Expand Networks Virtual Accelerator: VDI, Application Virtualization and the WAN

13 12 2009

If you have ever read any of my blogs relating to desktop or application virtualization then I’m sure you know how much I like to preach about the importance of the end user experience.  Without a quality end user experience any type of delivery solution which interfaces with users, be it a VDI based workstation, server based seamless application session, etc, will fail.

The major players in the market are well aware of this and hence we are in the middle of a heated arms race around developing the best delivery protocol.  However, they aren’t the only ones focused on this market.  And while delivery protocol performance may not be as critical for LAN based users, it can be the defining factor in the success of a centrally hosted, delivery solution when users are located over the WAN.  Network vendors are realizing the importance of this area and are also developing solutions to address performance of virtual desktop and application delivery technologies for remote users.

WAN acceleration if nothing new and there are certainly a number of solutions in the market, but Expand Networks line of WAN optimization and acceleration solutions stand out for many reasons, the main focus of which is their Virtual Accelerator appliance.

As the name implies, the Virtual Accelerator appliance runs as a purpose-built virtual machine on the best of breed server virtualization platform, VMware ESX.  With support for such features as DRS, “warm cache” HA, vMotion, snapshots, and VCB, the appliance can take advantage of all the features that organizations have come to expect out of a enterprise virtualization solution, including the freedom from deploying specialized hardware that is costly and complex to manage.  This can be an even bigger advantage in the branch office as the VA appliance can be hosted on ESXi, the free hypervisor solution from VMware, which can be installed on re-purposed hardware.  Branch office consolidation can be realized even further through the support for hosting of print services along with other critical services such as CIFS shares, DHCP, DNS, DFS, etc, all on the same virtual appliance.

While the ability to run as a virtual appliance is important, the real advantage I see with the Expand offering is the support for the acceleration of multiple display protocols.  As stated above, the VDI market is still very much in a stage of infancy with constant changes occurring on a regular basis, especially in the delivery protocol arena.  Case in point is VMware View.  VMware just released PCoIP support with their latest version of View with Microsoft’s RDP being their previous standard for a delivery protocol.  While it is a definite step in the right direction, I’m sure there will be changes in store down the road.  That’s why I feel that it is very critical to pick a solution like Virtual Accelerator that supports not only RDP and ICA, but also has support for PCoIP in View 4 and EOP from Quest vWorkspace.  This demonstrates a true agnostic stance in the market essentially future proofing your investment so that as technologies change over time, your not locked into a non-flexible architecture.

Multi-protocol support is not only important in terms of future proofing, for a lot of organizations it is the reality of their current environment.  Consider this example, say you have been using Citrix for many years to publish seamless applications to remote offices, but for some use cases a full VDI solution is necessary.  And due to your strategic alliance to VMware, through your server virtualization environment, the decision was made to roll out View for desktops.  This is by no means a reason to throw out the Citrix environment you already have invested in as VDI is not the most cost effective solution for all users in your organization.  So regardless of the delivery method to the user, you can ensure your network is up to the task of providing the best possible end user experience.

There are a ton of other reasons why Expand Networks solution should be given a serious evaluation, from their non-tunneling, seamless approach of accelerating traffic to their firm spot in the Leader category of the Gartner WAN Optimization Magic Quadrant.  If you interested in digging deeper than the following resources should be given a read.  Stay tuned as I plan to get this into the lab in the near future with a detailed write-up to follow.  However, if you want to see the numbers now then there are some good white papers outlining performance comparisons also available on the Expand Networks website.

http://www.expand.com/virtual-desktop-infrastructure/vdi.aspx – Expand Networks Virtualization & VDI Knowledge Center

http://www.expand.com/Products/specSheets/vwan/VACC_v1.0.pdf – Virtual Accelerator Data Sheet

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