Why Storage Is Critical to the Success of Enterprise Desktop Virtualization

by Rob McDonald, NetApp

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As organizations increasingly turn to desktop virtualization to meet growing demands for flexibility and responsiveness, IT decision makers are recognizing that the storage infrastructure they choose can make or break the deployment.

Storage solutions supporting desktop virtualization environments must be flexible and keep per-desktop costs low -- without compromising performance, availability and scale, according to IDC, which stresses that the storage solution is "the most consequential part of the physical infrastructure" for desktop virtualization.

Advantages of Desktop Virtualization
Desktop virtualization offers compelling advantages for today's mobile workforce: Virtual desktops can be quickly deployed, easily modified and managed from a centralized interface. The steps to perform the same operations for physical desktops are far more complicated and time-intensive.

The ability to manage virtual desktops from a centralized interface improves administrative productivity and simplifies operations. Users experience less downtime because they are productive quickly -- and they stay that way because applications and desktops can be patched and re-provisioned in minutes.

Desktop virtualization also enables levels of security and reliability that are essential for enterprise IT operations. Applications and desktops can be delivered to a variety of endpoint types while still enabling a rich user experience. Administrators can protect corporate data because storage and access policies are controlled centrally, eliminating vulnerabilities. Redundant servers enhance reliability, helping IT deliver applications and desktops that are always accessible.

Reduce costs across infrastructure, deployment, and operations.

Obstacles to Success
When implementations follow best practices, desktop virtualization solutions can cost-effectively scale from hundreds to tens of thousands of concurrent users. However, when projects are improperly scoped for key requirements -- such as IOPS per desktop, user capacity and user profiles -- there can be a significant negative impact on the user experience, manageability and scalability.

Storage plays a key role in desktop virtualization, and is often the critical factor in the success of a project. Unlike server virtualization, which on average has read/write ratios of 80/20, a typical desktop virtualization environment turns that ratio upside down, with 20% of I/O activity from reads and 80% from writes.

This write-heavy workload, combined with “boot storms” (everyone logging in during the same period), creates a highly variable workload that places tremendous demands on the storage systems. Without the proper storage solution in place, these performance requirements can inflate the total cost of the deployment

Overcoming the Obstacles
However, when storage systems are correctly designed for desktop virtualization, they can balance end-user expectations, business needs for cost and mobility, and IT requirements for availability, security and management.

NetApp storage solutions complement tools such as Citrix XenDesktop, and bring significant performance, scale and cost savings to desktop virtualization deployments in the following ways:


  • Optimized writes merge incoming I/Os into a single sequential write stream, improving response times for virtual desktop workloads. 
  • High-performance users (>25 IOPS) can take advantage of a joint NetApp and Atlantis Computing solution.
  • Flash technology intelligently caches “hot” data to accelerate reads and eliminate boot/login storms.


  • NetApp unified storage can scale up for on-demand growth and can be replicated out to flexibly meet user requirements for performance, capacity and availability.
  • A single administrator can provision thousands of virtual desktops in minutes with fast, low-overhead storage cloning capabilities.

Cost Savings

  • Virtual desktops can be thinly provisioned, reducing capacity-related costs.
  • Deduplication detects and eliminates redundant user data by 50% or more to reduce the total amount of storage needed.
  • Storage cloning technology enables administrators to quickly clone desktops from a single “golden image” instead of creating space-consuming copies.

To further streamline engineering and sizing efforts, while also reducing deployment time and risk, NetApp offers FlexPod® validated architectures that make it easy to build efficient desktop virtualization solutions that can scale as your environment grows.

Learn more about all of the NetApp solutions for Citrix by visiting our online community.

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