The (Significant) Benefits Software-Defined Storage Brings to Citrix VDI Deployments

If you’ve ever worked on a VDI project, chances are pretty good you encountered one or more issues pertaining to performance, scale, availability, storage and data management, and cost. And if you did, chances are just as good it was your storage that contributed to or even caused those problems.

After all, traditional (hardware-based) storage systems, which are not “application aware,” are unable to differentiate the performance requirements of various workloads in order to ensure that every application performs at optimal levels, nor are they designed to scale while improving performance linearly, which can significantly hinder larger-scale VDI deployments.

Many of these systems are also built on antiquated storage architectures that entail replicating data between volumes or arrays to provide high availability (HA) of critical databases, server and desktop OS images, user profiles, and user data. Such HA implementations typically lead to inefficient storage utilization as well as additional storage and data management overhead.

Of course all of the above can easily result in higher VDI deployment cost.

In an effort to mitigate or prevent “storage” issues such as those described above from spilling over onto other business-critical workloads, many organizations have even gone so far as to deploy VDI as a separate “island,” further increasing management cost and complexity.

In short, proprietary, hardware-based storage solutions that have been available for what seems like forever haven’t solved any of the problems afflicting VDI users, rather, they’ve contributed to them.

So who (or what) can help you solve, or even better, avoid these problems?

As a long-time Citrix-Ready Partner, Sanbolic’s software platform has helped hundreds of Citrix VDI customers overcome the problems that have been hindering VDI deployments since its advent. Since its establishment almost 15 years ago, Sanbolic has touted the benefits of decoupling software from hardware, thereby enabling organizations to build their own “customized” storage solutions (using industry-standard components) with intelligence (advanced storage and data management services) provided solely through software that is 100% agnostic to the underlying infrastructure.

Such software should enable seamless scale-out of both infrastructure and workloads, intelligently utilize hardware to provide assured performance levels where needed, offer tier 1 storage capabilities across a wide range of storage devices (Flash, SSD, HDD), enhance overall system fault-tolerance, and greatly simplify data management and data protection efforts. In addition, the software should be able to deliver these same capabilities to customers regardless of whether they’re deploying VDI within a single datacenter or across multi-datacenters.

Although Sanbolic has long embraced and championed the idea of delivering enterprise-class storage and data management capabilities and services through software, only recently has this concept been labeled as “software-defined storage” and a consensus reached within the storage industry to refer to the concept by its label when describing the decoupling of storage and data management from hardware components. And while the term software-defined storage, or SDS for short, may still be relatively new to many outside the storage industry, its benefits (removing the need to manage storage and data using proprietary interfaces on a per-array basis and eliminating per-feature licensing costs) are quickly being realized by organizations of all sizes as the technology continues to see rapid adoption.

For those new to SDS, there are two fundamental approaches, with most vendors designing and developing their solutions based on one approach or the other. The following descriptions explain the premise behind each approach:

The first approach entails moving all storage and data management from the confines (enclosure) of a hardware-based storage system to the host systems that are actually using the storage. The primary benefits of this approach include centralized management and scale-out of infrastructure and workloads across storage environments comprised of a variety of storage media (flash, SSD, HDD) and the elimination of pay-per-feature licensing models that require customers purchase enterprise-class features (i.e., snapshots, QoS, storage migration, mirroring, replication, tiering, deduplication, etc.), which are no longer considered optional in today’s enterprise environments.

The first approach to SDS can be extremely helpful to organizations looking to augment their existing storage infrastructures in order to improve operational efficiency and reduce management cost and complexity while continuing to leverage investments in their legacy storage systems.

The second approach involves removing the additional “layers” of a storage infrastructure, including storage arrays, cables and switch fabrics, and enabling customers to build “customized” storage systems using industry-standard compute and storage components with intelligence provided through software. Consolidating compute and storage resources within x86 server enclosures and centralizing the delivery of storage and data services across the resulting converged infrastructure reduces management cost and complexity while avoiding the high capex and opex costs incurred with the use of external (SAN) storage systems. Additionally, the ability to create a distributed RAID across the systems comprising the converged solution provides the level of fault-tolerance for which users of traditional storage arrays are accustomed.

Key benefits afforded by the second approach include centralized management and scale-out of infrastructure and workloads across storage environments comprised of a variety of storage media and dramatically lower TCO through the use of commodity hardware components. Organizations looking to build out new storage environments that offer high performance, dynamic scale-out, high availability, simplified storage and data management, and enterprise-class storage and data services at significantly lower cost than traditional, high-end storage arrays will likely want to consider this approach to SDS.

While the number of storage vendors (both old and new) claiming their products offer the benefits of SDS continues to grow almost daily, Sanbolic’s Scale-Out Platform, which has been deployed in Citrix VDI (XenDesktop and XenApp) environments worldwide for many years, has always been a pure software-based solution that offers customers the flexibility to choose either or both approaches to SDS in order to achieve unified management and scale-out of their virtual desktop infrastructures (and other workloads) across heterogeneous storage environments.

A true SDS solution that is 100% agnostic to underlying hardware, the Sanbolic Platform provides advanced data services and tier1 storage capabilities (across multiple storage levels) that can be applied dynamically to meet ever-changing business demands while ensuring the most efficient use of a customer’s valuable storage resources. SLAs that guarantee the performance of business-critical workloads,  seamless data migration, intelligent data placement (tiering), snapshots, data mirroring and replication, automated storage and data management, and the ability to scale to thousands of nodes and exabytes of capacity (without downtime) are all included in the platform at no additional cost.

In addition to the benefits noted above, the Sanbolic Platform’s unique distributed (shared) storage architecture, which provides multiple servers with concurrent read-and-write access to logical volumes, offers Citrix VDI customers the following:

* Simplified desktop and server image management and maintenance (PVS and MCS)

* Optimal storage utilization

* Improved virtual desktop machine performance (XenDesktops and XenApp servers)

* Dynamic scale-out (add infrastructure servers and/or storage capacity on-demand)

* High availability of desktop and server images, databases, and user profiles

* The ability to span XenDesktop and XenApp deployments across multiple datacenters in active/active mode for load-distribution and DR

In summary, SDS is ushering in a new era for storage. As a provider of next-generation scale-out architectures for the modern datacenter and one of the first companies to offer a pure software-based SDS solution, Sanbolic has been delivering the benefits of SDS to the enterprise for years. For our Citrix VDI customers, this has meant significantly lower TCO that has led to the greatest return on their investments in desktop virtualization.

Sanbolic is a Citrix Ready Partner. More information about the product is found at the Xchange Market Place

Sanbolic Scale-Out Platform is verified and to be compatible with below Citrix products:

XenApp: 7.5, 5.0 32-bit

XenDesktop: 7.5, 7.0, 5.6, 4.0