Can V3's specialized VDI host/storage solution compete against the big boys of HP, Dell, and Cisco?

Startup hardware vendor V3 Systems is offering VDI-specific servers with claims of high performance and ease of use. But some people wonder whether they're nothing more than just a fancy bezel on a Super Micro server with a Fusion-io card.

Startup hardware vendor V3 Systems is offering VDI-specific servers with claims of high performance and ease of use. But some people wonder whether they’re nothing more than just a fancy bezel on a Super Micro server with a Fusion-io card.

V3 came on the scene about a year ago promising to make VDI practical for the masses, with co-founder Peter Bookman bringing his experience at Fusion-io to the table. Their website claims reduced CapEx and OpEx, simplicity, and ease of use, all through a 1U plug and play box that can deploy 50-300 desktops in an hour. They have shown demonstrations of VDI desktops that are 2 to 8 times faster than physical desktops, using a solid state infrastructure from Fusion-io.

In marketing materials, V3 compares their solution to SAN-based VDI deployment, which is somewhat of a polarizing issue. More importantly, though, we also have to remember that VDI is not for everyone, but rather for limited use cases. Like Brian said, “Most people need VDI like [they] need a hole in their head.” Also, we know how suspect claims about  anything to do with cost models can be. With that disclaimer, we have to look at V3 just within the context of other high IOPS VDI solutions.

It turns out that V3 is coming into a space that’s already pretty full. At first glance, it even seems like V3 is a bit late to the Fusion-io party, too. IBM was partnering with Fusion-io since Project Quicksilver was wowing people back in 2008, and is now even offering a discount on its products. Dell has had a relationship with Fusion-io since its early days, and HP also offers Fusion-io products.

So if you can buy a Fusion-io card bundled into a “real” server, why buy a Super Micro from V3? On one hand, this appliance could make a first-time VDI implementation easy and fast. On the other hand, if an IT department can’t figure out how to pick out a server from one of the big guys, then they have no business doing VDI anyway.

Beyond the offerings from the bigger companies—companies that IT departments already have relationships with—there are other solutions out there—Whiptail, XtremIO, STEC—that remind us that V3 is not alone. Whiptail markets their XLR8r (“accelerator”... get it? :) for VDI among other uses, not in the focused way of V3’s marketing. XtremIO seems to be going in a similar direction; while they don’t have any products yet, they did get $14m in Round B funding last month. Pivot3 is doing some interesting things area with its vBank, then there’s also Xiotech’s hybrid solution, the list just goes on and on.

With all of these competitors using similar or identical technology, why choose V3? True, it is really cool to see their demos of a slickly-packaged, VDI specific appliance out-performing the fastest traditional desktops. And their marketing seems to cut through the crowd, essentially saying, “Look, we can actually, finally do this VDI thing now, with a cool, sexy appliance built from scratch!” But it remains that there are many other products out there can do the exact same thing.

So will a small, highly-targeted company have the advantage in a crowded field? Or will more established companies or different technologies edge them out?

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There will always be a niche for any vendor who can deliver quality, supportable turnkey solutions that appeal to customers with a specific use case - there are problems with such niche products though - software roadmap tie-ins, cost and support from reseller distribution networks are the big ones in my eyes.

Firstly, the constantly shifting software environment which limits sooner or later the advantages of any niche hardware solution. Features like Citrix/Xen intellicache sound great and harness the benefits of both cheap local storage backed by reliable centralised Image management on SAN or NAS - but this feature only works with Xenserver, which is crap at memory overcommit (a big deal when trying to achieve VDI density). Over the fence Vmware has the superior hypervisor, but they have dropped the anticipated CBRC / View Accelerator (i.e. intellicache for vSphere) funcitonality from vSphere5/View5 - we won't see it until view 5.5 or whatever, not to mention the View Eocsystem isnt as robust as the Citrix solution just yet. Sadly, we can't utilise Xendesktop on a vSphere platform with intellicache to get the best solution - as they are locked into thier competing underlying HV.

The Capex cost of deploying a VDI solution compared to Thick clients is significant. Hardware solutions like those form V3 may help bring things more in line with the overall cost of thick hardware, but remember that there is also the painful licencing and suppport costs on top - Microsoft, VMware, Xen, all want thier pound of flesh on top of what you'd pay to provide a thick desktop.

Then theres the flexibility aspect. If thier workloads change such that a user can benefit from SSD speed storage for example - thats a £100 drop in for a thick client. VDI backends on the other hand are inflexible - you either get it right first time or you spend a fortune later to bolt on that performance. Solutions like V3's might be ideal for certain scenario's today - but will it still be ideal in 3 years time? What if the VDI software vendors change the way they deal with storage, or provide a game changing software solution (intellicache, CPRS etc) that negates the need for loads of fast storage, or what if Windows 8 wants loads of memory but doesnt care about disk?

When it comes down to it - selecting a VDI package and hardware vendor for a production deployment right now is more about being knowing where you can afford to compormise. On the software front, each major vendor has its key unique benefits; on the hardware front the big boys can tick most boxes (for a price) while the niche players are gambling that thier more targeted solutions won't be superceeded by a clever software revision within 6 months.

Regardless of the direction taken, end users and IT departments end up compromising on something compared to a Thick deployment, and are the ones taking all the risks.

While I dearly love the concept of VDI, its still very much in its commercial infancy. No one product (hardware or software) is yet able to cater to the many usage scenarios that a single predictably priced build of Thick client can. The much vaunted managability and TCO benefits just arent there yet - not when there are so many bolt ons and licences and hardware tweaks required to get to the same level of capability.

Homogonisation of feature support will come in time (hopefully sooner rather than later) to the benefit of both vendors and customers. In my humble opinion - anyone buying into a particular niche hardware or VDI product and expecting it to remain flexible, cost effective and best fit for the same lifespan as a Thick desktop is setting themselves up for dissapointment.