My co-worker, Jason, was tasked with our VMware View implementation and I’m glad to report that its been largely successful and more importantly easy to deploy. I thought that now was a good time to reflect and share with you how we came to the decision to deploy virtual desktops, where we plan to use them, and what components we have implemented.
Back in Janauary, I talked a bit about our VMware View conference call. We evaluated and chose to implement VMware View to support the purchase of 50 Pano Logic thin client devices that we purchased end-of-year. The VMware View licensing model made more economic sense than purchasing ESX licenses outright to deploy virtual desktops. Our other option was to deploy these desktops onto our existing ESX clusters, but I wasn’t a big fan of this. I like keeping things silo-ed, at times.
Making the decision to virtualize desktops
When making the decision to move towards virtual desktops, we decided to make a baby step (not a head-first leap). We identified a strong business use for virtual desktops in our business operation. That case is our central offices. Being a telephone company, we have central offices (CO’s) all throughout our geographic area. These CO’s house our telephone equipment, jumpers, and now fiber and network equipment as our plant becomes more sophisticated. Each one of these locations has traditionally had a desktop PC at them. Maintenance for these PC’s requires sending one of our 3 PC technicians to remote parts of our coverage area to work on these PC’s.
We felt that the thinnest, dumbest possible terminal at that location – with no moving parts or software – was our best choice for device. Last May, several of us attended the Charlotte, NC, VMware Users Group meeting. Pano Logic was there and demo’d their device to us at that time. I don’t know of another time when we’ve all come to a unanimous opinion of a technology so quickly. All three of our group was impressed. Fortunately for us, our CIO also came to the opinion that we should be investigating virtualized desktops, so so our search began.
Ultimately, after looking at many thin clients, we made the decision to go with the Pano Logic units that initially sparked our interest. While many of the other thin clients we evaluated were very thin, none were really zero software like the Pano solution. And that was a selling point to us. Zero to administer, patch or upgrade at the end-point. And for the remote locations we’re talking about using these devices, the fewer trips down the remote dirt roads, the better.
We need VMware, but View is not required
Now that we’d chosen our device, we knew that we’d be sticking with the VMware ESX that we know well and are comfortable with. From my initial research from a year ago, I knew that the VDI licensing model would probably be a good fit, but VMware had released View in the interim.
So, we got VMware and our partner on the phone to talk more about the additions, changes and pricing. The View starter packs come with vCenter Foundations license (which can manage up to 3 ESX hosts, I believe), an ESX 2-socket license and the View desktop licenses. The VDI model brings you a big price break on the ESX servers bundled, but comes with a license restriction that you can only run desktop OS virtual machines on those servers. You should create it as a sepearate cluster. In the end, this was a better choice for us since we’d be running no more than 20 or 30 virtual desktops in our deployment. We saved initially. This isn’t always the case. Had we jumped head-first and planned a deployment of several hundred devices, ESX licenses might have been a better choice with Pano devices. It depends on how much density you can get onto a single ESX host.
VMware View comes in two flavors. There is an enterprise and premium. We chose the premium package that afforded us the linked-clone technology, View Composer, and ThinApp – among other additions. The enterprise edition is largely the solution offered as the VDI 2 product and the premium brings all the new advanced features.
We planned to make use of the pooled options for our CO desktops. All of our installers and CO personnel have been deployed laptops in the past year as they’ve assumed new duties installing cable modems and DSL for customers. We believe that the CO desktops are not being used often, now. So, we hope to be able to deploy about 50 PanoLogic devices and only need 15 to 20 virtual desktops to serve those.
We decided to silo the desktops into their own ESX cluster – just two nodes – but also majorly overkill for just 20 virtual desktops. But this allows us to plan for the future also. We can incrementally step up the number of View licenses as needed.
From our proof-of-concept deployment, we knew that the Pano deployment was largely just a matter of importing the Pano Manager virtual appliance and configuring the right DHCP options. We implemented these on one of our production VLAN’s and we were in business. The Pano devices came to life.
The View deployment went smoothly, also. There are relatively few pieces to install – just the View Composer service to install on the vCenter server and importing the VMware View Manager virtual appliance. We are running both of these on our corporate ESX farm.
The configuration piece between Pano Manager and VMware View had a few gotcha’s. For the most part, Pano Logic’s documentation gave us just what we needed, but there were a few small changes with the new VMware View version (thanks to Jason for providing these). After configuring the connection to View Manager (VDM), when you click configure, you don’t get a success message like you do when configuring the directory settings. The status also doesn’t show connected, although the settings are working and integration is setup. Pano Logic support assured us they were working on that for the next release. The Pano Manager works a little differently, too, after successful configuration. With VDI, the Pano Manager automatically imported all the virtual desktop machines. With Pano Manager connected to View Manager, the desktops are only shown in Pano Manager after being connected for the first time.
To make use of the linked-clone technology, you cannot control the provisioning of VM’s from Pano Manager. You have to do this using View Manager. Its not a big deal, since simliar functionality already exists in View Manager, but seemeless integration between the two would be nice.
As next steps, we’re continuing to evaluate other technologies, devices and solutions that might better fit in other areas of our business. For training rooms, we may need a different solution than the Pano Logic one for CO’s. We maintain a call center, information workers, customer service reps, etc. So, wer’e not looking at a one size fits all. We are continuing to look at what fits best for us. And, as always, I’ll keep you posted.