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Infinio Accelerator helps manufacturer minimize VDI latency

National Specialty Alloys implemented a two-node configuration of Infinio Accelerator virtual appliances to accelerate VMware virtual desktops.

With a burgeoning need for shared storage, National Specialty Alloys installed Infinio Accelerator software to boost the performance of its VMware View virtual desktop infrastructure running on custom-built open-source NAS.

Infinio Accelerator caching software uses RAM from a host machine to create a distributed caching and acceleration layer. It enables virtual machines (VMs) to share commonly accessed blocks, such as operating system files.

The Houston-based manufacturer of specialty alloys uses Infinio server-side software to accelerate 13 TB of usable storage that is shared between 100 virtual desktops at its headquarters and regional branch offices. The virtual desktops are stored on a NAS4Free open source networked storage platform, built with commodity servers running version 9.2 of the open-source FreeBSD operating system.

The NAS4Free system includes 10 Western Digital 3TB Red hard disk drives and two of Samsung Electronics' 840 EVO Pro Series solid-state drives for local cache. An HP ProLiant DL385p Gen 8 Server with RAID 5 locally hosts VMware virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) and a secondary cluster of vCenter management utilities. The ProLiant is attached to the NAS appliance.

Infinio Accelerator software installs as two VMs on the ProLiant server. One VM is for the VMware host and the other for Infinio's management console. Infinio offloads read requests that the NAS receives from virtual desktops, reducing latency and increasing speed of the VDI.

Nigel Hickey, a National Specialty Alloys (NSA) systems engineer, said users have reported better storage performance since the Infinio Accelerator implementation.

"We did pilot testing with our branches and invited people who aren't afraid to open a service ticket and tell us when something isn't working. We included our most problematic applications. We didn't tell people that we had added Infinio. We only said that we had done some things in the background and to let us know how things are working going forward. But we saw fewer service tickets being opened, which was our metric that the latency issue was getting solved," Hickey said.

Storage performance a more pressing issue than capacity

NSA uses process manufacturing to produce nickel and alloy bars for heavy industries, particularly oil and gas and paper manufacturing. Its storage consists mostly of file-based data residing on Windows XP desktops.

The company initially used the ProLiant server to host both VMs and local storage, but the combined storage needs quickly outgrew the 1.5 TB of native capacity. Sluggish VMs and lack of visibility into storage performance prompted Hickey to explore alternatives.

When NSA decided on a full-blown VDI implementation, Hickey said the company spent $4,000 to cobble together its NAS4Free setup. It allocated additional money to equip the HP ProLiant with larger-capacity drives for use as a local VM target.

"Moving people off the NAS helped alleviate latency, but we realized we were not taking full advantage of our VMware shared environment by having everything on local disk. We looked into replacing the FreeNAS, but we had just spent $4,000 on it and I couldn't say, 'Let's spend another $10,000 because this one sucks,'" Hickey said.

Storage acceleration geared toward VMware VDI

Hickey learned of Infinio's VMware-based Accelerator tool and downloaded a 30-day trial version of Accelerator. Infinio's ease of use was a key factor, Hickey said, especially its PowerShell automated installation script for VMware storage.

"The install took about 15 minutes. It was a little frightening because Infinio does a lot of stuff on its own, like adding networks, adding VLANs. I was worried people would get dropped off the Internet, but that didn't happen. That's because everything is built into the PowerCLI for vSphere. The rollback is just as easy, so I knew that if it stinks, I could take it out and go another route," Hickey said.

The Infinio Accelerator management console provides graphics and narrative displays that provide real-time heuristics on drive performance and capacity planning. It shows times of peak demand, cache sizes and estimated cost savings.

"Right now, it shows my storage boost during the busiest work time is equivalent to adding six more hard drives to the array," Hickey said. "The current deduplication cache size over the last 14 days is equivalent to adding seven times more physical memory, which would be about 120 GB more. I'm benefiting by not having to add more spinning disks to get the same performance."

Hickey said the most critical VMs are replicated on-site in Houston with Veeam Software's Backup and Replication suite, with plans in the works to add a colocation facility for replicating Veeam VMware backups off site.

Physical servers for Oracle databases and ERP systems are protected with point-in-time snapshots using StorageCraft Technology ShadowProtect disaster recovery software. The ProLiant server in Houston takes the snapshots and sends them to a second facility in Houston.

Although VDI is increasingly how NSA conducts business, Hickey said local storage is sufficient to protect virtual desktops for now.

"We save VDI to local network storage. If a machine dies, most data is stored on a shared drive," Hickey said.

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