IBM FlashSystem in a Virtual Desktop Environment Solution Guide

IBM Redbooks Solution Guide


This Solution Guide provides an overview of IBM® FlashSystem™ running in a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) environment. We describe the benefits that are gained from running a VDI environment with the low latency response times that FlashSystem provides, with a focus on business productivity and mitigating boot storms.


Today, IT staffs are faced with ever-rising costs, increased complexity of maintaining remote user workstations, growing needs to avoid security exposures such as virus attacks, the lack of centralized management, and the need for flexibility and global availability of compute resources. Running a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) in an IBM® FlashSystem™ storage environment unlocks an employee's productivity by serving his or her compute needs regardless of physical location or connection device. This Solution Guide describes the benefits of the IBM FlashSystem solution for VDI.

VDI coupled with FlashSystem storage helps solve the above described business problems. Figure 1 illustrates the applications that benefit from the low latency response times that FlashSystem provides. This Solution Guide focuses on the value that FlashSystem brings to a VDI.

Figure 1. FlashSystem focus areas - virtual desktop is key
Figure 1. FlashSystem focus areas - virtual desktop is key

The IBM SmartCloud® Desktop infrastructure uses a VDI approach that runs on IBM Flex System™ or on IBM System x® simplifies IT manageability and control. It delivers high fidelity user experiences across devices and networks. Features in SmartCloud Desktop Software offerings such as VMware View provide enhanced security, high availability, centralized management and control, and scalability.

Did you know?
  • IBM flash memory systems deliver up to 525,000 read IOPS with less than 100 microseconds of latency and provide up to 20 TB of usable data storage in 1U of rack space.
  • FlashSystem storage systems also offer enterprise-level availability and reliability with no single point of failure, multiple layers of data correction, chip redundancy, and redundant hot swap components.
  • FlashSystem increases business productivity and decreases the cost of production by mitigating boot storms in a VDI environment.

Business value

IBM FlashSystem storage systems deliver extraordinary business value with extreme performance, efficiency, and reliability through easy-to-deploy all-flash systems. The FlashSystem portfolio of storage products extends the leadership of IBM in flash optimized storage infrastructures. By using patented Variable Stripe RAID technology and 2D Flash RAID, FlashSystem storage systems enhance resiliency without sacrificing performance or usable capacity.

FlashSystem storage is built for one purpose; making storage faster. By running your VDI with FlashSystem storage, there are no spinning disks and therefore much less I/O latency. Users do not have to wait on boot time during peak community login windows, month-end billing cycles, or any time.

The FlashSystem and the IBM SAN Volume Controller bundle add advanced storage functionality to the extreme performance of FlashSystem storage, such as Thin Provisioning, IBM Easy Tier® for storage efficiency, IBM FlashCopy® for point-in-time copies, and Mirroring/Copy services for data replication and protection. For information about how to order FlashSystem or the FlashSystem Solution bundling features, see the following link:

The concept of VDI with management efficiencies, such as speed of deployment, ease of maintenance activities (patch updates), and an excellent user experience through performance and flexibility, is now a reality. The high performance and flexibility of VDIs are being realized with the recent availability of x86 virtualization, increasingly larger amounts of CPU power, centralized memory, and FlashSystem storage systems.

Traditional hard disk drives (HDDs) are optimized for high-capacity, modest performance, and sequential workloads. HDDs tend to be too slow to effectively respond to the I/O profile of VDI, which generates a heavy workload of random reads and writes that are prone to intense bursts of activity. These I/O characteristics manifest themselves in the form of latency (the time it takes an I/O request to be fulfilled by the storage subsystem). VDI deployments have previously experienced some resistance which was caused by latency issues and the subsequent high cost of adding spindle count to increase performance. These issues burdened a business' ability to perform or compete at its best against the market.

Solution overview

Deploying an FlashSystem, which is a shareable, rack-mounted all-flash array, in to the VDI introduces unparalleled reliability, capacity density, and the fastest response time.

Running your VDI in a FlashSystem storage environment addresses the challenge of sporadic VDI workload that is encountered throughout the day, from the morning boot, to afternoon productivity time, to evening maintenance. A FlashSystem 820 can provide up to 525,000 IOPS, which is ample performance to keep your VDI running smoothly throughout the day. The FlashSystem 810 SLC can reach 550,000 IOPS.

Solving latency issues by deploying FlashSystem storage is crucial to the successful deployment of VDI. Flash delivers performance and value to boost the applications that are running your business by providing the following improvements:
  • Scale applications further.
  • Do more things with more people, customers, and so on.
  • Increase "parallel" performance.
  • Speed up applications.
  • Drive a more productive business.
  • Increase "serial" performance.
  • Create new applications.
  • Do more things with data.
  • More analytics leads to more insight.
  • Make applications more efficient.
  • Do more with fewer spindles, CPU cores, license fees, and so on.

The FlashSystem portfolio of FlashSystem storage systems delivers high performance, efficiency, and reliability for shared enterprise storage environments, helping clients around the world address performance issues with their most important applications and infrastructure. These storage systems can either complement or replace traditional hard disk drive arrays in many applications, including VDIs.

As standard shared primary data storage devices, this portfolio of FlashSystem storage systems can deliver performance beyond that of traditional arrays, even those that incorporate SSDs or other flash technology. These storage systems can also be used as the top tier of storage alongside traditional arrays in tiered storage architectures, such as the IBM Easy Tier functionality, which is available in IBM System Storage® SAN Volume Controller or IBM Storwize® V7000 storage virtualization platforms.

FlashSystem 710 and 720 are single level cell (SLC) flash. FlashSystem 810 and 820 are multi-level cell (eMLC) flash. A key differentiator between the FlashSystem 710/810 and 720/820 storage systems is that the 720/820 storage products offer a high availability (HA) option with 5 - 20 TB capacity. Capacity is 1 - 10 TB for the 710/810 and 5 - 20 TB for the 720/820. Figure 2 compares the FlashSystem offerings.

Figure 2. FlashSystem product choices
Figure 2. FlashSystem product choices

FlashSystem products have the following advantages over other forms of storage:
  • FlashSystem products accelerate applications at least 10x.
  • Writes at 25 microseconds (µs) are faster because writes land on DRAMs before being optimized for a write out to flash. Reads are at 100 µs.
  • Highly available FlashSystem products have up to 20 usable TB in a 1U appliance.
  • FlashSystem products have up to 4 GBps bandwidth.
  • FlashSystem products provide four 8 GB Fibre Channel or four 40 GB InfiniBand connections.
  • FlashSystem products are more efficient (they use a rackspace with 350 watts or less of power consumption).
  • FlashSystem products have 2D Flash RAID data protection to provide enhanced system-level reliability.
  • FlashSystem products have Variable Stripe RAID to keep bad flash chips from causing field failures.
  • FlashSystem products have a hardware-only data path with low latency. Custom FPGA-based data movement decreases latency versus software.

Figure 3 depicts the FlashSystem infrastructure value.

Figure 3. FlashSystem infrastructure value
Figure 3. FlashSystem infrastructure value

The FlashSystem portfolio of storage boasts sub-100 microsecond data access times. With these low latencies, the storage module layer can operate at speeds comparable to those of the CPUs, DRAM, networks, and buses in the I/O data path.

The FlashSystem 820 is fast, reliable, and has a small physical footprint with microsecond latency. It is composed of 12 flash modules (half or full density). The flash modules are connected through redundant high-speed internal data switches, redundant RAID 5 controllers, two redundant Fibre Channel or InfiniBand interfaces, and redundant management controllers that offer monitoring through Ethernet.

FlashSystem 820 incorporates a two-dimensional (2D) array of data protection. To lessen the chance of failure on the flash module, FlashSystem 820 has a RAID structure across the flash chips, with Variable Stripe RAID in addition to the typical flash ECC algorithm.

FlashSystem products use about 75% less power than competing solutions while retaining IBM MicroLatency™ levels of performance. FlashSystem storage was designed with speed, reduced latency, simplicity, and reliability in mind from the ground up to use fewer components, data buses, and power hungry CPUs. By incorporating only a few fast buses, re programmable FPGAs, and a small amount of fast DDR RAM, FlashSystem storage avoids the excessive power usage and heat of competing systems. Through its usage of solid-state memory versus traditional mechanical storage devices, FlashSystem is energy efficient and reduces the amount of money that is spent on power and cooling. Additionally, it has the densest storage on the market, and can deploy a full petabyte of storage in a single rack.

VDI concepts

VDI is an enterprise architecture that stores user data, user profiles, and application data files on centralized servers. These servers are in data centers, so this approach extends data center security and manageability to user resources. Additionally, VDI provides users with anywhere, anytime, secure access to data and applications from any device. This includes mobile devices such as tablets and cell phones (that is, it is Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)).

The advantages of a VDI approach to enterprise desktop management that is running on centralized servers that are attached to FlashSystem storage (compared to traditional desktop environments) can include the following items:
  • Rapid desktop deployment, including updates, patches, and security enhancements.
  • Overall cost savings in desktop support, a centralized approach to client OS management, and reduced client machine energy consumption.
  • Unified management and reporting through a single administrator console.
  • Easy accessibility through various endpoint devices (notebooks, tablets, and thin clients).
  • User and application virtualization that disaggregates resources for balanced network workloads while it maintains a consistent look and feel for the user.
  • Ability to use centralized data center resources and processes for backup and recovery.
  • Horizontal scalability. Up to tens of thousands of endpoint devices can be handled through a central point.
  • Improved data security through centralization of sensitive data behind data center firewalls and security protection.
  • Compliance with regulatory norms for information protection (such as HIPAA and Sarbanes Oxley (SOX) security standards).

In essence, VDI is composed of server hosted virtual machines (VMs) that are running desktop operating systems in a central data center location (which stores VDI images and data on FlashSystem storage), which delivers a graphical representation (screen updates) to remotely connected users, allowing local user input (keyboard/mouse/touch) to their virtual desktops.

In a traditional desktop model, a user has the entire compute environment (OS, processing power, memory, and hard disk) placed in front of the user. In the case of VDI, the user uses a lightweight endpoint device with a minimal need for processing power and little or no storage to access the user’s desktop, which is processed on remote hardware (running FlashSystem Storage).

The next section describes the solution architecture, the business problem that is solved and the benefits of using a VDI in a FlashSystem storage environment.

Solution architecture

Figure 4 provides an architectural overview of the VDI solution that is running with FlashSystem storage, where VDI software can run on IBM Flex System and IBM System x servers. Information, such as virtual machine images, are stored on an external shared storage (FlashSystem), and these servers actively work with the storage.

Figure 4. Architectural overview of a VDI running with FlashSystem and SAN Volume Controller

The solution architecture consists of:
  • Choice of VDI middleware: Representing the main two software VDI solutions, that is, Citrix Xen Desktop and VMware View.
  • Server building blocks: Includes IBM Flex System.
  • Storage: FlashSystem coupled with SAN Volume Controller.

IBM SmartCloud Desktop Infrastructure with VMware View simplifies desktop and application management and increases security and control. VMware View delivers a personalized high fidelity experience for users across sessions and devices. Coupled with FlashSystem, it also enables higher availability and agility of desktop services that are unmatched by traditional PCs, while it reduces the total cost of desktop ownership. Users can enjoy new levels of performance and productivity and the freedom to access desktops from more devices and locations with IT greater policy control.

The core components of the solution are IBM Flex System with integrated x86 compute nodes, switches, and a management appliance, running VMware View, and the external FlashSystem 820 storage system:
  • VMware View:
    • You can integrate with VMware vCenter to achieve cost-effective densities, high levels of availability, and advanced resource allocation control for your virtual desktops.
    • You can use View Composer to quickly create desktop images that share virtual disks with a master image. By using linked clones in this way, you conserve disk space and simplify the management of patches and updates to the operating system.
  • IBM Flex System:
    • IBM Flex System x240 compute nodes. The x240 compute nodes contain an embedded VMware ESXi hypervisor to host VMs that are used for virtual desktops and for management and provisioning tasks. The x240 compute nodes are combined into three groups: stateless Hosted Virtual Desktop (HVD) pool, dedicated HVD cluster, and management cluster.
    • Stateless HVD pool nodes are configured with local solid-state drive (SSD) storage that hosts VM files. The nodes use FlashSystem storage to get local VM images from the repository. High availability is provided by the connection broker. If a VM or node failure occurs, the connection broker redirects the user to another available virtual desktop.
    • The nodes in a dedicated cluster are configured with no local storage. All VM files are placed onto Fibre-based FlashSystem shared storage. High availability is provided by failing over the VM to another compute node with the VMware High Availability feature.
    • The nodes in management cluster host VMs are running controlling instances, such as connection broker, centralized management tools, and databases for storing control information. These nodes are connected to an external FlashSystem 820 storage system, which stores VM files and provides high availability (HA). VMware HA also provides high availability for management VMs.
  • IBM Flex System Manager
    • IBM Flex System Manager™ is a systems management appliance that drives efficiency and cost savings in the data center. Flex System Manager provides a pre-integrated and virtualized management environment across servers, storage, and networking that is easily managed from a single interface.
  • FlashSystem bundled with SAN Volume Controller
    • FlashSystem storage systems deliver extraordinary business value with extreme performance, efficiency, and reliability through easy-to-deploy all-flash systems. By using patented Variable Stripe RAID technology and 2D Flash RAID, FlashSystem storage systems enhance system resiliency without sacrificing performance or usable capacity. For a truly self-optimized and automated storage infrastructure, FlashSystem storage systems are combined with IBM System Storage SAN Volume Controller virtualization and IBM System Storage Easy Tier, which is intelligent data placement software. The result is further optimization of workloads, improved performance and service levels, and faster response to changing business requirements.
  • Switches
    • LAN Switches.

      The IBM Flex System Fabric EN4093 10Gb Scalable Switch provides a redundant, high-speed, low-latency 10 Gb Ethernet network for the compute nodes, and client and management networks.

    • SAN switches

      The FC3171 8 Gb FC switch, or FC5022 16 Gb switches, provide Fibre connectivity that can be used for FC connectivity to FlashSystem 820.

Users can access their personalized virtual desktop from a company notebook, their home PC, a thin client device, a Mac, or a tablet. From tablets and from Mac, Linux, and Windows notebooks and PCs, users open View Client to see their View desktop. Thin client devices use View Thin Client software. They can be configured so that the only application that users can start directly on the device is View Thin Client.

Usage scenarios

In the healthcare industry, staff are constantly on the move, but need fast, security-rich access to patients’ electronic medical records that are in compliance with data privacy regulations. By combining SSO capabilities with a VDI running on FlashSystem storage, healthcare staff can access multiple systems and applications to obtain medical records or images with a single, more secure sign-on.

In the education industry, a VDI that is running FlashSystem storage can help schools extend the lifecycle of existing PCs, in addition to allowing the schools to adopt new technology. Students can receive the same quality education, regardless of the availability of hardware, devices, or location. At the same time, IT staff can reduce the time, cost, and complexity that are associated with maintenance, upgrades, provisioning, reimaging, and repairing the school’s technology assets.

For the public sector, local, state, and federal agencies must extend support to an ever-increasing collection of personal devices and do so under stringent security measures. A virtual desktop with FlashSystem storage can give personnel the anytime, anywhere access they need to maintain productivity. It can also provide the centralized security and control that are necessary to help maintain extreme data confidentiality. Agencies can also expedite provisioning and upgrades to multiple devices at a sustainable level of cost and effort.


Create a VDI that unlocks an employee's productivity by servicing his or her compute needs regardless of physical location or connection device. Virtualized servers and VDI push conventional storage systems to their performance limits, which results in poor application response times and a bad customer experience.

IBM SmartCloud Desktop Infrastructure, running VMware View with FlashSystem 820, offers the following advantages:
  • Simplifies desktop administration
  • Speeds up applications
  • Decreases cost of production by mitigating boot storms
  • Improves availability and reliability
  • Enables users to work anytime, anywhere quickly and easily regardless of the device that is used.
  • Better supports growth initiatives for mobility and flexible work locations
  • Enhances security and compliance management

The IBM SmartCloud Desktop Infrastructure solution with VMware View on IBM Flex System includes the following components:
  • User access devices
    • Desktop PCs
    • Thin clients
    • Notebooks
    • Other handheld mobile devices
  • Virtual infrastructure software
    • VMware View
  • Hardware platform
    • IBM Flex System
    • IBM System Storage: FlashSystem bundled with SAN Volume Controller
Solution building blocks

This section describes the key components that comprise this solution.


Introducing an FlashSystem in to the IBM SmartCloud Desktop Infrastructure can result in faster response times for the most common virtualized applications. You can couple this performance to the ‘log on’ or ‘boot’ storm and make your system productive again.

FlashSystem shared flash memory systems accomplish the following tasks:
  • Eliminate I/O density and hot spot issues that are common to highly virtualized environments.
  • Control and mitigate ‘log on’ or ‘boot’ storm performance issues.
  • Deliver storage consolidation without sacrificing performance, thus driving higher V:P ratios and increasing server usage.

SAN Volume Controller

FlashSystem bundled with SAN Volume Controller adds the following advantages of advanced storage functionality to FlashSystem:
  • Thin provisioning to allocate storage “just in time”
  • Improved utilization to harvest all SAN capacity
  • Disaster avoidance with location-proof data availability
  • EasyTier for storage efficiency
  • FlashCopy for point-in-time copies
  • Mirroring/copy services for data replication and protection
  • Real-time compression to place up to five times more data in the same physical space

IBM Flex System platform

IBM Flex System is an integrated platform that delivers custom-tuned and client-specific configurations for optimum flexibility. IBM Flex System combines compute nodes, networking, storage, and management into a complete data center building block that is built for future-proof, heterogeneous data centers with flexibility and open choice of architectures, hypervisors, and environments.

VMware View

VMware View provides remote desktop capabilities to users of VMware virtualization technology. A client desktop operating system, typically Microsoft Windows 7, Vista, or XP, runs within a virtual environment on a server. This connection broker application delivers a personalized high fidelity experience for users across sessions and devices. It also enables higher availability and agility of desktop services that are unmatched by traditional PCs, while it reduces the total cost of desktop ownership. Users can enjoy new levels of performance and productivity and the freedom to access desktops from more devices and locations with IT greater policy control.

The following VMware View features provide a familiar experience for the user:
  • Take advantage of multiple monitor support for RDP and PCoIP. With PCoIP, you can adjust the display resolution and rotation separately for each monitor.
  • Print from a virtual desktop (in a Microsoft Windows environment) to any local or networked printer.
  • Access USB devices and other peripheral devices that are connected to the local device that displays your virtual desktop.
  • Manage profiles by using View Persona Management to preserve user profiles and data between sessions and to dynamically synchronize them to a remote CIFS share or to SAN managed storage at configurable intervals. View Persona Management can work with or without Windows roaming profiles.

IBM SmartCloud Desktop Services with FlashSystem

By using time-proven methods, proprietary tools, and extensive expertise that are developed through real-world client implementations, IBM SmartCloud Desktop Services that are incorporated with FlashSystem can accelerate your transition to a less complex, virtualized desktop environment.

Running a virtual desktop in a FlashSystem storage environment unleashes an employee’s productivity by delivering extreme performance, efficiency, and reliability across devices and networks in your VDI. Through these services, a broader range of users, from power users to remote users, can have faster and more security-rich access to resources, helping to improve their productivity and increasing business speed and flexibility.

Supported platforms

For supported hardware and platforms for the FlashSystem portfolio of products, see the following link:

Ordering information

FlashSystem storage products can be ordered individually or bundled with an SAN Volume Controller to provide advanced functionality, such as thin provisioning, EasyTier, and FlashCopy.

Ordering information is shown in Table 1.

Table 1. Ordering part numbers and feature codes
ItemProduct numberFeature CodeDescription
IBM FlashSystem 7209381-AS2
IBM FlashSystem 8209381-AE2
IBM FlashSystem Bundle9381-AE2AF0W24 TB of FlashSystem capacity with SAN Volume Controller functionality
Enterprise Performance 20 TB Building Block

(2) 2145-CG8 SAN Volume Controller Engines
(1) 9831-AE2 FlashSystem 820 20TB
(20 TB of) 5639-VC6 base license
(5) 6911-400 Standard Service Units
IBM FlashSystem Bundle 9381-AE2AF0X12 TB of FlashSystem capacity with SAN Volume Controller functionality
Enterprise Performance 10TB Building Block

(2) 2145-CG8 SAN Volume Controller Engines
(1) 9831-AE2 FlashSystem 820 10TB
(10 TB of) 5639-VC6 base license
(5) 6911-400 Standard Service Units
IBM FlashSystem Bundle9381-AE2AF0Y24 TB of FlashSystem capacity with SAN Volume Controller functionality
Enterprise Performance+HA 20TB Building Block

(2) 2145-CG8 SAN Volume Controller Engines
(2) 9831-AE2 FlashSystem 820 20 TB
(40 TB of) 5639-VC6 base license
(5) 6911-400 Standard Service Units
IBM FlashSystem Bundle9381-AE2AF0Z12 TB of FlashSystem capacity with SAN Volume Controller functionality
Enterprise Performance+HA 10TB Building Block

(2) 2145-CG8 SAN Volume Controller Engines
(2) 9831-AE2 FlashSystem 820 10TB
(20 TB of) 5639-VC6 base license
(5) 6911-400 Standard Service Units

Related information

For more information, see the following documents:
    On this page, enter FlashSystem, select the information type, and then click Search. On the next page, narrow your search results by geography and language.

Special Notices

This material has not been submitted to any formal IBM test and is published AS IS. It has not been the subject of rigorous review. IBM assumes no responsibility for its accuracy or completeness. The use of this information or the implementation of any of these techniques is a client responsibility and depends upon the client's ability to evaluate and integrate them into the client's operational environment.


Publish Date
29 May 2013

Last Update
25 June 2013

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