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Micro servers and virtual desktops. Crazy idea or eventual reality?

by Gunnar Berger  |  April 10, 2013  |  7 Comments

For the past few years I’ve had an idea that I’d repeat over and over to anyone that would listen to me. I’ve been given a hard time about it on twitter, have been told about every technical reason why it’s not possible but in the end I stick by this idea: I want micro servers for virtual desktop (VDI) deployments.

My reason for this is simple. When a desktop dies, productivity stops, people get upset, and worst of all work will inevitably be lost. This is a fact of life and thus IT should be designing systems that accept the eventual failure of a single server and they should design the solution so that this failure minimizes user impact. Putting 100-200 VMs on a server may seem attractive from a cost stand point (due to the current way of thinking). But pulling the plug on 100-200 desktops is not something that should be considered acceptable. Instead, I am of the belief that we should be designing servers that have fewer users on them. In my perfect world a server should be completely disposable, costing significantly less than modern servers and host around 10 users (or less).

In today’s world this idea is insane. Servers are expensive and space would be a major concern because a small server burns at least a 1U, some compact servers allow two servers per U. If I wanted to build a system to support 2000 users and only have 10 users per host it would never work from a space standpoint. Okay, fair enough, but that argument just led me to believe we need smaller servers, much much smaller servers, and a little over a year ago I learned about HP’s project Moonshot.

Even though server hardware isn’t a big focus of mine I opted to attend one of HP’s early briefings on this project. I liked the size of the server, it was what I was looking for, but at that time that’s where the honeymoon ended because this server was going to be based on ARM. ARM wouldn’t work in my world of virtual desktops, I need x86 and I need VT, without these my ideas where DOA. Well I should have kept paying attention because this week I learned that HP made some major changes that bring my dream back to a reality. Most importantly I learned that Moonshot is now using an Atom processor that supports VT (or so I’m told). This at least makes my thesis technically possible, however at this point I still have more questions than answers, but I am excited at the possibility of what this brings for desktop virtualization solutions.

I love the idea of spreading out the load of virtual desktops. I don’t know if HP is thinking about virtual desktop, but I think they should if the price is right. My hope is that as this project becomes a reality I’d get to test it and see if it’s possible to deliver a decent Windows experience on this processor (my previous experience with Atom on desktop is anything but a good user experience). Regardless of whether it is possible today, I like this direction of thought and I know that technology has a history of getting faster and cheaper. So who knows, maybe one day soon my crazy nut brained idea might become a reality.

Feel free to follow me on twitter if you wish to continue the conversation @gunnarwb

Disclaimer: This blog is my personal musings on a specific technology. These views do not reflect Gartner as an organization (it takes a lot more work for me to formulate a fully hashed out Gartner opinion than the 10 minutes it took to write a blog). I do not endorse any vendors mentioned in this article, the only thing I endorse is Gartner. Gartner is pretty awesome. I mean they actually pay me to research technology. How cool is that?! Okay, I forgot this was supposed to be a disclaimer. Legal jargon, legal jargon, don’t sue me. The end.

Category: shvd  vdi  

Tags: catalyst-na  micro-servers  moonshot  shvd  vdi  

Gunnar Berger
Research Director
1 year at Gartner
14 years IT industry

Gunnar Berger is a research director for Gartner's IT Professionals service. He covers desktop, application and server virtualization ...Read Full Bio


Thoughts on Micro servers and virtual desktops. Crazy idea or eventual reality?


  1. Marco says:

    why not follow the path google use for their datacenter? instead of building server rack with expensive server powered with big ups they build with normal consumer pc component small server attached to small ups for each server. in this way cost are keep down and also the energy efficiency is high because no power is lost on very long wires from a very big ups positioned far away server rack.
    i see also a company using ,many mac mini into a rack…maybe you could use it for your idea

  2. […] Micro servers and virtual desktops. Crazy idea or eventual reality? Gunnar Berger Research Director 1 year at Gartner 14 years IT industry. Gunnar Berger is a research director for Gartner’s IT Professionals service. He covers … blogs.gartner.com/…/micro-servers-and-virtual-desktops-crazy… […]

  3. Chris says:

    I agree with your premise that “pulling the plug on on 100-200 users should not be acceptable.” I disagree with your argument that that problem alone justifies your solution: development of large scale micro-server architectures. SHVD stacks have ways of mitigating risk of data loss in the event of sudden disruption of service. Stateless/non-persistent helps here too. Server class HW running on redundant power and networking connections means odds of sudden server failure are very low. My guess is something like a moonshot architecture might be a win for extremely large SHVD – (Amazon Desktop Services”?) – where economies of scale become so important that it justifies building exotic purpose-built infrastructure.

  4. GarethH says:

    In response to Marco… I would gather that the cost of a pair of high powered servers versus many smaller ones wouldn’t be that more efficient or cost effective, considering the cost of rack space these days.

  5. P says:

    Micro Servers are the way to go for Service Providers that sell hosted VDI using MS desktop operating systems. The MS license agreement forbids multi-tenancy. SPs are required to dedicate one or more hosts per customer.

    This is a challenge, especially if you only want to sell a handful of hosted desktops to each customer.

    Moonshot “could” work, but VDI would do much better with something in the middle. The current Moonshot offering has a very weak processor and 8GB max memory per node. Combine that with no ability to offload video to a hardware accelerator (which would be cost prohibitive with this design anyway) and a single user would cripple the hardware if they played a YouTube video…

  6. I’m a big believer in the future of the microserver, particularly with technology based on ARM processors and other non-x86 devices. Many of these new server-on-a-chip designs (an essential ingredient to the microserver recipe) are more advanced than their x86 counterparts in terms of network fabric, power management and hyper-scale integration. I’m also not a fan of the HP Moonshot chassis for heterogeneous computing, as it forces a “lowest common denominator” approach to the back-plane between cards.

    I think your premise assumes that we all must keep our Microsoft desktops. I’m not sure that’s going to be the case in the future. Much of my work is now done via my Android based smartphone and tablet with Bluetooth keyboard. My technical work is done on a LINUX workstation (admittedly running an Atom processor for now). Many of the applications I run are SaaS, which care far more about the browser I’m running than the operating system and hardware.

    Let’s see how all this unfolds going forward …

  7. If your hardware you are utilising is consistently in use and produces a great deal of warmth you can get a number of other available choices to cool down your components like server cupboards with built-in followers likewise as custom made server racks with increased cooling methods. It is additionally vital to make sure that there is certainly a great stability of cold and warm. Lots of server racks have steel panels within the front and rear doorways, as a way to make sure basic safety and security in the event that one thing transpired like on the situation of the hearth, the information around the other servers could possibly be kept risk-free from it.



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