Cisco Virtualization Experience Infrastructure (VXI) is core pillar of Cisco strategy to provide secure access to any service, on any device, from anywhere.
Opportunity 1: Replacing Second Company-Owned Device with Personal Device
Opportunity 2: Eliminating Laptop Costs in Extranet Partner Sites
Figure 1. Cisco VXI Smart Solution
Table 1. Solution Components
• Personal devices, including tablets: Employees using personal devices can work with their virtual desktop but currently cannot access voice and video services with an acceptable user experience. When Cisco IT deploys Cisco VXC 4000 software, employees who use personal Windows devices will also be able to access Cisco voice and video services. A media engine on the Cisco VXC 4000 intelligently routes voice traffic to Cisco Unified Communications Manager (Figure 2). "Voice on traditional VDIs is not enterprise quality because it goes through the data center," says Stuart Hollingsworth, Cisco IT program manager. "In contrast, voice quality on the Cisco VXC 4000 software appliance and Cisco VXC 6215 thin client is excellent, because it travels point to point, just as it does with standard IP phones."
Figure 2. Voice Traffic Travels Point to Point Instead of Through Data Center, for Enterprise Quality
• Cisco VXC 6215: Shift workers in a pilot program have been using this client, which handles voice and video traffic in the same way as the Cisco VXC 4000 (Figure 3). When new employees arrive for their shifts, they log on to receive their own desktop.
• Cisco VXC 2100: Lobby Ambassadors in a pilot program use this model, which connects to a Cisco Unified IP Phone 9950 or 9970 to combine the functions of a traditional PC and IP phone in a unified form factor.
Figure 3. Cisco VXC 6215 (Left) and VXC 2100 (Right)
• Stateful instead of stateless desktops: A stateful desktop, also called a persistent desktop, is reserved for a particular employee. A stateless desktop, in contrast, uses data center resources only when an employee is logged on. "Although a stateless design uses fewer resources, and therefore costs less, we decided to start with fully persistent desktops to become familiar with VXI technology, economic factors, and support models," Whitmarsh says. Cisco IT is currently developing the profile management, content virtualization, and application virtualization processes needed for stateless desktops.
• Separating VDI traffic from other data center traffic: Cisco IT needed to make sure that desktop traffic would not degrade the performance of critical data center applications such as cisco.com and enterprise resource planning (ERP) tools. Therefore, the virtual desktop sessions themselves operate on dedicated compute and storage resources, behind their own switches. The sessions access Cisco VXI application servers that are deployed as part of Cisco's standard virtual server farms, and these servers broker connection client requests for a VXI session. "The Cisco VXI effectively operates as a campus network within the data center, subject to campus switching and QoS policies but separate from the core data center network," says Turner.
• Wired and wireless access: Personal devices and Cisco VXC endpoints connect to virtual desktops through a Cisco Catalyst® 6500 Switch, Cisco IT's standard for desktops. The IT team is in the process of certifying the Cisco Nexus® 7000 as a desktop switch.
• Employees with two or more laptops: Many of these are sales and support engineers and developers. "Development and test are good use cases for desktop virtualization, because developers and test engineers don't need to spend time refreshing their desktops after installing a lot of software," says Turner.
• Mac users: Cisco employees can choose a Windows or Mac laptop, but Cisco IT provides support for Windows laptops only. Seventy percent of the employees participating in the pilot have a Mac. Previously they used VMware Fusion to operate Windows applications. Now they no longer need Fusion, because Macs can access the Windows virtual desktop through the Citrix Receiver client. "The appeal of Cisco VXI to Mac users is to bridge the divide between their preferred platform and Cisco's standard Windows laptop," Whitmarsh says, noting that future releases of Microsoft Exchange may reduce that need.
• Interns: "Within the IT organization, 20 summer interns were set up a virtual desktop and became productive within minutes," says John Manville, vice president of Global Infrastructure Services for Cisco. "In addition, we avoided committing to a costly 36-month laptop lease."
• Contact center agents
• Extranet partners
• Vendors who work at Cisco for six months or less
Lower Costs and Better Protection of Intellectual Property for Extranet Partners
• Better protection of intellectual property: Desktop traffic never leaves the Cisco data center. "With Cisco VXI, our level of control increases significantly, even while management becomes simpler," says Brian Christensen, senior director of IT network services at Cisco.
• Lower desktop TCO: Cisco VXCs contain no moving parts, increasing desktop client lifespan from three years to five-eight years. Operating system and application upgrades occur online without human intervention, and all users work from one image. "Instead of refreshing the laptop fleet every three years, we spend just one quarter testing new applications in the VXI environment," Prosenjit says. Cisco IT had already dramatically reduced desktop support costs by eliminating local support costs, and Cisco VXI reduced TCO by another 8-10 percent.
• Faster onboarding of new employees: An unforeseen benefit of Cisco VXI is that developers become productive four to five weeks sooner. "We pay for developers as soon as they are hired, but in the past they couldn't become fully productive until they received a laptop, sometimes weeks after their start date," Prosenjit says. "Now a virtual desktop is created automatically along with the Active Directory user name." The Cisco VXI Smart Solution also helps to reduce inventory requirements and simplifies asset management at the partner location.
• Flexibility to work from anywhere: Previously, developers and test engineers could only access the network from the office, not from home. Now Cisco IT can confidently allow partner employees to work from anywhere because the environment remains within Cisco.
• Increased application performance: Cisco VXI is faster and more reliable than local desktops, partly because the environment is centrally managed. And unlike laptops, Cisco VXCs do not slow down over time because of repeated operating system patches, cookie proliferation, and so on.
• Make sure you know all applications that the target employees use. Task workers, in particular, often do not have the latest application versions. During the pilot, Cisco IT discovered that some applications required Windows XP, not Windows 7, and that the finance team still uses certain older Oracle applications. Keep in mind that users' self-reporting of application use is not always accurate. At Cisco, for example, certain employees used Cisco WebEx and Cisco Jabber™ (formerly Cisco Unified Personal Communicator) more than they realized. To use these collaboration applications with acceptable user performance, they need a Cisco VXC 4000 or VXC 6215.
• Test application compatibility with the desktop virtualization software. During testing, Cisco IT discovered that certain client-server applications did not perform well in a virtual desktop environment.
• Decide whether the data center team or desktop team should own the program. "Initially, the desktop team took the lead with the VXI deployment and worked to get the attention of the data center team," says Whitmarsh. "After we transferred responsibility to the data center team, progress accelerated, and the pilot was operating after just three months. Our experience validated Gartner's observation that VDI is currently being driven by data center teams." Gartner also predicts that VDI will eventually return to desktop teams.
• Prepare for collaboration among different IT teams that previously did not work together. Cisco VXI affects multiple Cisco IT teams, including networking, data center, desktop, security, unified communications, and video services. These groups have been relatively autonomous at Cisco, and Cisco VXI requires them to collaborate for the first time.
• Revisit policies about personal software. Cisco IT does not restrict the software that employees can use on their laptops, so some use music players like iTunes. "Cisco VXI is an extension of the desktop, so we currently have the same software usage policies," Turner says. "However, we are reconsidering because if an employee uses iTunes from VXI, performance might slow down in some situations."
• Determine if you need different-sized pods for different locations. Cisco IT might design a 500-user pod for smaller locations where the current 2000-user pod would not be cost-effective.
• Make sure employees understand the benefits of virtual desktops. "Some of our users were very excited, while others wanted to know why we were taking away their laptops," says Hollingsworth. Cisco IT blogged about the program in online communities and emailed setup instructions. Monitor usage to determine if employees initially need encouragement from their managers.
• Shifting from persistent to nonpersistent (stateless) virtual desktops.
• Using S-Cloud, Cisco IT's storage cloud to increase storage limits while lowering costs.
• Implementing a third-party application that uses forward-caching techniques to store more virtual desktops on the same number of arrays.
• Streaming Windows XP applications to the Windows 7 virtual desktop using Citrix XenApp.
• Enabling extranet partners to connect from outside the firewall using Cisco AnyConnect Mobility Client.
• Virtualizing applications. Instead of including applications in the desktop image, Cisco IT plans to stream applications to the virtual desktop.
• Automating provisioning of the Cisco VXC 4000 software appliance using Cisco Process Orchestrator, part of the Cisco Intelligent Automation for Cloud portfolio. The first time employees connect to their virtual desktop with either a company-owned or personal device, the Cisco ISE will authenticate the user and then deliver the software for installation.
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