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Georgia Institute of Technology creates VDI environment
16 April 2013
Students at the Georgia Institute of Technology’s College of Engineering, like students elsewhere, live in a world in which they can download just about any application to any device they have. But that wasn’t possible with some of the software they were required to use for their engineering classes. For example, the AutoCAD 3D computer-aided design software they used was downloadable, but many of the tools they needed were incompatible with some of the laptops they used, as they lacked the massive graphics computing power needed to run some of the software.
RemoteFX is the only technology that we can use to share video cards among virtual machines
director of Technology Services at Georgia Tech The college tried a number of solutions. First, it ran the compute-intensive engineering applications on workstation-class computers in its labs. But this didn’t solve the challenge of giving students anytime, anywhere access to the applications. In 2008, the college implemented a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), so that applications would run on back-end servers and be delivered virtually to users on their preferred devices. But this still proved insufficient for the most graphics-intensive design software.
In 2011, the college began to modify its VDI solution to make better use of scant memory resources. It took advantage of Hyper-V virtualisation technology in the Windows Server 2008 R2 operating system with Service Pack 1. While this addressed several of the college’s key concerns, virtualising the physical hosts that ran the graphics-intensive applications wasn’t one of them. In 2012, Didier Contis, director of Technology Services at Georgia Tech, and his colleagues were excited to learn about Windows Server 2012 with Hyper-V. In particular, they were interested in the Microsoft RemoteFX feature in the enhanced Remote Desktop Services (RDS) tool. The feature improves the virtual delivery of 3D experiences across networks, including those with limited bandwidth and high latency. The only thing that stood in their way was the timeline. The software was available only in pre-release form, pending its formal launch in September, but the college wanted it up and running before classes started in the autumn.
With the assistance of Microsoft Services Consulting, Georgia Tech built the architecture with pre-release versions of Windows Server 2012 and then updated the architecture with the final release of Windows Server 2012 during the week before classes began.
The VDI environment was built using Windows Server 2012 centres on a five-node cluster. Each node serves a remote desktop virtual hardware role and hosts a graphics card and up to 74 virtual machines. Those five nodes are supported by a two-node file server cluster for Simple Message Block 3 storage. Another two-node cluster supports remote desktop user access and administrative services. The architecture runs on Dell PowerEdge R720 servers with 16 cores and 192 GB of memory, and on five Nvidia GRID K1 graphics processing cards.
“RemoteFX is the only technology that we can use to share video cards among virtual machines,” says Contis. “The combination of RemoteFX with the Nvidia GRID GPU provided us with an innovative platform. Being able to share video cards among virtual machines is a great plus for us. It helps us better manage costs while providing great performance.”
Today, through its use of Windows Server 2012, Georgia Tech is meeting students’ needs for broader access to software; streamlining and automating management of the virtual environment; and reducing capital and operating costs too.