Virtualization Platform Choice

Like most large IT organizations I’m familiar with, we run VMware vSphere as our virtualization platform.  When we began to plan for my virtual desktop rollout, the consensus among most of the IT admins involved in the discussions was that, regardless of which virtual desktop software we chose, we should run it on top of vSphere.

Still, Citrix did its best to make the case for building out my virtual desktop project on XenServer, and I’ll admit that I drank their Kool-Aid and advocated for their product in the early stages of planning.  Likewise, as our organization has standardized on the Microsoft stack for so many other services, including Exchange & Sharepoint, we took a serious look at Hyper-V.

Ultimately, though, we made the decision to stay with vSphere as the virtualization platform for the following reasons:

  • In-house depth of certified experience and familiarity
  • Lack of experience with Hyper-V & XenServer
  • Expansion of project to include private cloud, FlexPod

In-house depth of experience and familiarity with vSphere

We have a VMware-certified admin on staff who has built our environment up from a few physical hosts several years ago to more than twenty hosts spread across multiple clusters today.  He is what I think of as an admin’s admin – hardcore geek, stays up-to-date on his field via RSS feeds, Twitter, etc.  Like me, he’s always looking for something new to learn.  On top of that, he’s also a RHCE and helps manage our production Linux environment.  In addition to our primary vSphere admins, several admins within our systems team have years of user and power-user level experience working with vSphere.

Lack of experience with Hyper-V & XenServer

Aside from setting up a few old servers with Hyper-V in standalone configs to test, we haven’t used it at all for production, or even officially for dev/test.  Several people from our team, including our vSphere admin, attended MMS 2011 and were impressed with what Microsoft’s Virtual Machine Manager 2012 will be, especially as part of the larger System Center universe, but we couldn’t recommend building such a large new system on the promises of features from future versions of a product.

I’ve played with XenServer off and on for a couple of years now, after building a test server specifically for it.  My zeal for the product took a hit last Fall, though, just after putting a couple of XenServer hosts into pre-production.  The root partition on one of the servers filled up due to runaway error logs caused by an HBA issue, and that caused the entire Xen system to lockup, requiring a hard reboot.  I searched for and found many references to this issue on the Citrix support forums, but the best answer I could come up with was, “yeah, sometimes that happens.”  I migrated the VMs on those hosts to our vSphere cluster before putting them into production.

Expansion of project to include private cloud, FlexPod

If this project had remained only about delivering virtual desktops, the choice of virtualization platform might have been simpler, and we may have considered adding another hypervisor to our infrastructure.  The utilization of our vSphere cluster continued to increase, however, and just as we were beginning to consider hardware options for my virtual desktop implementation, we had to plan as well for new general-purpose virtualization hardware.  We also began a search for two types of storage – bulk lower-tier storage for user home areas – and higher-tier storage for virtualization.

Our decision to go with an integrated stack on the hardware side of things warrants its own post, but suffice to say that of the two products we considered, vSphere was the only option for one of them, and the best option for the other.  While we were assured that the Cisco UCS compute section of the FlexPod was hypervisor-agnostic, we knew didn’t want to bet the success of a large virtual desktop project, as well as a push to implement a more automated, cloud-like virtualization offering for campus on a virtualization platform with which we had no production experience.

Ending up where we Started

We decided to stay with vSphere.  At the end of the day, the conservative choice made the most sense for the most reasons, and while I expect we will revisit this decision in the future, especially as competing offerings from Citrix and Microsoft mature, I think we made the right choice for now.

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4 Responses to Virtualization Platform Choice

  1. Shaun says:

    Hey Mike, Just saw these posts through a LinkedIn contact and traced it to your Twitter account. I’m interested in your choice for VDI considering your Virtualization Platform is VMWare. Did you guys just recently go with XenDesktop? Would you look at VMWare View again?

    We are in the same situation as you were in picking your virtualization infrastructure. We have a large VMWare Infrastructure supported by NetApp storage. We want to utilize our existing VMWare infrastructure for VDI however see there are good offerings from Citrix. We don’t have the experience with Citrix and also don’t have any Citrix hardware or infrastructure so from that standpoint we figured we’d stay with VMWare.

    Thoughts? Would love to discuss over the phone actually if you want. I’m the IT Infrastructure and Operations Manager of a Canadian Engineering company and we are seriously looking into this. I’d love to talk about what your using Flexpod for as well.

    Thanks
    Shaun

    • Mike Stanley says:

      Shaun,

      Actually, none of the decisions we’ve made were made recently, or at least it doesn’t seem that way to me. We were a VMware shop for server virtualization, and gave VMware View a look, but unless VMware adds features to View to make it more competitive with XenDesktop (streamed virtual desktops, terminal services extension & improvement) I doubt we’d look at it again. Looking at the environment we’re about to build right now, View would offer no benefit/functionality for several hundred of our lab machines, whereas with XenDesktop we’ll be able to leverage them just like the pure VDI desktops we’re deploying.

      I detail more about why we selected XenDesktop over VMware View and Quest vWorkspace here.

      I’d be happy to discuss it more with you. DM me on Twitter and we can swap emails or arrange a phone call.

      Thanks for the comment!

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  3. Flexpod is all kool-aid and marketing, run like the plagued from Cisco/Netapp venture. As long as your hardware is on the HCL you are good to go, avoid all the marketing hype. Cisco UCS is okay, Netapp is old architecture.

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