Atlantis and IBM help solve VDI Catch 22

Successful VDI deployments must satisfy three groups within the enterprise: 1) users, who want the same experience they had with their desktop PCs; 2) IT managers, who want to simplify operations and reduce risk; and 3) the CFO, who wants predictable capital costs that are comparable to (or better than) desktop PCs – at a lower operating cost. To serve these three masters IT planners often blindly count on flash based storage, but is flash alone enough? Atlantis Computing and IBM think there is a more intelligent way to deploy flash and meet the diverging expectations of these three groups – while maximizing the potential of the flash investment.

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Catch 22

When it comes to VDI, IT is faced with a classic struggle, to the need to implement a VDI environment that provides an appealing end-user experience while delivering an acceptable cost per desktop. For the past 10 years, VDI deployments have often relied on architectures that can support potentially thousands of virtual desktop instances spread across virtualized physical server hosts, all connected to a single shared storage system.

This design approach attempts to lower the physical per-desktop cost of storage, but is hopelessly flawed when it comes to delivering adequate performance for those users. This approach is the reason so many VDI projects end in failed pilots – the initial desktops receive enough I/O, but as more desktops are added to the same shared storage, end users notice a significant drop in performance.

The typical IT response has been to wheel in more storage to provide additional performance, or more recently, to consider flash-assisted or all-flash storage. This has created a Catch 22 scenario for VDI planners – either deploy more costly storage assets to deliver acceptable performance, and pay the price, or receive negative feedback from the business users due to their poor VDI experience, and pay another price.

Overcoming this situation requires a more efficient environment that can use flash to deliver significantly improved performance and increased density, supporting more desktops with fewer physical hosts.

Atlantis software with IBM FlashSystem bumps up the efficiency of the storage infrastructure, delivering higher, more consistent performance while reducing storage infrastructure requirements by up to 95%. It also provides the scalability, uptime and data protection that a mission-critical application like VDI needs to dial back the risk. After all, desktop consolidation puts all the eggs in one basket, so that ‘basket’ must be up to the task, and fully protected.

Atlantis Software

Atlantis software reduces the runtime ‘storage footprint’ of typical workloads, minimizing I/O operations those workloads generate and reducing their impact on the storage system. Atlantis ILIO installs between the hypervisor and the storage, as a virtual storage appliance on each physical host, intercepting I/O traffic and applying in-memory inline deduplication, compression and acceleration before those transactions hit the storage system. It identifies the ‘transient’ I/O that’s common in file system environments – those intermediate but temporary data handling steps that are generated in the process of writing data and running the OS or applications – and holds them in memory.

The other “stateful” I/Os are destined for durable storage, but are first subjected to ILIO’s in-line data reduction routines. Given the amount of duplicate data inherent in typical VDI environments, de-duplication and compression can have a significant positive benefit for the underlying storage. In fact, these two steps can result in an up to 95% reduction in I/O traffic to that storage system and storage capacity required.

IBM FlashSystem

IBM FlashSystem all-flash arrays provide the performance required to deliver the kind of experience users are expecting; faster boot and logon times, quicker application launch times and better overall desktop response. IBM can make it seem to users like there’s an SSD in every desktop, creating an experience that’s actually better than their former desktop hardware could provide.

The performance is all-flash, but when combined with Atlantis the storage cost per desktop is actually less than it was with the original PC infrastructure. Since Atlantis can reduce storage requirements by 95%, it effectively cuts storage costs per desktop by a factor of 20. So while the raw cost of an all-flash array is more than traditional storage hardware, the net cost, after this dramatic bump in efficiency is actually lower for the IBM FlashSystem. The Atlantis ILIO and IBM FlashSystem joint VDI solution has a published reference architecture that can support 10,000 users with a 2U IBM FlashSystem 840 (40TB), for less than $200 / desktop. That price includes server, IBM FlashSystem storage and Atlantis software.

Satisfying all three masters

This means the IBM – Atlantis solution can deliver all-flash performance at a cost lower than the HDD-based systems that were in place before VDI. Said another way, it’s (much) better than PC performance at a lower-than-PC cost. That would seem to satisfy the users and the CFO, but what about IT? In order to keep that third ‘master’ happy, a VDI solution needs to make operations simpler, deliver better uptime for the system, provide DR protection and lower deployment risks.

Operations, uptime and data protection

The IBM FlashSystem with Atlantis software solution can automate the virtual desktop storage infrastructure deployment and make storage and network configuration easier and more accurate. Administrators can also leverage Atlantis automation to deploy thousands of virtual desktops across the environment, speeding up the project and getting users online faster.

Using IBM’s Storage Replication, the entire VDI infrastructure can be mirrored to a second system in the data center to provide business continuity or asynchronously replicated to an off-site location for disaster recovery protection. This addresses the uptime and data protection issues.


Most VDI deployments begin as pilot projects, but as they get up and run more virtual desktops are added and the infrastructure must be scaled to support an expanding user base. This is a significant source of risk, maintaining the performance and cost targets as the number of desktops grows.

The Atlantis and IBM FlashSystem VDI solution is designed to scale in a modular fashion well into the PB range, providing consistent performance as it does so. This is one of the benefits of an all-flash architecture, but there’s another aspect to this solution – it’s from IBM.

Many all-flash systems out today are from small startups. These companies can have innovative technologies, but most of their efforts are focused on driving down the cost of flash not on driving up performance by delivering storage software and hardware designed specifically for flash. And buying from these new companies can bring other risks as well, like vendor business failure, vendor acquisition or simple resource constraints.

For example, many all-flash startups are just now delivering the capability to do off-site replication, several years after their first products came on to the market. Buying an all-flash system from IBM removes these risks often associated with small companies, while providing a flash system designed specifically for flash so that its performance potential can be better realized.

StorageSwiss Take

VDI is what we call “tough duty” for the storage infrastructure, due in large part to the expectations of desktop users, company management and IT itself. Each of these groups has specific outcomes it expects from a VDI project and satisfying all three is a difficult challenge. Most VDI solutions rely on flash-based storage of one kind or another, but simply throwing flash at this problem isn’t enough.

Atlantis and IBM FlashSystem have taken a different approach by creating a VDI-specific solution that adds efficiency in terms of both capacity utilization and performance optimization. The result is the performance to drive the desktop experience that users love at a per-desktop cost that keeps management happy, without the risk intrinsic to many VDI solutions.

Sponsored by Atlantis Computing

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Eric is an Analyst with Storage Switzerland and has over 25 years experience in high-technology industries. He’s held technical, management and marketing positions in the computer storage, instrumentation, digital imaging and test equipment fields. He has spent the past 15 years in the data storage field, with storage hardware manufacturers and as a national storage integrator, designing and implementing open systems storage solutions for companies in the Western United States.  Eric earned degrees in electrical/computer engineering from the University of Colorado and marketing from California State University, Humboldt.  He and his wife live in Colorado and have twins in college.

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