Varrow and ILIO: The Eureka Moment, Part 1

22 04 2009

To start off I will say that ILIO is the coolest and most promising new technology that I have seen in quite some time.  I probably haven’t been this excited about something since I first saw Ardence (Provisioning Server) a few years ago.  For anyone who hasn’t heard about this game changing technology please visit the links below:

http://www.atlantiscomputing.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=59&Itemid=75 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e2paM9Nfj1c

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S4fAmCNJ0H0

Now that everyone is educated let’s talk about what’s driving all the excitement.  ILIO, which stands for Inline Image Optimization, is a storage solution which can dynamically build file and block level I/O, and present it to a server or workstation, physical or virtual, real-time.  Not only can it differentiate between the different types of I/O, it can also present the I/O stream to a host in any format.  So why is this important?  Let’s examine further by looking at this question in the context of VDI.

One of the biggest challenges with implementing a virtual desktop infrastructure is finding the happy medium between ensuring users have a workstation customized to their needs while at the same time realizing an efficient ratio of images to users.  While there are currently several solutions for addressing user specific settings which are effective for the most part, more on this later, a lot of the existing application delivery methods can be cumbersome as the number of apps grows.  The reality is that most organizations have hundreds if not thousands of applications that would either have to be integrated into a server based computing environment such as Citrix XenApp or packaged for streaming, i.e. ThinApp from VMware.  Either approach works well for organizations that don’t have a lot of apps but for most environments it means several thousand man hours trying to figure out how to deliver apps to the VDI workstation instances.  As a last resort applications can be installed into the image but this does nothing but drive up storage costs and complexity.  ILIO solves this problem by again separating file and block level I/O to the virtual workstation instances.  This means that a true base image can be created and then applications can be layered on top, via their standard installation process, because the base image is never actually modified.  ILIO can record the file and block level changes committed by the install then integrate it back into the I/O stream as needed.  This prevents the need to package the applications into an isolation environment or from hosting them on a central server infrastructure.  It even allows for users to install their own applications if necessary without impact to the operating environment!

So as previously stated user profile solutions have come a long way but they still fall short in few distinct areas.  Regardless of the solution, using a profile can mean lengthy logon times, corruption issues, and ultimately there is still no true user state virtualization.  ILIO solves this by again differentiating between file and block level I/O allowing for the user settings to be dynamically injected into the I/O stream as the workstation is being initialized.  The same holds true as the virtual desktop is being shutdown or even suspended.  This means that a user’s workstation can be paused and then resumed in the exact state in which it was left.  An example here is if a user has applications open and they leave their workstation idle, it can be suspended so it is not occupying hosting infrastructure resources and then when they log back in it can be accessed right where they left off.

I could go on and on touting the many reasons why ILIO is such an exciting technology but that wouldn’t leave much for the later parts of this series.  However, to throw out some teasers I have recently met with Chetan Venkatesh, CEO & Founder of Atlantis Computing, to gain an inside view of their exciting new solutions and will be posting some video soon outlining our session.  I will also be including detailed information on the magic behind ILIO as well as in-depth demos so stay tuned.

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