Managing virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) traffic over the WAN

Organizations must understand how virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) traffic behaves over the WAN before deploying VDI to ensure an optimal end-user experience.

The adoption of desktop virtualization technologies in the enterprise has been growing at a steady rate, and more organizations are becoming interested in these types of solutions. This is largely due to benefits that organizations are experiencing from these deployments. Such benefits include the following:

  • Ease of managing software rollouts, upgrades and new desktop provisioning.
  • Reduced downtime due to hardware failures.
  • Improved flexibility of managing IT infrastructure .

However, VDI deployments increase the importance of the role the network plays in delivering business-critical information to business users. For organizations that are deploying desktop virtualization technologies, end users’ files are no longer being stored on their computers, but on virtual servers that are being accessed over the WAN (wide area network). That is making WAN management more complex in these ways:

  • Desktop virtualization increases the amount of data transferred over the WAN.
  • It creates more interactive VDI traffic over the WAN.
  • It makes desktop performance dependent on WAN latency and available bandwidth capacity.

What your WAN performance management solution needs for VDI monitoring

Organizations are realizing that in order to get the most out of their desktop virtualization projects, they need to ensure optimal quality of end-user experience while mitigating costly bandwidth upgrades. To achieve this goal, organizations need to guarantee that enough bandwidth capacity is allocated to virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) traffic that is being transferred over the WAN. If VDI traffic is not properly managed on the WAN it can have a negative impact, not only on the performance of virtualized applications, but also on other types of traffic that are being delivered via the same WAN connection. However, ensuring optimal performance of virtual desktop traffic could be a challenging task, as sometimes it requires a set of capabilities that go beyond traditional offerings of WAN optimization vendors.

VDI traffic is based on protocols, such as Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) and Independent Computing Architecture (ICA) protocol; these protocols typically generate a large amount of smaller packets, and some traditional WAN optimization and bandwidth management tools are not as effective in monitoring and prioritizing this type of traffic. Additionally, a single VDI session can sometimes include different types of applications with different bandwidth and delivery requirements or business importance, which makes it more difficult to prioritize this type of traffic. In order to address this challenge, organizations need to consider solutions that provide advanced QoS capabilities and be able to classify VDI traffic and apply different policies to different types of applications that are being delivered to end users.

Additionally, in order to seamlessly deliver desktop virtualization technologies to business users, organizations need to deploy WAN optimization solutions that include protocol-specific optimization and data reduction techniques for application delivery. Even though some organizations are addressing these challenges by using WAN optimization solutions with TCP acceleration capabilities, due to the nature of RDP and ICA, these capabilities should be coupled with optimization techniques specific to these protocols. Also, deploying WAN optimization solutions that can cache this type of traffic at a byte and bit level enables organizations to have more control over VDI traffic.

Which vendors can manage VDI traffic over the WAN?

Managing VDI traffic is emerging as one of the top competitive differentiators in the WAN optimization market, as some vendors are realizing that creating a set of capabilities for addressing VDI environments could allow them to carve a niche within the WAN optimization market in which they are more likely to win against the competition. Some of the technology vendors that have particular strengths in managing WAN traffic in VDI environments include the following:

  • Blue Coat Systems
  • Expand Networks
  • Exinda
  • Ipanema Technologies
  • Silver Peak
  • Streamcore

Some of these vendors are focused more on identifying and prioritizing this type of traffic, while others are able to combine their QoS capabilities with competencies in accelerating this type of traffic.

Having the right mix of technology capabilities, such as the ones described above, for managing VDI traffic over the WAN can help organizations ensure an optimal end-user experience while getting the most out of their existing infrastructures. Additionally, these organizations need to be proactive and understand network requirements for VDI traffic before they conduct desktop virtualization projects. Having visibility into the types of traffic and applications that are running on their networks allows organizations to identify potential performance bottlenecks prior to conducting desktop virtualization projects. They will be able to eliminate these bottlenecks before they cause issues with the quality of the end-user experience.

This was first published in April 2011

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