VMware Horizon View 5.3 - Features Deep Dive

Posted on 18 Oct 2013 by Ray Heffer

Now that VMware have announced VMware Horizon View 5.3 at VMworld in Barcelona this year, I’d love to share some of the exciting new features it brings. Just four days ago I presented a session for partners on the new features of Horizon View 5.2, but now VMware extends 3D graphics even further with vDGA, support for Windows 8.1 and View Agent Direct Connect Plugin (just to name a few!). What I’d like to share with you are some of the more technical aspects of this release, so without further ado, let’s talk about one of my favourite features: 3D Graphics! vDGA (Virtual Direct Graphics Acceleration)

Street Fighter IVThis feature allows you to configure direct passthrough for a virtual desktop to a dedicated physical Nvidia GPU. Just plain awesome. In fact the VMware stand at VMworld has this on demo showing Street Fighter IV running at 60fps! This is not only cool to look at, but the real applications for this such as CAD and design studio apps can really benefit from vDGA. Rather than the cost and logistics of sending your CAD engineers a high powered workstation, send them a thin client instead and keep your IP (Intellectual Property) and power inside the data centre.

This was previously a ‘Tech Preview’ feature with View 5.2, but now it’s out of tech preview you can start to look at dedicated 3D graphics workloads in your environment. One thing to note is that you’ll need a supported thin client or Windows thick client.

So how this works is actually quite simple. Your ESXi hosts have multiple dedicated Nvidia GRID K1 or K2 graphics cards (or GPUs) that have a 1:1 relationship between a virtual machine using GPU pass-through. In fact this uses VMware DirectPath I/O. Please don’t expect to get any Nvidia GRID cards in your half height blade servers any time soon though, this requires PCIe x16 slots. On each ESXi host you configure DirectPath I/O by selecting which devices you want to pass-through. Download the Nvidia GRID driver for Windows and install in your virtual desktop and you’ll see the GPUs listed in device manager (Display Adapters).

If Nvidia are reading this and would like to dontate a GRID K1 card for my home lab then I’ll be very happy!

HTML Access

Next on my list of technical goodness is HTML Access. With the introduction of this feature in View 5.2 Feature Pack 1, HTML Access provides access to your virtual desktop from any HTML5 capable web browser. On top of that you can use Horizon Workspace or the View Portal to connect without any plugins or View Client installation. This is great if you are using someone elses client or desktop as you can connect to your virtual desktop without installing anything! View 5.3 improves this further by increasing the concurrent connections from 100 to 250 350, and it now works on Chrome for Google Chromebooks, as well as a bunch of ‘under the hood’ optimizations for better video playback and faster responsiveness.

H.264 Multimedia Redirection

For those that aren’t aware, H.264 is a video codec that has revolutionized the way we watch HD content on our devices. It goes unnoticed but is fast becoming… no it HAS become the format of choice for iTunes, Youtube, Adobe Flash video, and many more. Horizon View 5.3 now supports H.264 multimedia redirection for DXVA (DirectX Video Acceleration) enabled clients. It compresses the audio/video stream from the virtual desktop and sends it directly to the client endpoint device where it is decoded for playback. This not only saves on PCoIP bandwidth, but also allows you to scale your ESXi hosts better due to the ‘lighter’ load on the host CPU.

Real-Time Audio-Video (RTAV)

Introduced with View 5.2, this feature compresses your webcam and audio input devices before sending it upstream to the virtual desktop. This previously saw webcam and audio bandwidth to be as low as 300 to 600kbps, but it was only supported on Windows clients. Now Linux clients are supported enabling you to use View virtual desktops for Google Hangout, Cisco WebEx or Skype.

vSAN (Tech Preview)

Daniel-san… meet vSAN!

At VMworld Europe this year I was surprised how long the queues were for the vSphere 5.5 vSAN sessions. It’s no wonder as vSAN is just a bloody awesome technology (sorry about British slip there!), and rightly so Horizon View 5.3 can leverage this feature as a tech preview. This enables use of local SSD storage to be used for virtual desktops, using an abstracted datastore spanning multiple ESXi hosts. So what is virtual SAN? It essentially clusters local storage devices in each of your ESXi hosts into a clustered datastore. Each host will contain at least 1x SSD (or flash PCIe) and 1x HDD (SAS or SATA) and it uses the SSD drives for read caching in addition to buffering of writes. If you’re going to look at this feature in more detail then remember you need a 10GbE backplane. The reason for this, which depends on the vSAN policy configuration, is that your virtual machine may actually be stored and replicated amongst many hosts. Whilst a dedicated 1Gb network would work, I wouldn’t recommend it for production workloads. If a host fails, your policy settings may have specified that your virtual machine(s) data reside on other hosts.

I mentioned caching, but please understand the different between caching and buffering as vSAN does not ‘cache’ writes. Let me explain…

Caching and Buffering

Caching of read I/O is ideal for virtual desktops (think of heavy reads during a boot storm), as all commonly accessed data being read is served from the SSD. Write buffering is different. Write back buffering addresses application latency, by using the SSD to acknowledge the writes without having to wait for the data to be written to the HDD. Applications benefit from this as the time to perform a write operation is very very fast (microseconds) and provides massive performance gains.

Talking of Mr Miyagi, I think he beats Chuck Norris at catching flies :)