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dinCloud: Making a Big Impact in the Cloud

Have you reached the saturation point yet on the cloud? The endless cacophony of cloud messages seems to have transformed into white noise, where trying to distinguish and differentiate among competitive cloud offerings can leave one in either a state of decision-making paralysis or trusting that familiar vendors know what they're talking about without, perhaps, the full measure of due diligence that is appropriate. Enter dinCloud, which plans to break through the droning blather and show how its approach to cloud is different.

Product differentiation can be tricky. Recall the words from a Carly Simon song: "What has she got that I haven't got?" When one vendor makes a claim, another will claim the same capability (checklist marketing, anybody?), even though there may be fundamental, inescapable differences. So please bear with me while I lay a foundation for dinCloud's story.

dinCloud offers just about everything in a set of cloud-based services that you would find in a regular data center, but the gem of its empire is its virtual desktop solution. One way of thinking of the dinCloud offering would be VDI (virtual desktop infrastructure) in the cloud, but the company disavows that term because it is too limiting. Instead, dinCloud provides what it calls the hosted virtual desktop (HVD) service--"hosted" because the service can be provided on premises (private cloud), off premises (public cloud) or in combination (hybrid cloud).

Now, HVD is not all that clouds can be, obviously, since there are other important uses of the cloud, such as test and development and disaster recovery as a primary service. (In fact, dinCloud does perform data protection and disaster recovery for its HVD and other services.) So how is HVD different from VDI, and why is that difference important?

VDI is a variant of the longstanding client-server model where a desktop operating system is hosted on a virtual machine (VM) that runs on a centralized server. All processes, applications and data are kept on and run on a central server. Although there are variants, one view is that PCs and laptops would be replaced by thin clients (which in the past would be called dumb terminals, but the name was changed to be a more marketing-friendly and less pejorative--dumb vs. intelligent--term). The primary benefit to IT includes reduced administrative burdens, since trying to upgrade, provision and manage thousands of desktops can be a real hassle. The challenges of VDI from an IT perspective are security, downtime (if not running a clustered file system), and just the general complexity and high initial costs of VDI purchase and deployment.

Fundamentally, the physical infrastructure of a data center with servers, such as blade servers, networking, such as Ethernet, and storage, such as the use of Fibre Channel SANs, is not designed to handle VDI deployments that can easily run into thousands of users. Trying to apply VDI software tools on an existing infrastructure runs into a wide range of technical issues that essentially make scaling of VDI untenable within its necessary performance requirements. For example, a single LUN on iSCSI or Fibre Channel SAN storage can handle only up to 64 virtual machines/users. Moreover, a key question to ponder is whether the infrastructure can handle the I/O demand patterns that VDI requires. Hint: The answer is likely no.

The requirement then is to create a separate, purpose-built VDI infrastructure--which is what dinCloud has done--that can be deployed as either a private or public cloud. A key part of dinCloud's success is InfiniBand. It has much lower latency than Ethernet, it virtualizes all of the network connectivity, it doesn't require a hypervisor reboot when provisioning/de-provisioning I/O to the host, and it doesn't involve the same sheer mess of cables. This is only one of many, many changes that dinCloud (in conjunction with its 20-plus dinStack coalition partners) has done to optimize for virtual desktops.

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