Server-hosted desktop virtualization environments can be tricky. Unlike server virtualization, which is well entrenched in the data center these days, VDI can still be a relatively new concept to desktop administrators, who for the most part have been used to working with local PCs.

Much like server virtualization platform vendors, however, VDI vendors cannot be everything to everyone. There are usually gaps (some small, some large) that need to be addressed, and these usually get filled by third-party software companies and developers in the community. But after spending money on the VDI solution itself, convincing management to spend even more money to tackle these various gaps can prove difficult. I’ve asked around and decided to start compiling a list of free tools that might help with some of the challenges you’re facing with your VDI planning or implementation.

Here are five free VDI tool discoveries:

Quest VDI Assessment
Even before you begin your journey into the world of desktop virtualization and VDI, IT departments should begin with a period of self-assessment to help analyze the potential benefits that can be achieved. Quest VDI Assessment takes a platform-agnostic approach in its analysis, and it allows you to more easily identify which desktops and users within the organization are best suited to each flavor of desktop virtualization, including VDI (hosted virtual desktops), local or offline VDI, Terminal Server (Remote Desktop Session Host), or application virtualization.

Quest VDI Assessment analyzes user behavior and desktop performance over time to build up a complete picture of application usage and resource consumption across the organization. Basically, it’s installed in your pre-VDI desktop environment, then it watches what the users do, determines which applications are being used, monitors the intensity (or lack thereof) of each user workload, watches for peripheral usage, and more. After collecting that data for 30 days or longer, it builds a nice report that identifies the best virtualization candidates for different virtualization technologies and uses the results to help build out an ROI model that is unique to the organization. If you haven’t done so yet, it can also help assess the viability of a Windows 7 migration.

This is no small freebie offering. Quest VDI Assessment is based on technology licensed from Liquidware Labs, a company with leading technology that was previously available with only a paid consultant. Quest is rebranding this technology and making it available as a self-assessment offering, for free.

However (you knew it was coming), there are a few things to keep in mind. Quest provides no formal tech support; any help will have to come from the Quest community site. But honestly, isn’t that usually to be expected from a free product? And although the tool is listed as freeware, the license key downloaded is only good for five days, so install it quickly after download. After that, you must contact someone at Quest to continue to use the software once it has expired. According to the company, an account representative will provide a new key that will preserve the data collected during the initial time period, but it will remain free and operate without restrictions on functionality, and it will support unlimited users.

VDI Flash Calculator
If you don’t have the time or patience to wait 30 days or more for your free assessment, you might at least give Andre Leibovici’s online VDI Flash Calculator a shot. Remember, properly sizing your VDI environment is one of the most important aspects of creating a VDI infrastructure design. Without knowing and understanding the workloads and the types of users in your environment, you could be setting yourself up for failure.

This tool can help you with your calculations concerning the sizing of your VMware view environment, and it provides nearly 60 different inputs to help come up with the result set. It’s a pretty comprehensive tool, prompting for details such as the number of VMs; VM type and sizing information; number of pools, parent VMs, and snapshots; host information such as sockets per host, cores per socket, and VMs per core; display protocol information; IOPS information; storage array capabilities, and more. For a deeper explanation and more details for each of the various input fields, be sure to visit the online manual page.

This version of Leibovici’s online calculator is targeted at VMware View designs; however, it can also be used for other VDI types running on top of a vSphere infrastructure.

One last thing to keep in mind while using this online calculator tool: There are no guarantees being made as to the results of the calculations. The results are based on best practices and the author’s field experience deploying dozens of VDI solutions. If nothing else, the result set should keep you from flying blind.

Login VSI
Part of any good VDI management is being able to figure out how to decide the optimal hardware configuration (right sizing) needed to support the desired number of users and applications in your environment. It sure would be nice to be able to test and predict the impact that a change in software or hardware would make so that you aren’t surprised by unexpected performance issues. To do that, you’ll need a good performance benchmarking tool in your utility belt, and international IT service provider Login Consultants has created just that.

Login VSI is a benchmarking tool that provides insight into the performance and scalability of VDI environments by simulating typical user workloads found in the office. It visualizes the differences between results in a single chart, helps to recognize trends, and provides insight into the performance at the virtual machine and hypervisor level. It also provides information about the reliability of both the current and future environment.

This benchmarking tool provides information about the performance of the infrastructure by generating typical user workloads much like a regular employee would by using Microsoft Word, Excel, Outlook, and Internet Explorer. It does so by spawning a new unique user session every few seconds. But instead of using a simple static load, the system gets saturated with workloads that simulate real-world usage to help you find the point where the system becomes unstable. This is essentially the point where the maximum capacity of users in your infrastructure is identified.

If you need to go even deeper with the simulations, there is a Pro version that you can pay for that will simulate light, medium, heavy, multimedia, and even customizable workloads to better match the behavior of your users. The Pro version also lets you test beyond 50 user sessions.

Quest vWorkspace Desktop Optimizer
A key to success is getting your VDI environment set up properly. However, let’s not forget about the virtual machines themselves. If you’re going to deploy dozens or hundreds of VMs to end-users from one or more master gold images, it makes perfect sense to have these images running in top form. That’s where Quest vWorkspace Desktop Optimizer comes into play. One of the ways to reduce costs in a virtual desktop deployment is to optimize the operating system. Let’s face it — running Windows in a VDI environment requires a decent amount of knob turning to get it to perform at its peak. With image optimization, it’s possible to reduce the CPU, memory, and disk requirement of the virtual desktop and give it a performance boost.

Quest created the vWorkspace Desktop Optimizer tool to do just that. This free tool crams years of hands-on experience into what the company calls its “optimizing knowledge,” which is then exposed as a list of 40 various optimization settings that can be enabled or disabled using either a GUI interface or using the command line. This simple application allows you to make file and registry tweaks quickly and easily, and it provides the ability to store the details of the changes made for audit purposes. Although the tool is written for Quest vWorkspace environments, it works just as well with either Citrix XenDesktop or VMware View.

Quest’s internal testing showed remarkable results such as: a 90 percent reduction in IOPS, both read and write; 43 percent less disk space consumed and 37 percent less CPU; and RAM savings of up to 10 percent compared to an out-of-the-box Windows 7 Enterprise installation.

As with Quest’s assessment tool, you can find support for this free optimization tool on the Quest community.

SolarWinds Storage Response Time Monitor
You’ve heard all about the storage I/O performance demands of VDI, so how do you keep track of storage response times and latency issues within your environment? That’s where the freeSolarWinds Storage Response Time Monitor tool comes into play.

At the heart of every virtualization infrastructure is some type of storage, be it small, large, or enterprise. When managing that environment, it becomes crucial to have visibility into the latency between the virtual machines and the storage that they run on. SolarWinds Storage Response Time Monitor was designed to help target storage I/O problems caused by virtualization in real time.

The tool connects to your VMware vSphere environment and monitors the top five host-to-datastore total storage response times, providing users with the five best virtual machines using the connections from an I/O (IOPS) perspective. For iSCSI and Fibre channel datastore types, it breaks down the total response time into kernel latency (the time spent in the host) and device latency (the time spent in the SAN). If a user is experiencing a slow response time on a virtual machine, the tool can quickly and easily give a snapshot report into how VMware datastores are performing in real time. Using this data, you can then determine whether there is a VM issue or if the issue is related to storage.

- In InfoWorld by David Marshall

 

 

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