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It was late June and Chris Gebhardt was nowhere to be found.  No backpack on his desk.  No response to emails – not even the courtesy OOO auto-reply. I checked with other colleagues and no one had a clue where Chris was.  He hadn’t been seen for over a week, but his car was in the parking lot and there had been random sightings of him bubbling up on Jabber.  He was M.I.A.

The Project

It turns out that Chris had been sequestered as part of a handpicked engineering team, spending fourteen-hour days deep in the bowels of the NetApp Data Center working on a phenomenal internal VDI project for NetApp. The project entailed deploying virtual engineering desktops (VED), across four different data centers around the world – in 12 days!  To further qualify how incredible this feat was, the project went from ground zero to “business-ready” in that twelve day span, which included designing the solution, getting the infrastructure on site(s), and coordinating engineering activity across several time zones.  Speed was of the essence, so it was imperative that the team of local and remote engineers had the right expertise across multiple IT disciplines, as well as the ability to execute.  And execute they did.  When the project was finished, the team had deployed approximately 9,500 persistent virtual desktops across four NetApp data center sites in RTP, Sunnyvale, Bangalore, and Wichita.

The Solution

When deploying a solution at this scale, in such a short time frame, you have to go with a solution that you know works.  That’s why VMware Horizon 6 and FlexPod with All Flash FAS running clustered Data ONTAP was used.  It just works.  TR-4335 “NetApp All Flash FAS Solution For Persistent Desktops with VMware Horizon View” was used as the blue print for the solution architecture, which helped to expedite the planning and design phases.  Here’s a quick look at the key solution components:

    • NetApp clustered Data ONTAP, the #1 storage operating system*, provided the foundation for data management
    • FlexPod was selected for it’s ease of deployment and predictable scalability
    • NetApp All Flash FAS for uncompromised performance to meet stringent Engineering SLAs and ensure there were no bottlenecks
    • VMware Horizon 6.1 provided the mobility and secure access to enterprise data from endpoint devices, as well as the ability to deploy Linux virtual desktops.
    • VMware ThinApp for application virtualization.
    • VMware vRealize Operations for Horizon for virtual desktop monitoring and management

VMware was very excited about the project and recently developed a customer success story documenting the deployment.  You can read more about the solution and benefits in the newly published VMware Case Study.  Also, later this week Chris Gebhardt will be presenting at a VMUG Webcast: Deliver a Better Experience For End User Computing with NetApp All Flash FAS (Thursday, December 17th, 2015).  Check with your local VMUG representative for details.  If you want a “behind the scenes” look at the project, listen to this edition of the Tech ONTAP podcast.

More than Hardware and Software

Irrespective of the solution being deployed, an often overlooked and somewhat intangible aspect is the level of expertise and experience that is required to reduce risk of a project of this nature.  NetApp has worked with thousands of enterprise customers, have developed world-class solutions with a myriad of partners, and even built a few data centers. Being able to tap into that kind of knowledge and experience was instrumental to the success of the VED project. Sure, this deployment was bigger and faster than others, but the modus operandi doesn’t change.  It starts with planning.  Then doing an assessment, sizing, and solution design using all the tools that NetApp, VMware, and other partners, such as Liquidware Labs, have been talking to our customers about.  That also includes implementing NetApp and VMware best practices.  So the solution and infrastructure is one thing, but also knowing what to do – and what not to do – before, during, and after a deployment is critical to the success of a project like this one.

Lessons Learned from the Trenches

Of course, like many projects, there are always things that you might do differently a second time around, or things that could have been considered such as how best to manage anti-virus scans to minimize impact on users, better understanding workflow diversity, and to expect resistance to change from users and how to address that.  On this project one realization that came about was that “if you build it, you own it” which meant the onus of providing Desktop Support fell initially on the project team.  But you know what, those things were all manageable.  NetApp continues to build on it’s own experience and expand our capabilities around VDI (not just storage, or VMware expertise, but the whole operational side of virtual desktop deployment).  This is knowledge that you can only get from being in the trenches.  We can now share that experience and knowledge, along with the pod-based architecture from TR-4335, when providing guidance for our customers.

It’s not about showcasing products

First and foremost, the VED project was about improving security within our engineering environment using virtual desktops. Manageability and accessibility would have to be maintained. There were no sales reps pushing products or influencing the design decision. The VED Engineering Team had carte blanche to architect and implement the right solution.  The fact that VMware Horizon 6, FlexPod, All Flash FAS and clustered Data ONTAP comprised the core components of the solution further validates the value of NetApp/VMware partnership and is a great example of dog fooding our joint technologies.

* Source: IDC Worldwide Quarterly Enterprise Storage Systems Tracker 2015 Q2, September 2015 (Open Networked Enterprise Storage Systems revenue)