Through Thick and Thin (Pt.2): Behind the Scenes

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Going back to my Tour de France analogy from the previous post, this installment is all about the action that takes place behind the scenes to make sure that the rider is successful in his bid to win races.  Just like any well functioning and cohesive team, every individual has specific responsibilities and tasks that need to be carried out.  Specific to cycling, most teams competing at a high level have the following personnel:
  • Team Manager: oversees the team's commitments and general operations
  • Directeurs Sportif: travels to races and dictates race strategy
  • Coach: directs rider training
  • Doctor: responsible for riders' well-being and often making sure the riders meet race regulations
  • Therapist: assist the doctor
  • Soigneur: responsible for feeding, clothing, and escorting riders
  • Mechanic: responsible for the team's riding and associated equipment

Although these people may be rarely seen, acknowledged or talked about, without their support the riders’ ability to perform at the optimal level would be greatly hampered.  The same holds true for making the thin client terminals function as they were designed; without the underlying and supporting hardware infrastructure, the terminal will not operate at it its optimal level, if at all.

The required underlying (back-end) hardware and supporting services for thin client computing or desktop and server virtualization is somewhat dependent on what technology is used to ‘host’ the client computing environment.  There are several well known applications out there that have a significant market presence.  These include:
  • VMWare (vSphere)
  • Citrix (XenApp)
  • Microsoft (Hyper-V)
  • Oracle (Oracle VM)
The application technologies and competition in the virtualization market from each of these big market players is ever-advancing.  This is great for the consumer in many fronts; better and easier to deploy technologies, pricing levels, feature enhancements and continued improvements – basically a healthy competitive environment that's driving innovative and cost-effective solutions for the end-user.

For the purposes of this discussion, I will be focusing primarily on the infrastructure to effectively run the VMWare technology.  As stated above, there are several integral components that are required to host the virtual desktop, and server, environments.  VMWare currently has approximately 70% of the virtual market and continues to expand its portfolio to enhance their products.

The primary required hardware components are:

Server (“Host”): the server hardware is the heart of the virtual environment.  Primarily, in the entry level stage, the server provides:

  • CPU
  • RAM
  • Ethernet adapter(s)
  • Local hard drive(s): this is optional as more robust environments utilize a Storage Area Network (SAN) to share hard drive capacity and storage amongst multiple “Hosts”
The components that have the biggest impact to the speed and performance for the virtual machines being hosted by the server are hard drive space and speed (15K rpm hard drives are highly encouraged), RAM and CPU speeds.

Network switch: the switch is what connects the clients to the server environment and other network resources (printers, scanners, faxes, etc)

The above are very basic and entry level requirements to having an environment that will host virtual machines that will be accessed by the thin client.  For more redundancy, high availability and better performance, the use of high speed SAN’s, faster and redundant switches (fiber channel or high end iSCSI), routers, hard drive controllers, redundant servers, WAN/LAN accelerators, etc are recommended.  The amount of virtual machine environments that a server can host is highly dependant on the type of hardware that is put in place.  The faster and more redundant the hardware, the better the experience and reliability of the virtual environment.

Each virtual machine can run any operating system supported by the underlying hardware and virtualization application. Users can thus run two or more different "guest" operating systems simultaneously, in separate "private" virtual computers.

So now that we have all this hardware and fancy gear in place to host and display the virtues of virtualization, now what?  Well, next we’ll talk about what it takes to deploy a thin client / VMWare or like environment.

Marc Driessen
Dynamic Manufacturing Solutions

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