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PernixData RAM cache accelerates university's VDI expansion

PernixData FVP RAM caching supports Viterbi's VMware Horizon hosted on Dell EqualLogic hybrid arrays for CAD, computational dynamics, and modeling and simulation applications.

Instead of throwing more solid-state drives at its virtual desktop infrastructure, the Viterbi School of Engineering turned to software to improve performance.

Viterbi School installed PernixData's server-side storage acceleration software to help expand VDI and keep it running at peak performance.

Viterbi School is housed on the campus of University of Southern California in Los Angeles. Its VDI implementation serves 8,000 students and 300 faculty members across more than 30 computer engineering classes on the USC campus. All told, more than 900 desktop and laptop computers are available virtually through VMware Horizon.

PernixData FVP runs inside VMware vSphere. It creates a fault-tolerant, low-latency RAM cache that enables reads and writes to storage to be handled inside host servers. In Viterbi's case, users log on to virtual desktops to access graphics-intensive applications for computational dynamics, computer-aided design, and modeling and simulation.

The VMware Horizon environment is hosted on a cluster of eight Dell PowerEdge R720 and R730 servers, which are outfitted with local solid-state drives (SSDs) to boot nonpersistent VMware linked clones. The PowerEdge targets are used to offload VDI functionality from a Dell EqualLogic hybrid SAN that provides shared storage.

PernixData RAM cache provides alternative to all-flash, hyper-converged

Michael Goay, the engineering school's executive director of IT, toyed with buying an all-flash array to support VDI, ultimately deciding the cost outweighed any projected performance gains. Hyper-converged infrastructure also was considered, but discounted due to cost, complexity and vendor lock-in.

"We are leveraging PernixData in our existing storage infrastructure, without breaking the bank," Goay said.

The choice to use PernixData RAM cache acceleration followed an 18-month phased VDI rollout. During the pilot phase, Viterbi increased performance by booting VDI images directly from SSDs. But Goay said the downside of that setup was it required continual resource monitoring to ensure flash storage capacity kept pace with demand.

"When we deployed VDI, we wanted to pilot it for one full academic year," Goay said. "We got our faculty and students involved. They embraced it, because VDI extends their ability to get at the software outside the classroom.

"During that process, we learned that as we added more software to our VDI, we needed to constantly evaluate our storage capacity to add more SSDs. It became a challenge, both on scalability and cost. So, I was on the hunt for some form of I/O optimization that would accelerate the IOPS traffic between the servers and our shared storage."

FVP RAM cache eyed for database, other workloads

Adding PernixData has allowed Viterbi School to reallocate the server-based flash drives initially used for VDI booting. The SSDs now serve as targets for I/O caching, enabling Goay to avoid purchasing additional server memory for the PowerEdge cluster.

Goay said early success accelerating VDI workloads with PernixData FVP RAM cache software has set Viterbi on a path to eventually using it in servers that handle databases, email, file storage and desktop-streaming services.

"Our engineers are well-versed in managing our storage infrastructure," he said. "The PernixData solution of I/O optimization fits really well between our servers and storage."

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