It looks like someone didn't get the deal done in time for the VMworld virtualization and cloud extravaganza last week. Today, server wannabe and networking giant Cisco Systems and virtualization player Citrix Systems will announce their first partnership, bundling up the XenDesktop Swiss army knife of desktop and application virtualization on Cisco's "California" Unified Computing System blade servers.
The deal between Cisco and Citrix is simple. According to Jackie Ross, vice president of Cisco's server and virtualization business unit, customers buying UCS iron had been asking for Cisco to certify and support the XenDesktop virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) stack on Cisco's blades. With VDI, central servers host, stream, and manage virtual PC images that are either run locally on PC iron (that's with the XenClient bare-metal hypervisor that is now part of XenDesktop) or back in the server farm with data and video being streamed over network links to PCs. And Citrix says that businesses looking at the XenDesktop VDI stack as they try to figure out how to more sensibly and cost-effectively manage their PCs as they stare down the Windows 7 transition on their desktops were bugging Citrix about supporting XenDesktop on the UCS iron.
So the two vendors got together, created the expected reference architectures and bundles, figured out how to link their tech support operations, and are now going to market with a single, bundled UCS-XenDesktop offering.
The starter kit for the bundle includes a UCS chassis plus two B200-M2 servers, which are half-width blade servers based on Intel's Xeon 5600 processors, and three B250 servers, which are full width blades with memory extension technology that allows a two-socket Xeon 5600 box to support 384 GB of memory rather than the 144 GB of the usual two-socket Xeon box. (You can see the feeds and speeds of the original UCS blades here and the update for the Xeon 5600s here.)
Ross says that the B250 supports 100 typical virtual desktop users, and the starter kit supports 300 users. The base B200 blades are used to run the XenDesktop code, not to actually host virtual PCs. Cisco and Citrix are offering expansion packs that support either 200 more users through four half-width B200-M2 blades (at 50 users each) or 400 more users more users through four full-width B250-M2 blades (that's 100 users each blade).
The choice of UCS blade for the XenDesktop setup depends on how much memory each user needs. No matter what, the UCS setup can only span 320 half-width blades or 160 full-width blades, and that means the UCS box tops out at 16,000 virtual PCs in a single network domain and virtual server pool.
XenDesktop runs the XenServer hypervisor from Citrix as well as the ESX Server hypervisor from rival VMware and the Hyper-V hypervisor from Microsoft. The UCS-XenDesktop bundle, however is not yet certified with Hyper-V, although Sumit Dhawan, vice president of the XenDesktop products at Citrix, says the company is working on that because there are some customers who want Hyper-V as their virtualization layer.
The starter kit bundle does include the fabric interconnect to link blades in the UCS chassis to each other, outside networks, and to external storage for the blades (all over converged Ethernet), but the bundle itself does not include storage. Ross said that the reference architecture for the XenDesktop setup included NetApp iSCSI filers.
The bundled UCS-XenDesktop stack is available starting today through either Cisco or Citrix and their respective sales channels. The one thing neither company will share is the list price for the setups, which is always a bad practice but one that gives channel partners and the two companies a feeling of leverage. The solution to getting a good price on the bundle is to bring in Hewlett-Packard or Dell on the iron side and VMware and perhaps a Vblock setup of UCS iron and EMC storage hosting VMware's new View 4.5 VDI software. ®