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IBM software guts the virtual desktop data hog

An algorithm developed by IBM and delivered in a virtual appliance could reduce the amount of space consumed by virtual desktop deployments by 80%, regardless of storage system. IBM also says the software will speed the deployment time of virtual desktops.

LAS VEGAS – Software developed by IBM will reduce the amount of storage space virtual desktops consume by as much as 80%, regardless of the underlying storage system, claimed IBM researchers at VMworld today.

IBM's Virtual Storage Optimizer (VSO) is delivered on a virtual machine that sits between ESX and the Virtual Desktop Manager (VDM) that redirects a user if a server becomes unavailable. VSO intercepts requests for new virtual machines, which normally would cause the underlying storage system to spawn another full clone of the virtual desktop template.

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VSO applies an IBM-developed data deduplication algorithm to separate the virtual desktop template data from data unique to the particular instance of the desktop, such as temporary files, log files and Windows cache, according to IBM researcher Andrzej Kochut. The template data is then removed and replaced with pointers to the original virtual desktop system image. Kochut developed VSO with senior research scientist Kirk Beaty and research scientist Charles Schulz.

IBM claims that its software can reduce the storage capacity required by virtual machines by up to 80%. IBM also says the software will speed the deployment time of virtual desktops because there is no need to create "carbon copies" of the template on the back end.

Virtual desktops are being hotly debated because of the performance and capacity issues they can present to enterprise storage environments. Vendors such as 3PAR Inc. and NetApp Inc. support the deployment of virtual desktops from cache in order to speed performance during "boot storms" (when a high volume of users connect to servers).

VMware may look back in a year and owe the lifeblood of VDI to IBM.
Jeff Boles
analystTaneja Group
After the first boot, 3PAR refers subsequent desktops to the first image stored in cache. NetApp's snapshots and clones already use space-efficient pointers so as not to store data twice. This week, LeftHand Networks said its iSCSI SANs will offer a similar "golden image" to consolidate capacity among ESX servers.

However, the 3PAR, NetApp and LeftHand approaches to relieving virtual machine storage capacity problems are all attached to a particular storage system. IBM's approach is heterogeneous. "You're seeing across the storage industry that data reduction is required for [[Virtual Design Infrastructure] in the enterprise," said Taneja Group analyst Jeff Boles. "But to date that's a complex choice for storage pros. IBM has a transformative take on getting gold and getting thin for VDI in nearly any environment."

Boles added, "VMware may look back in a year and owe the lifeblood of VDI to IBM."

However, VSO creates some tricky decisions for storage admins, such as sizing the repository appropriately for the amount of "change data" each virtual desktop might accrue. "It depends on the lifetime of the virtual machine instance in the pool," said Rich Meesters, business development executive for IBM Global End User Services. "If it's a dynamic environment like a computer lab or a call center, you could be more aggressive in your sizing."

Because of this, VSO is only available as part of a Virtual Infrastructure Access engagement through IBM Global Services, which conducts a proof-of-concept test and assesses the customer's environment to ensure that it's deployed properly.

Meesters says customers who have started to deploy VDI won't have to start over if they want VSO. "We have the flexibility to adapt to the individual client," he said.

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