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GCN : June 2015
26 GCN JUNE 2015 • GCN.COM case study BY HEATH DOUGLAS VIRTUALIZATION Adding dedicated GPUs to a Texas town’s virtual desktop system has improved the user experience Graphics acceleration takes VDI to new level The city of Round Rock, Texas, employs 850 people to serve a population of 100,000. Our city covers a wide area just out- side Austin that, while beautiful, often impairs employee productivity. For ex- ample, repairing a computer on the far side of town requires someone from the IT team to drive to that location, retrieve the workstation, and return to the office for diagnosis and repair be- fore making a second trip to return the computer to its user. That model, plus the inherent risks involved in storing data on local com- puters with inconsistent backups, pos- es significant costs and risks to the city government. Training is another issue. The Round Rock Fire Department uses videos be- cause the nature of its employees’ shifts makes it difficult to assemble everyone for live training sessions. Yet until recently, the firefighters at each station had to share two or three desk- top computers, which made it difficult for them to view the videos. Our IT department realized that those challenges lent themselves to a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI). Now we have centralized servers that host and run applications, render graphics and send the resulting data to users at remote locations. Employees can access the servers from any desktop, laptop or mobile device that has the appropriate portal client installed on it, and they can do that via just about any local or cellular network. They also receive full Win- dows desktops that act as terminals. As a result, the end users’ experience is largely identical no matter what device they are using to access the servers. Applications — from general office tools to streaming video and high-end 2D and 3D graphics and modeling tools — benefit from graphics accel- eration via a dedicated graphics pro- cessing unit (GPU), which frees the CPU to run the applications. However, legacy remote-access protocols do not include GPU support and there- fore pass the graphics tasks to the CPU. That approach consumes exces- sive CPU cycles, which degrades the speed and quality of graphics-oriented applications. We implemented VDI without GPU support and immediately started hear- ing complaints about jerky video play- back, poor quality and intermittent audio. We eked out marginal perfor- mance improvements by disabling all desktop interface enhancements, but that delivered an antiquated user ex- perience. VDI gave us remote access, bring-your-own-device readiness, ease of management, standardized applica- tion/desktop images and data security. But the video playback and interface problems spurred us to explore ways 0615gcn_026-027.indd 26 6/4/15 3:08 PM