Send your desktops on a moon shot

I cannot believe that it’s nearly two months since HP Discover in Barcelona, a very busy and chaotic couple of weeks. I started this post on the plane back from Barcelona but didn’t get it finished until today.

Disclaimer: I attended HP Discover in Barcelona at the invitation of HP, who paid for travel and accommodation, thanks HP. HP has not asked me to write about anything nor seen anything I write before it is published.

Data centre based desktops come in a few flavours: Virtual machines, terminal servers and dedicated physical desktops. HP are bringing an option for the dedicated physical desktop by putting an AMD APU in a Moonshot cartridge which provides 1800 physical desktops in one server rack. There are two new things here, the APU and the Moonshot chassis.

The Moonshot chassis is a logical extension of the blade chassis we’ve worked with in the past, but with an even more dense setup. Rather than having a blade that plug into the front, Moon shot has a cartridge that plugs into the top of the enclosure, when it is pulled out of the rack. The enclosure provides network and power, the cartridge is then self contained with CPU, RAM and storage. The chassis has a pair of switches which each have two 40GB Ethernet uplink, so the shared networking in the enclosure is very unlikely to be saturated. The Moonshot chassis takes 45 cartridges in a 4.3U rack enclosure, that’s a weird height but does allow ten chassis and so 450 cartridges in a 43U rack.

The AMD APU is a System on Chip architecture, both a CPU and a GPU in one chip. This means that a whole PC motherboard can be a couple of square inches and use very little power. These APUs are commonly used in value priced or fleet laptops, providing good but not outstanding performance for normal Windows application. The APU based Moonshot cartridge puts four APUs, so PCs, on each cartridge, each with two GB Ethernet, up to 8GB of RAM and the option of a 32GB SSD. The APU doesn’t have the fastest or most powerful CPU or GPU but it does offer a good experience for normal applications, including Google Earth and GPU offload with recent Internet Explorer versions or basic 3D applications. For me the small SSD is likely to be limiting and is the reason that XenDesktop and Provisioning Server are the use case right now. The SSD caches the parts of the OS image that have been accessed, rather than holding a full OS image. The Provisioning Server has the whole OS image and delivers the required parts over the network to the desktop. Remember that this is in a datacentre so there are plenty of file servers for user data. With XenDesktop these Moonshot cartridges provided non-persistent desktops on physical hardware.

Don’t mistake these Moonshot cartridges for a place to run a hypervisor, for a start the APU only supports 8G of RAM.  The cartridges are limited to Gigabit Ethernet with no option for 10GBe to the cartridge or Fibre Channel. This shouldn’t be a limitation as Moonshot desktop is a scale out solution, not a server virtualization solution. There is a Moonshot cartridge that is designed for scale out virtualization, primarily OpenStack deployment.

Since I mostly work with VMware’s View I’d like to see a version of the cartridge with more SSD, maybe 128GB, so VMware’s Mirage can push out a full image with office and maybe a few core applications. I’d also like to see View support physical desktops better, PCoIP protocol support would be great. At present View could only support RDP for the Moon shot hardware. I hope HP manage to get their RGS protocol supported or that Teradici develop a software PCoIP implementation for physical PCs. Until the SSD is larger and View supports a better display protocol these Moonshot cartridges are going to be limited to XenDesktop.

A single Moon shot chassis can contain up to 45 cartridges, each providing 4 PCs, so 180 physical desktops in the 4.3U chassis and 1800 in a single rack.. With support for Citrix XenDesktop this brings a lot of users into the datacentre that might not have been satisfied with a terminal server or VM and weren’t cost effective to deliver with a dedicated blade or rack mount workstation. It is a good sign of maturity that a datacentre based desktop can be delivered with a service level tailored to multiple use cases. The Moonshot solution is for the middle ground user that needs dedicated resource like what a physical PC would deliver with the benefits of  a connection broker and thin, mobile or zero clients. The less demanding workload desktops will be shared hardware through VDI or terminal services, this will still suit the easy targets for VDI like call centre and data entry. The high end will remain workstation class hardware in the datacentre either a dedicated physical workstations or using GPU virtualization with a hypervisor, which brings CAD and GIS into scope for VDI.

© 2014, Alastair. All rights reserved.

About Alastair

I am a professional geek, working in IT Infrastructure. Mostly I help to communicate and educate around the use of current technology and the direction of future technologies.
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