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Introducing: The Virtual DesktOptimizer

In today’s post, I’m going to take you through a new use case that has emerged across CTERA’s systems integrator and cloud service provider partners…. virtual desktop (VDI) optimization and VDI mobility enablement. If you’ve read this far into the post, I’m just going to assume you already know a fair bit about VDI and have been bit enough by the cost of VDI storage to now be interested in alternate approaches.  Allow me to elaborate on storage configuration for VDI and IT purchasing motivations around building out a VDI storage system.

It’s all about IOPS

Flash Vs HDDVDI becomes affordable only as organizations are able to consolidate workloads efficiently onto shared and virtualized computer and storage infrastructure.  Storage is a particular source of heartburn for VDI architects as it becomes very difficult to size infrastructures to deal with boot storms, login I/O and steady state operation.  By deduplicating Operating System (OS) and application data image onto a small number of disks, organizations can realize significant savings – at the same time, the storage media undergoes highly concurrent access during operations like boot storms where only modern SSD/Flash storage technology can be used to satisfy read and write operations on shared OS and application data.

It has been said that Flash storage was a solution waiting for a problem until VDI came along. To efficiently serve the compressed, deduplicated and cloned system files, Flash and Solid State Disk technology has become a very popular solution to delivering the performance and performance efficiency needed to make VDI usable and cost-effective.  Consequently, Flash adoption has helped drive better economies of scale and lower costs… yet the cost is still 8x the cost of a HDD.

Well… wait, it’s not all about IOPS – capacity matters too…

Let’s break down VDI capacity utilization into two categories:

  1. System Data: Buffers, Cache, Temp Files, Log Files, Page Files, VM Swap.  This can consume anywhere from 3GB to 7GB (source: PQR) and needs to be largely managed in the storage layer and storage system of the VDI hypervisor.
  2. User Files and User Documents:  Now here’s where things get a bit mushy.  I just netted out all of the crazy big music storage and marketing movie storage on my desktop – as a corporate user, I’m storing about 17GB of user files.  I’m in marketing and maybe a bit heavy handed with the ‘ol content creation… so, let’s just assume for these purposes that the average business user manages anywhere from 2-4x more capacity in User Documents vs. System Data.  This data is generally stored in either the primary hypervisor storage system in an all-flash or hybrid Flash/HDD storage configuration, or it’s stored on a network drive using some enterprise NAS system.  Why spinning disks?  Unique user data is much less deduplicated and – as a consequence – concurrency of access is lower and $/uniqueGB is much higher.  IT managers will move user files to HDDs in almost all cases where they can.

‘yes yes, I’m a VDI architect… of course I understand, get to the point already’

Well, here’s where things get interesting… prepare to combine file sync and share tools with the promise of what I’ll call ‘hypervisor bypass’ (henceforth titled: the Virtual DesktOptimizer).

File sync and share is becoming a popular solution for VDI environments, if only to enable simple user data migration from a physical desktop to a virtual desktop. Install a sync agent on your PC, identify all of the folders you want synced to the cloud (if the sync solution supports multi-folder sync, like CTERA does) and you’re off to the races. Finish sync, unplug physical PC, enter the future.  Sounds easy, right?  It is.
Enterprise file sync and share (EFSS) also presents the opportunity to aggregate all corporate user data within the control of an enterprise IT department and at the same time enable file sync across virtual desktops, physical desktops and mobile devices as well as simple and secure file sharing.  Sounds easy, right?  It is!

Now – here’s the icing on the cake. Most sync solutions will synchronize data that is on the storage volume owned by the OS. So, VDI managers have historically been expected they’ll sync data that lives in a pre-existing store, make a copy to the cloud and then proliferate the namespace across n number of additional interfaces and devices.  Sounds twice as complex, right?!  Sadly, it is.

Here at CTERA we’ve figured out an easier way to solve the VDI user file cost reduction that both enables very low cost web storage to be used with VDI environments, eliminates OS-to-EFSS data copies and at the same time open up mobile sync and file collaboration.

The CTERA Virtual DesktOptimizer solution (not a real product name, of course… ) was first selected for roll-out across 200K+ virtual desktops for one enterprise customer and since then many of our enterprises and cloud service partners have made this an integral part of their VDI offering.  A picture says 1,000 words, so let me review this visually.


The many faces of Virtual Desktop User Document Storage Configuration:

Virtual Desktop User Storage Config


The do’s and don’ts of VDI Sync and Share Configuration:

The Dos and Donts of VDI Config


Most EFSS solutions will require replication between the sync namespace and the hypervisor storage.  This creates 2 copies of data and is, in our opinion, quite wasteful. With CTERA, just bypass the hypervisor altogether and map a network drive to the CTERA Enterprise File Sync and Share WebDAV interface. We’ve developed a very high-performance implementation of WebDAV that is capable of serving data directly from object storage to the VDI user at desktop disk speeds. In addition to enabling the use of object storage and reducing data center costs up to 50% vs traditional NAS, this also has the advantage of completely eliminating VDI storage system involvement  with “My Documents” folders and eliminates data copies into and out of the VDI guest file system (preserve your precious IOPS!).

So – there you have it.  The Virtual DesktOptimizer! (patent, trademark, Pulitzer pending…)


  • Dramatically reduce the use of expensive, enterprise storage for VDI
  • Deliver a high-performance VDI user file experience with CTERA’s EFSS
  • Increase Flash storage performance by offloading all user file operations to HDD
  • Enable simple migration from physical to virtual desktops and back again
  • Open up the world of possibility for mobile data access, collaboration and file sharing


Thanks for reading,


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