to support virtual environments. HCI systems that are sold as virtual desktop platforms include native -- usually tiered -- storage that is specifically selected to meet the performance, reliability and capacity requirements of a VDI environment.

The best VDI storage is preplanned

Hyper-convergence is not the only option for VDI deployments. But without HCI, the storage subsystem must still provide the required capacity and performance. Organizations can meet these requirements with high-performance storage arrays, but such hardware comes at a cost. Thankfully, there are other options for organizations that must reduce their storage costs and overcome VDI deployment challenges.

One storage option that VDI shops sometimes use for nonpersistent virtual desktops is layering. Layering enables IT administrators to create virtual desktops in a manner that is very similar to the way they provision Docker containers. Containers help overcome some of the inefficiencies of server virtualization.

It's rare for a workload to use all of a server's physical hardware; server virtualization offers a way to share a server's hardware among multiple virtual machines and reduce hardware costs. But it's not necessarily an efficient use of resources.

A single virtualization host often runs a dozen or more copies of the same guest operating system. Each of these guest OS instances consumes memory, CPU and storage resources. Containers improve efficiency by running multiple containerized workloads on top of a single base OS image. In other words, containerization virtualizes the operating system rather than virtualizing the entire machine. This approach eliminates the need for multiple guest OS copies.

VDI shops can apply this same principle to reduce storage costs. A virtual desktop is a virtual machine that runs a desktop operating system. Rather than running multiple copies of the same OS image, it is possible to run a single OS copy, then layer in anything unique.

For example, admins can store the user's profile in a layer rather than on the OS image. Using a gold image is one of the best VDI storage optimization techniques. It reduces storage costs because it requires only a single copy of the guest OS image. It also makes patch and other image management tasks easier because IT must only maintain one single image copy.

Another way that organizations can reduce storage costs -- and complexity -- for VDI deployments is application streaming. In the past, admins often installed applications directly onto virtual desktop images. This approach made application management difficult because the OS images had to be updated every time a new application update became available.

Application streaming separates the applications from the desktop operating system. Doing so not only simplifies application and OS maintenance, but it can also reduce storage costs. Because applications do not have to be installed directly on the desktop OS, the virtual desktop's storage footprint can be significantly smaller. This reduces storage capacity requirements, and may therefore also help reduce costs and solve some VDI deployment challenges.

Organizations that want to transition to using virtual desktops have a number of different options when it comes to VDI storage. Hyper-convergence offers the best VDI storage for companies looking for an easy path to VDI adoption, but it is certainly not the only option.

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