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OpenStack VDI: The What, the Why, and the How

If you’re looking for an alternative to running desktops on dedicated hardware in the data center, open source software may be the name of the game.

4 Min Read
OpenStack VDI: The What, the Why, and the How

Karen Gondoly is CEO of Leostream.

Moving desktops out from under the users’ desks and into the data center is no longer a groundbreaking concept. Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) and its cousin, Desktops-as-a-Service (DaaS) have been around for quite sometime and are employed to enable mobility, centralize resources, and secure data.

For as long as VDI has been around, so have industry old-timers VMware and Citrix — the two big players in the virtual desktop space. But, as Bob Dylan would say, the times, they are a-changing.

OpenStack has been climbing up through the ranks, and this newcomer is poised for a slice of the VDI pie. If you’re looking for an alternative to running desktops on dedicated hardware in the data center, open source software may be the name of the game.

What is OpenStack?

OpenStack, an open source cloud operating system and community founded by Rackspace and NASA, has graduated from a platform used solely by DevOps to an important solution for managing entire enterprise-grade data centers. By moving your virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) workloads into your OpenStack cloud, you can eliminate expensive, legacy VDI stacks and provide cloud-based, on-demand desktops to users across your organization. Consisting of over ten different projects, OpenStack hits on several of the major must-haves to deliver VDI and/or Desktops-as-a-Service (DaaS), including networking, storage, compute, multi-tenancy, and cost control.

Why VDI and Why OpenStack?

Generally speaking, the benefits of moving users’ desktops into the data center as part of a virtual desktop infrastructure are well documented: your IT staff can patch and manage desktops more efficiently; your data is secure in the data center, instead of on the users' clients; and your users can access their desktop from anywhere and from any device, supporting a bring-your-own-device initiative.

Many organizations considered moving their workforce to VDI, only to find that the hurdles of doing so outweighed the benefits. The existing, legacy VDI stacks are expensive and complicated, placing VDI out of reach for all but the largest, most tech-savvy companies.

By leveraging an OpenStack cloud for VDI, an organization reaps the benefits of VDI at a much lower cost. And, by wrapping VDI into the organization’s complete cloud strategy, IT manages a single OpenStack environment across the entire data center, instead of maintaining separate stacks and working with multiple vendors.

How to Leverage OpenStack Clouds for Virtual Desktops

Now, “simplification” is not a benefit for building OpenStack VDI and DaaS. If you’re not an OpenStack expert, then you may want to partner with someone who is. Companies like SUSE, Mirantis, Canonical, and Cisco Metapod, can help ease your migration to the cloud. Keep in mind that your hosted desktop environment will need to be resistant to failure and flexible enough to meet individual user needs.

So, if you’re really serious about VDI/DaaS, then you’ll need to leverage a hypervisor, display protocol, and a connection broker. A recent blueprint dives into the details of the solution components and several important usability factors.

Here’s the Reader’s Digest version:

  • Hypervisor: A hypervisor allows you to host several different virtual machines on a single hardware. KVM is noted in the OpenStack documentation as being the most highly tested and supported hypervisor for OpenStack. To successfully manage VDI or DaaS, the feature sets provided by any of the hypervisors are adequate.

  • Display Protocol: A display protocol provides end users with a graphical interface to view a desktop that re- sides in the data center or cloud. Some of the popular options include Teradici PCoIP, HP RGS, or Microsoft RDP.

  • Connection Broker: A connection broker focuses on desktop provisioning and connection management. It also provides the interface that your end users will use to log in. The key in choosing a connect broker is to ensure that it integrates with the OpenStack API. That API allows you to inventory instances in OpenStack. These instances are your desktops. It also makes it easy to provision new instances from existing images, and assigns correct IP addresses to instances.

How do you bring everything together? The process can be summarized into four basic steps.

  1. First, you’ll want to determine the architecture for your OpenStack Cloud. As mentioned, there are a number of solid experts that can help you with this step, if you’re not an expert yourself.

  2. Then as you onboard new groups of users, make sure to place each in their own OpenStack project, which means defining the project and the network.

  3. Next, you’ll want to build a master desktop and image, which can be used to streamline the provisioning of desktops to users. At this stage, you’ll want to explore display protocols and select a solution(s) that delivers the performance that your end-users need.

  4. The final step is to configure your connection broker to manage the day-to-day activities.

Conclusion and Takeaways

When it comes to leveraging OpenStack clouds to host desktops, there's a lot to think about and several moving parts. For those looking outside the box of traditional virtualization platforms, OpenStack may be your golden ticket. Key to delivering desktops is choosing an adequate display protocol and connection broker.

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