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Data center infrastructure for desktop virtualization and the next-generation virtual workspace

What You Will Learn

An agile and robust data center infrastructure is required to support desktop virtualization. Key issues around performance, capacity and security must be built-in to the data center supporting infrastructure for desktop virtualization to deliver on its promises of simplified operations, data security and reduced desktop TCO. Cisco provides an optimized data center infrastructure for desktop virtualization and a platform for the next-generation virtual workspace, working with industry leaders such as VMware, Citrix, EMC, and NetApp, to address the broadest set of IT and user requirements.

Desktop Virtualization and the Evolving Business Environment

Today's IT departments are facing a rapidly evolving workplace environment. The workforce is becoming increasingly diverse and geographically dispersed, including offshore contractors, distributed call center operations, knowledge and task workers, partners, consultants, and executives connecting from locations around the globe at all times.
This workforce is also increasingly mobile, conducting business in traditional offices, conference rooms across the enterprise campus, home offices, on the road, in hotels, and at the local coffee shop. This workforce wants to use a growing array of client computing and mobile devices that they can choose based on personal preference. These trends are increasing pressure on IT to ensure protection of corporate data and prevent data leakage or loss through any combination of user, endpoint device, and desktop access scenarios (Figure 1). These challenges are compounded by desktop refresh cycles to accommodate aging PCs and bounded local storage and migration to new operating systems, specifically Microsoft Windows 7.

Figure 1. The Evolving Workplace Landscape

Desktop virtualization has been around for a long time, but it is only recently that organizations have begun to deploy desktop virtualization on a broad basis and across a variety of user profiles. Increased data security and reduced TCO are sighted as primary drivers for this increasing adoption. And while desktop virtualization provides benefits on the IT side of the house, end-user enthusiasm has lagged. End-users have been hesitant to give up the experience and access that a fully functioning desktop or laptop provides. These same users are now demanding access to IT resources from a variety of devices, including smart phones and tablets of their own.
Fortunately for IT, end-users, and the business itself, desktop virtualization has progressed and can now offer a near-native end-user experience on almost any device, while at the same time providing increased control, security, and lower TCO to IT and the business. IT is happy, end-users are happy, and the business benefits via greater productivity and reduced costs.
But today's worker is connected in ways beyond the traditional desktop and most desktop virtualization solutions struggle to deliver a complete end-user experience. End-users utilize not only a traditional desktop computing environment, but also have integrated collaboration and media-rich applications. Cisco identified this need in 2010 and developed an architecture and set of solutions, going beyond traditional desktop virtualization, and integrating communications, collaboration and rich-media support into the Cisco Virtualization Experience Infrastructure (VXI). VXI combines Cisco's leadership in data center, networking and collaboration architectures to deliver the next-generation virtual workspace.

Cisco Data Center Infrastructure for Desktop Virtualization and VXI

Cisco desktop virtualization solutions address the needs of an increasingly mobile and geographically dispersed workforce that is adopting an evolving and expanding suite of heterogeneous end-point devices. Cisco solutions give enterprises a path to pervasive and persistent control and security of virtual desktops, applications, and data delivered through a highly scalable and rapidly deployed infrastructure, while reducing costs. Cisco offers an innovative solution that addresses the evolving business IT environment, including desktop hardware refresh cycles, Microsoft Windows 7 migration, security and compliance initiatives, remote and branch offices and offshore facilities, and mergers and acquisitions.
The foundation of Cisco desktop virtualization solutions and VXI is the Cisco data center infrastructure, which combines best-in-class Cisco and partner products, service offerings, and best practices to deliver a simplified, secure and scalable solution leading to TCO savings and implementation success. Cisco offers the first end-to-end desktop virtualization solution that uses an open platform and architectural approach that includes computing, hypervisor, network, storage, security, and management in a single, cohesive system.

Simplified. Secure. Scalable.

Cisco focuses on three key elements to deliver the best desktop virtualization data center infrastructure and platform for the next-generation virtual workspace: simplification, security and scalability. Through this focus customers will achieve savings and success in their desktop virtualization implementations.


Cisco Unified Computing System (Cisco UCS) provides a radical new approach to industry standard computing and provides the heart of the data center infrastructure for desktop virtualization and VXI. Among the many features and benefits of Cisco UCS are the drastic reductions in the number of servers needed and the number of cables per server, and the ability to very quickly deploy or re-provision servers through Cisco UCS Service Profiles. With fewer servers and cables to manage and with streamlined server and virtual desktop provisioning, operations are significantly simplified. Thousands of desktops can be provisioned in minutes with Cisco service profiles and Cisco storage partners' storage-based cloning. This speeds time to productivity for end-users, improves business agility, and allows IT resources to be allocated to other tasks.
IT tasks are further simplified through reduced management complexity, provided by the highly integrated UCS Manager, along with fewer servers, interfaces, and cables to manage and maintain. This is possible due to the industry leading, highest virtual desktop density per blade of Cisco UCS along with the reduced cabling and port-count due to the unified fabric and unified ports of Cisco UCS and desktop virtualization data center infrastructure.
Simplification also leads to improved and more rapid success of a desktop virtualization implementation. Cisco and its partners - VMware (View), Citrix (XenDesktop), EMC, and NetApp - have developed integrated, validated architectures, including available pre-defined, validated infrastructure packages via VCE Vblock (with EMC storage) or FlexPod (with NetApp storage). There is also very tight integration and testing with all of the leading hypervisors, including VMware vSphere, Citrix XenServer, and Microsoft Hyper-V. There are also services to help plan, deploy, and maintain the Cisco data center infrastructure for desktop virtualization.


While virtual desktops are inherently more secure than their physical world predecessors, they introduce new security considerations. Mission critical web and application servers using a common infrastructure as virtual desktops can now present a much larger attack surface for corrupted desktops. Inter-virtual-machine traffic now poses a more important security consideration that IT managers need to address, especially in dynamic environments that have virtual machines vMotioning across the infrastructure.
Desktop virtualization, therefore, significantly increases the need for virtual machine-level awareness of policy and security, especially given the dynamic and fluid nature of virtual machine mobility across an extended computing infrastructure. The ease with which new virtual desktops can proliferate magnifies the importance of a virtualization-aware network and security infrastructure. Cisco data center infrastructure (Cisco UCS and Nexus) for desktop virtualization provides stronger data center, network, and desktop security with comprehensive security from the desktop to the hypervisor. Security is enhanced with segmentation of virtual desktops, virtual machine-aware policies and administration, and network security across the LAN and WAN infrastructure.
Corporate and end-user data is also better protected with consistent, centralized and improved data management, backup, and retention of desktop data, leading to better corporate compliance and a safer desktop virtualization solution. Cisco data center infrastructure for desktop virtualization and VXI reduces the risk associated with a virtual desktops deployment through its integrated, validated end-to-end architecture based on proven designs and technologies.


Growth of a desktop virtualization solution is all but inevitable and it is critical to have a solution that can scale, and scale predictably, with that growth. The Cisco solution supports more virtual desktops per server and additional servers scale with near linear performance. Cisco data center infrastructure provides a flexible platform for growth and improves business agility. Cisco UCS service profiles allow for on-demand desktop provisioning and it is as easy to deploy dozens or thousands of additional desktops.
Each additional Cisco UCS server provides near linear performance and utilizes Cisco's patented extended memory technology and unified fabric to avoid desktop virtualization bottlenecks. The high performance, low latency network supports high volumes of virtual desktop traffic, including high resolution video and communications. And Cisco storage partners EMC and NetApp maintain data availability and optimal performance during boot and login storms as part of the Cisco desktop virtualization solution.
Cisco UCS and Nexus data center infrastructure is an ideal platform for growth, with transparent scaling of server, network, and storage resources to support desktop virtualization, VXI, data center applications or cloud computing.

Savings and Success

As demonstrated above, the simplified, secure, scalable Cisco data center infrastructure solution for desktop virtualization will save time and money vs. alternative approaches. There will be faster payback and ongoing savings (better ROI and lower TCO) with the industry's highest virtual desktop density per server, meaning there will be fewer servers needed, reducing both capital (CapEx) and operating (OpEx) costs. There will also be much lower network infrastructure costs, with fewer cables per server and fewer ports required, via the Cisco UCS architecture and unified fabric. And storage costs will be reduced with storage tiering and de-duplication technologies, reducing desktop storage needs by up to 50 percent.
The simplified deployment of Cisco UCS for desktop virtualization speeds time to productivity and enhances business agility. IT staff and end-users are more productive more quickly and the business can react to new opportunities by simply deploying virtual desktops whenever and wherever needed. The high performance Cisco systems and network deliver a near-native end-user experience, allowing users to be productive anytime, anywhere.
The ultimate measure of desktop virtualization for any organization is its efficiency and effectiveness, both in the near- and long-term. The Cisco solution is very efficient - allowing rapid deployment, minimal devices and cabling, and lower costs. The solution is also very effective - providing the services end-users need on their devices of choice while improving IT operations, control and data security. Success is bolstered through Cisco's best-of-breed partnerships with leaders in virtualization and storage, and through tested and validated designs and services to help customers throughout the process. Long-term success is enabled through Cisco's scalable, flexible, secure architecture as the platform for desktop virtualization, which is also a strong platform for VXI, data center applications, and cloud computing.

Solution Components

Cisco's desktop virtualization solution is the first in the industry to bind together the three critical elements of an end-to-end deployment - the end-user, the network, and the data center. It draws on Cisco's architectural advantage to provide a solution that supports a diversity of endpoint devices, extends pervasive security and policy management to each virtual desktop, uses a new and innovative virtualization-optimized stateless server computing model (Cisco UCS), and uses the power of the WAN infrastructure to deliver rich media applications without compromise. These Cisco, partner, and services components combine to deliver the Cisco desktop virtualization and VXI solution (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Cisco VXI Desktop Virtualization Solution

Base Cisco and Partner Components

• Computing platform: Cisco UCS B-Series Blade Servers

• Cisco UCS Fabric Interconnect

• Hypervisor: VMware vSphere, Citrix XenServer, or Microsoft Hyper-V

• Virtual desktop connection broker: Citrix XenDesktop or VMware View

Additional Solution Components

• Computing platform: Cisco UCS C-Series Rack-Mount Servers

• Cisco Unified Fabric: Cisco Nexus 7000, 5000 Series Switches and Nexus 2000 Series Fabric Extenders

• Storage: NetApp FAS or EMC VNX

• Virtual machine-aware networking and security: Cisco Nexus 1000V Series Switches, Cisco VN-Link technology, and Cisco Virtual Security Gateway

• Network security: Cisco ASA Adaptive Security Appliances

• WAN optimization: Cisco Wide Area Application Services (WAAS) and Virtual WAAS (vWAAS)

• Server load balancing: Cisco Application Control Engine (ACE)

• SAN: Cisco MDS 9500 Series Multilayer Directors

Cisco Services

• Cisco VXI Unified Solution Support

• Cisco VXI Desktop Virtualization Strategy Service

• Cisco VXI Desktop Virtualization Planning and Design Service

Cisco Services

Desktop virtualization services from Cisco and partners help customers achieve the full business value of IT investments faster. Backed by proven expertise in networking, computing, storage, and application services, an architectural approach, and a broad ecosystem of partners, Cisco Services enable customers to design and build a highly secure, scalable desktop virtualization data center infrastructure.

• Desktop Virtualization Strategy Service helps customers understand the financial consequences and business benefits of migration to a virtual desktop architecture so they can make informed technology investments. This service also provides the expertise to help customers assess the operational readiness of a desktop virtualization solution that fits their IT strategy.

• Planning and Design Service builds on the Cisco Strategy Service by using the architecture and operational outputs to develop a detailed plan of action for implementing the desktop virtualization solution. Main deliverables include a high-level design, preproduction pilot plan, low-level design, and other components to validate the solution and help ensure a successful transition to a production implementation.

• Through a single toll-free number for technical support, customers have access to a virtual team of cross-trained experts in technologies spanning the virtual experience infrastructure, including security, storage, computing, application performance, and networking. By using collaboration tools for case management, providing global always-available access to technical support resources, and a single point of accountability, Cisco delivers rapid issue resolution and escalation.

Cisco Validated Designs

Cisco Validated Designs consist of systems and solutions that are designed, tested, and documented to facilitate and improve customer deployments. These designs incorporate a wide range of technologies and products into a portfolio of solutions that have been developed together with our partners to address the business needs of our customers. Cisco Validated Design for Cisco Desktop Virtualization can be seen by visiting:

Cisco Desktop Virtualization and VXI Ecosystem Solutions and Partnerships

Cisco Desktop Virtualization Solution with Citrix XenDesktop

Cisco has transformed data center architecture with next-generation IT infrastructure that unites computing, networking, virtualization, and storage access resources into a single cohesive system with integrated, embedded management. Citrix offers a desktop virtualization solution that delivers applications and desktops as on-demand services to any user, on any device, anywhere, and at any time. With a high-definition user experience, the combined solution addresses needs ranging from those of call-center operators to those of knowledge workers, supporting the distributed nature of today's businesses while enabling the mobile, global workforce.
The Cisco Desktop Virtualization Solution with Citrix XenDesktop delivers desktops and applications as an on-demand service to users anywhere, at any time, and on their choice of devices. The solution supports a new balance between IT and users. It empowers users with mobility, flexibility, and productivity on a global scale. It gives IT departments the tools they need to better meet the changing demands of today's business concerns, including rapid response to events ranging from mergers and acquisitions to the opening of a new branch office.
The solution incorporates the most flexible, cost-effective and scalable platform for hosting virtual desktops, Cisco UCS, built from the ground up to support virtualization. The solution transforms data center operations by simplifying server and workload management, making IT staff more productive. The Cisco Desktop Virtualization Solution with Citrix XenDesktop protects IT investments by expanding and adapting to business needs through incorporation of new technologies without major equipment upgrades.
The solution delivers an uncompromised user experience through Citrix HDX technology and can be customized on a per-user basis. The solution extends its reach propelled by Cisco's leadership in enterprise networking and computing. The Cisco Unified Computing System is powered by Intel Xeon processors that increase performance with data center-class reliability and availability.
Cisco and Citrix together deliver a virtual desktop solution that can transform business operations while increasing the productivity of any organization's greatest asset: its people.
Please see the Citrix Desktop Virtualization Partner page on For more information please visit

Cisco Desktop Virtualization Solution with VMware View

Cisco Desktop Virtualization Solution with VMware View gives control over the desktop back to IT departments - control over desktop and data security, control over desktop operations, and control over operating expenses - while providing an uncompromised user experience. Cisco and VMware are market-leading, innovative companies with a long history of support for virtualization of data center resources. By combining their vision and capabilities, Cisco and VMware together offer customers powerful allies for designing and implementing next-generation virtual workspaces. Together, Cisco and VMware deliver a standards-based, cohesive, unified environment that easily scales to meet the needs of the business while reducing TCO.
This joint, integrated solution provides a near-native usability experience for the end user. This is achieved with the help of differentiated VMware View capabilities including the ability to deliver an optimized and adaptive experience for end users using the PCoIP display protocol for high-performance desktop experience across the LAN or WAN.
VMware View also delivers View Media Services for Unified Communications for a seamless end-user experience with optimized VoIP performance. View Persona Management provides end-users with a consistent, personalized experience while enabling IT to deploy lower cost stateless floating desktops. Enable lower IT costs, better management while giving end-users their "look and feel" with faster desktop log-in times. End-user productivity is heightened with the delivery of 3D graphics, multi-monitor configurations, ability to play rich media content and easily access locally attached peripherals such as printers, scanners and mass storage devices.
Cisco Data Center solutions work with VMware solutions in a tightly integrated fashon, providing a more cohesive end-to-end system. These solutions include the Cisco Nexus 1000v Series Switch embedded with the VMware vSphere hypervisor, along with Cisco Virtual Security Gateway, delivering VM-aware networking, policy and security. Cisco UCS Virtual Interface Cards working in tandem with VMware VMDirectPath increase virtual machine I/O performance, and Cisco UCS Manager integration with VMware vCenter streamlines operations.
The collaboration between these two companies brings IT organizations scalable desktop capacity and resource reuse, enabled though holistic management automation, increasing human and resource efficiency and reducing errors and downtime. With Cisco and VMware technologies, new desktops can be securely brought online in minutes rather than weeks or months, and desktop resources can automatically scale up or down to meet business requirements, reducing energy consumption. The combination of Cisco and VMware delivers an infrastructure that speeds desktop delivery, increases security, and improves desktop availability and the user experience for local and remote desktop access, both online and offline, without compromising control over the solution's TCO.
Please see the VMware Desktop Virtualization Partner page on For more information please visit

Cisco Desktop Virtualizaton with VCE Vblock Infrastructure Packages

The Virtual Computing Environment (VCE) coalition, a collaboration of Cisco, EMC, and VMware, offers organizations of all sizes an accelerated approach to data center transformation with dramatic efficiencies that promise significant reductions in both capital and operating expenses. As a result, organizations will no longer have to choose between best-in-class technologies and end-to-end vendor accountability.
Vblock FastPath Desktop Virtualization Platform provides a simplified and accelerated means for IT to embrace desktop virtualization. This new solution is purpose built for rapidly deploying View desktops by taking the guesswork and time out of selecting and provisioning a virtual desktop platform, while offering a single stop for support. This desktop virtualization "appliance" simplifies procurement, provides a modular and scalable way to manage growth, enables rapid provisioning in minutes, and is supported by a validated architecture to ensure predictable high-performance through peak demands, helping IT managers de-risk the infrastructure decisions for supporting virtual desktops, and having a simplified, single-number support model to deploy with confidence. For more information visit

Cisco Desktop Virtualization with FlexPod

Built upon industry-leading solutions from Cisco, VMware and NetApp, FlexPod provides an optimized, scalable, and validated infrastructure package ideally suited for desktop virtualization. FlexPod is a pretested data center solution built on a flexible, scalable, shared infrastructure from Cisco Unified Computing System servers and Cisco Nexus switches, and NetApp unified storage systems running Data ONTAP. FlexPod components are integrated and standardized to help IT managers eliminate the guesswork and achieve timely, repeatable, consistent deployments. FlexPod has been optimized with a variety of mixed application workloads and design configurations in various environments such as virtual desktop infrastructure and secure multi-tenancy environments. Built on NetApp storage, FlexPod enables IT to consume 50% less storage by eliminating redundant desktop and user data, provision thousands of virtual desktops in minutes with automated and instantaneous desktop cloning. It also provides users continuous access with reliable storage optimized for VDI workloads, and instantly backs up and secures end-user data.
Cisco Desktop Virtualization with FlexPod offers:

• A single platform from industry leaders in networking, computing and storage

• Pretested, validated solution platform to reduce risk and increase efficiencies

• Flexible IT architecture for today's needs, yet scales for future growth

• Cooperative Support model for efficient and streamlined resolution

For more information on FlexPod solutions visit

Conclusion and Recommended Next Steps

Cisco and its solution partners offer a combined, fully integrated desktop virtualization solution that is differentiated from today's traditional solutions in the following ways:

• The Cisco Unified Computing System, stateless computing architecture, and service profiles-based operational model enable rapid deployment and scaling for virtual desktops.

• Cisco's solution delivers exceptional control and security for centralized desktops, leveraging Cisco Nexus 1000v, and Cisco Virtual Security Gateway, helping ensure that network and security policy is maintained at the virtual machine level, regardless of the physical host on which it resides.

• Cisco's solution offers an outstanding user computing experience using Cisco Extended Memory Technology, helping ensure that each desktop virtual machine has sufficient memory to respond to user needs combined with Cisco UCS Virtual Interface Cards which accelerate virtual machine I/O performance.

• Cisco's solution also helps IT regain control of desktop TCO with a simplified architecture and integrated, streamlined management leveraging Cisco UCS Manager, and Service Profile Templates for Desktop Virtualization. Improved resource utilization enabled by the Cisco Extended Memory Technology and stateless computing model enable each server blade to deliver a high number of virtual desktops, dramatically reducing TCO.

Desktop Virtualization project leaders should consider the following approach in undertaking the implementation of a hosted virtual desktop solution:

• Define the end-state user experience strategy. What will the service delivery strategy look like in 5 years? Be sure to engage line-of-business, IT, and communications teams from the start.

• Identify the main immediate business and IT priorities, which can include user flexibility, data security, cost savings, IT efficiency, availability, etc.

• Develop a holistic VDI roadmap, engaging application, data center, network, and security stakeholders. Make sure that your roadmap supports data center short- and long-term goals and initiatives.

• Engage your Cisco team and partners, who can accelerate your success through advanced services that cover all phases of the initiative: plan, design, deploy, implement, operate, and optimize.

For More Information

For more information about Cisco data center infrastructure for desktop virtualization and VXI, please visit