EUC Layers: Display protocols and graphics – the stars look very different today

In my previous EUC Layer post I discussed the importance of putting insights on screens, in this post I want to discuss the EUC Layer of putting something on the screen of the end user.

Display Protocols

In short, a display protocol transfers the mouse, keyboard and screen (ever wondered about vSphere MKS error if that popped up) input and output from a (virtual) desktop to the physical client endpoint device and vice versa. Display protocols usually will optimize this transfer with encoding, compressing, deduplicating and performing other magical operations to minimize the amount of data transferred between the client endpoint device and the desktop. Minimize data equals less chance of interference equals better user experience at the client device. Yes, the one the end user is using.

For this blog post I will stick to the display protocols VMware Horizon has under its hood. VMware Horizon supports four ways of using a display protocol: PCoIP via the Horizon Client, Blast Extreme/BEAT via the Horizon Client, RDP via Horizon Client or MS Terminal Client, and any HTML5 compatible browser for HTML Blast connections.

The performance and experience of all the display protocols are influenced by the client endpoint device – everything in between – desktop agent and the road back to the client. : for example virtual desktop Horizon Agent. USB Redirected Mass storage device to your application, good-bye performance. Network filtering and poof black screen. Bad WiFi coverage and good-bye session when moving from office cubicle to meeting room.

poof-its-gone

RDP

Who? What? Skip this one when you are serious about display protocols. The only reason it is around in this list, is for troubleshooting when every other method fails. And yes the Horizon Agent default uses RDP as an installation dependency.

Blast Extreme

Just Beat it PCoIP. Not the official statement of VMware. VMware ensures it’s customers that Blast Extreme is not a replacement but an additional display protocol. But yeah…..sure…

With Horizon 7.1 VMware introduced BEAT to the Blast Extreme protocol. BEAT stands for Blast Extreme Adaptive Transport— UDP-based adaptive transport as part of the Blast Extreme protocol. BEAT is designed to ensure user experience stays crisp across quality varying network conditions. You know them, those with low bandwidth, high latency and high packet loss, jitter and so on. Great news for mobile and remote workers. And for spaghetti incident local networks……..

Blast uses standardized encoding schemes such as default H.264 for graphical encoding, and Opus as audio codec. If it can’t do H.264 it will fallback to JPG/PNG, so always use H.264 and check the conditions you have that might cause a fallback. JPG/PNG is more a codec for static agraphics or at least not something larger than an animated gif. H.264 the other way around is more a video codec but also very good in encoding static images, will compress them better than JPG/PNG. Plus 90% of the client devices are already equipped with a capability to decode H.264. Blast Extreme is network friendlier by using TCP by default, easier for configuration and performance under congestion and drops. It is effecient in not using up all the client resources, so that for example mobile device batteries are not drained because of the device using a lot of power feeding these resources.
Default protocol Blast Extreme selected.

PCoIP

PC-over-IP or PCoIP is a display protocol developed by Teradici. PcoIP is available in hardware, like Zero Clients, and in software. VMware and Amazon are licensed to use the PCoIP protocol in VMware Horizon and AWS Amazon Workspaces. For VMware Horizon PCoIP is an option with the Horizon Client or PCoIP optimized Zero Clients.
PCoIP is mainly a UDP based protocol, it does use TCP but only in the initial phase (TCP/UDP4172). PcoIP is rendered, multi-codec and can dynamically adapt itself based on available bandwidth. In low bandwidth environments it utilizes a lossy compression technique  where a highly compressed image is quickly delivered followed by additional data to refine that image. This process is termed “build to perceptually lossless”. The default protocol behaviour is to use lossless compression when there is minimal network congestion expected. Or explicitly disable as might be required for use cases where image quality is more important than bandwidth for example in medical imaging.
Images rendered on the server are captured as pixels, compressed and encoded and then sent to the client where decryption and decompression happens. Depending on the display, different codecs are used to encode the pixels sent since techniques to compress video images can be different in effectiveness compared to those more effective for text.

 

HTML

Blast Extreme without the Horizon client dependency. Client is a HTML5 compatible browser. HTML access needs to be installed and enabled on the datacenter side.
HTML uses the Blast Extreme display protocol with the JPG/PNG codec. HTML is not feature par with the Horizon Client that’s why I am putting it up as a separate display protocol option. As not all features can be used it not a best fit in must production environments, but it will be very sufficient for enough to use for remote or external use cases.

Protocol Selection

Depending how the pool is configured in Horizon, the end user has either the option to change the display protocol from the Horizon Client or the protocol is set on the pool with the setting that a user cannot change it’s protocol. The latter is has to be selected when using GPU, but it depends a bit on the work force and use case if you would like to leave all the options available to the user.

horizon-client-protocol

Display Protocol Optimizations

Unlike what some might think, display protocol optimization will benefit user experience in all situations. Either from an end user point of view or from IT having some control over what can and will be sent over the network. Network optimizations in the form of QoS for example. PCoIP and Blast Extreme can also be optimized via policy. You can add the policy items to your template, use Smart Policies and User Environment Management (highly recommended) to apply on specific conditions or use GPO’s. IMHO use UEM, and then template or GPO are the order to work from.

uem-smart-policy-example

For both protocols you can configure the image quality level and frame rate used during periods of network congestion. This works well for static screen content that does not need to be updated or in situations where only a portion of the display needs to be refreshed.

With regard to the amount of bandwidth a session eats up, you can configure the maximum bandwidth, in kilobits per second. Try to correspond these settings to the type of network connection, such an interconnect or a Internet connection, that are available in your environment.For example a higher FPS is fluent motion, but more used network bandwidth. Lower is less fluent but a less network bandwidth cost. Keep in mind that the network bandwidth includes all the imaging, audio, virtual channel, USB, and PCoIP or Blast control traffic.

You can also configure a lower limit for the bandwidth that is always reserved for the session. With this option set an user does not have to wait for bandwidth to become available.

For more information, see the “PCoIP General Settings” and the “VMware Blast Policy Settings” sections in Setting Up Desktop and Application Pools in View on documentation center (https://pubs.vmware.com/horizon-7-view/index.jsp#com.vmware.horizon-view.desktops.doc/GUID-34EA8D54-2E41-4B71-8B7D-F7A03613FB5A.html).

If you are changing these values, do it one setting at a time. Check what the result of your change is and if it fits your end users need. Yes, again use real users. Make a note of the setting and result, and move on to the next. Some values have to be redone to find the sweet spot that works best. Most values will be applied when disconnecting and reconnecting to the session where you are changing the values.

Another optimization can be done by optimizing the virtual desktops so less is transferred or resources can be dedicated to encoding and not for example defragmenting non persistent desktops during work. VMware OS Optimization Tool (OSOT) Fling to the rescue, get it here.

Monitoring of the display protocols is essential. Use vROPS for Horizon to get insights of your display protocol performance. Blast Extreme and PCoIP are included in vROPS. The only downside is that these session details are only available when the session is active. There is no history or trending for session information.

Graphic Acceleration

There are other options to help the display protocols on the server-side by offloading some of the graphics rendering and coding to specialized components. Software acceleration uses a lot of vCPU resources and just don’t cut it in playing 1080p full screen video’s. Not even 720p full screen for that matter. Higher clock speed of processor will help graphical applications a lot, but a the cost that those processor types have lower core count. Lower core count and a low overcommitment and physical to virtual ratio will lower the amount of desktops on your desktop hosts. Specialized engineering, medical or map layering software requires graphic capabilities that are not offered by software acceleration. Or require hardware acceleration as a de facto. Here we need offloading to specialized hardware for VDI and/or Published applications and desktops. Nvidia for example.

gpu-oprah-meme

What will those applications be using? How many frame buffers? Will the engineers be using these application mostly or just for a few moments and are afterwards doing work in office to write their reports. For this Nvidia supports all kinds of GPU profiles. Need more screens and framebuffers, choose a profile for this use case. A board can support multiple profiles if it has multiple GPU cores. But per core there only one type of profile can be used, multiple times if you not out of memory (buffers) yet. How to find the right profile for your work force? Assessment and PoC testing. GPU monitoring can be a little hard as not all monitoring application have the metrics up there.

And don’t forget that some applications need to be set to use hardware acceleration to be used by GPU or applications that don’t support or run worse on hardware acceleration because their main resource request is CPU (Apex maybe).

Engineers only? What about Office Workers?

Windows 10, Office 2016, browsers, and streaming video are used all over the offices. These applications can benefit from graphics acceleration. The number of applications that support and use hardware graphics acceleration has doubled over the past years. That’s why you see that the hardware vendors also changed their focus. NVidias’ M10 is targeted at consolidation while its brother M60 is targetted to performance, however reaching higher consolidation ratio’s then the older K generation. But cost a little bit more.

vGPU and one of the 0B/1B profiles and a vGPU for everyone. The Q’s can be saved for engineering. Set the profiles on the VM’s and for usage on the desktop pools.

And what can possibly go wrong?

Fast Provisioning – vGPU for instant clones

Yeah. Smashing graphics and depJloying those desktops like crazy… me likes! The first iteration of instant clones did not support any GPU hardware acceleration. With the latest Horizon release instant clones can be used for GPU. Awesomesauce.

– Enjoy looking at the stars!

Sources: vmware.com, wikipedia.org, teradici.com, nvidia.com

My Maiden VMworld Europe 2013 – Overall Experience

This blog post is about my experience or my own recap of my maiden VMworld Europe voyage that brought me to Barcelona. Like most experience it is good to start with a small lesson learned (do and don’t) part. So here goes….

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Lessons Learned

– Bring several sets comfy shoes and socks. One set on the event (for socks maybe a set extra) and one set for the parties.
– Don’t try to over schedule. I scheduled a lot of session, all very nice and interesting. But this gives you almost no time to rewind and relax, talk to people (as other people also want to talk to them), eat and drink properly and write a blog post. Sessions are recorded so there is opportunity enough to watch/listen them back. Next time I will leave some time for that.
– Do bring a notebook for blogging purposes. An iPad is fine for notes, but either have a proper keyboard setup with that, a proper blog app or bring your notebook. I had not, and with the next point, didn’t have any means to blog.
– Check the status of the WiFi of your hotel. Do believe the experiences other guest left about the hotel. My hotel had poor WiFi connection and poor WiFi speed (especially during the night, I wonder why…), no good to start a blog post in the evening (or night during insomnia).
– Exam scheduled at the event didn’t work for me that good. In all the hectic of a event, degraded body and mind condition, an exam is not the best to schedule at the event (my opinion).
– Be on time and don’t leave before QA is finished. It is not respectful to the speakers (beside when you have a good reason, and nausea from a party the night before isn’t :-P).
– It sometimes is beneficial to take a photo for a blog post or tweet. But slides of sessions are recorded and available afterwards. It can bug your fellow session participants (especially the ones right beside you) that don’t like you waiving your iPad in front of you to take a picture of every (and every) slide.
– Use the Metro shuttle bus service. There is a lot of walking during the day.
– I had a hotel in the center of Barcelona. Great for some taste of Barcelona and close to some parties, but a little far from the conference. It takes a 40-50 minutes to get from the hotel on the metro, train and bus. This is not always a problem, but when you have tired legs and feet it is not always fun to travel in busy public transport as you will not often get a seat.

Arriving

I arrived on monday with a afternoon flight from Amsterdam. At the airport I was greeted by some nice ladies that gave me directions to the shuttle service from airport to the venue at the Fira. I wanted the register, get my badge for the VMUG party, get the VMworld backpack and take a look around. I also got the T-10 zone 1 provided by Veeam (big thanks to Veeam) and available for pick up at the information stand. Enough to get you from and to the venue with public transport.

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After that I went to the Metro station and found my way to the Placa de Catalyuna where the hotel was one the Ramblas beginning. The metro station exit on the Ramblas was just a few steps till the hotel. That’s good. Checked in and prepared the room and VMworld back for the next day. I went out to get some food before the VMUG party and fortunately this is plentiful available around the hotel.

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Parties

I visited just two parties. I got invites for a little more, but I arrived on Monday and skipped the Tuesday parties because I wanted a good sleep for my Wednesday morning exam. The VMUG party on Monday evening was a good place to start, in close proximity of my hotel. The interaction of the visitors was very good and the club was good to have some drinks and talks. Got some interesting conversation about background, IT experiences, exam preparations and all.

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The VMworld party was at the Fira conference center. It was a big show with lot’s of visitors. Drinks and food were everywhere, as well entertaining.  The Foosball tables and the arcade machines where good places to meet with others. The music was nice, but main show Taio Cruz is not really for me (I don’t want to think about a hangover at a party ;-P ).

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Sessions

If you have use schedule Builder your are preregister for the sessions you put in there. You can show up a 15/10 minutes in advance and let you badge scan to be let in. There are also queues for people that didn’t register, and those will be let in a few minutes before the show (let say 10-5) to fill up the room. When you have pre registered and show up on time, you will have the opportunity to pick a nice spot.
You don’t have to go to all as session will be recorded so you can watch/listen to them later on. A lesson for the next time.
I visited sessions about NSX, VSAN, Best practices, Architecture, Metro Cluster, HA/DRS, Storage DRS etc. I will try to work trough my notes and do a recap in a blog post. That will also be part of a presentation I will give at my employer in November.

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Conclusion

VMworld is huge from dutch event perspective. It is a roller coaster of a ride, that I definitely want to be part of again. I will plan a little more resting, relaxing, and meetups next time, and a little less sessions. If I am prepared at bit better (with the lessons learned and the ones that will come to me in the next year) I think you can even have an even bigger blast. Maybe even finish a exam in time…..

For now I will leave it at this. I will add some more session recaps in an other blog, and add my exam experience later to my blogpost: https://www.pascalswereld.nl/post/62407836177/vcap5-dcd-experience That story is not yet finished (lesson learned and continue).

– Thanks for reading. Hope meeting you there next year!

Note to myself and my (finished) VCAP5-DCD exam experience

One of my objectives for this year is to pass the VCAP5-DCD exam and get certified in data center design. Seeing that the year is almost finished I have to put some actions to my words. I already did that by the way, I followed the VMware vSphere Design Workshop earlier this year (so preparations started way earlier than this blog post). Due to some events (of family art that I will not go into in blog post) that happened in the beginning of the year, I had to reschedule and my planning just went over the moon by ending up in October.
But… I have scheduled my VCAP-DCD5 exam at VMworld Barcelona.

I want to write down my experience of pursuing this certification and have a place to store my learning tool links for further reference in the last stint before the exam. So here goes….

What is VCAP5-DCD?

I probably have some readers outside of the VMware world so I first try to explain VCAP5-DCD. This data center virtualization certification track is composed of some acronyms; the first acronym part VCAP which is VMware Certified Advanced Professional, an advanced track of the VMware certification tracks. The second part DCD stands for Data Center Design. DCD is designed for IT architects who design (that a lot of designing 😉 ) and integrate VMware solutions in multi-site, large enterprise, virtualized environments.The third part is the 5, which is the version the certification is for. In this case vSphere 5.x.

The tracks are composed of the following levels:

– VCA. Associate. The first fundamentals.
– VCP. Professional. The IT Professional working with VMware environments.
– VCAP. The advanced professional. Advanced professional working, implementing and designing VMware environments.
– VCDX. The expert. Experts on designing the VMware environments.

Like the data center track VMware also offers Cloud and End User Computing certification tracks.

What is needed?

To achieve the VCAP5-DCD status you will have to be VCP5-DCV and you will have to pass the DCD exam. Pretty straightforward. There is no course prerequisite, but there are some recommended courses to follow like the design workshop I wrote about. The VMware vSphere: Design Workshop [V5.x] is a classroom or online three day course. An other highly recommended course is the free online self paced course Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery Design [v5.X].
Last but not least you will have to have autorisation from VMware to start and schedule your examen, you can do that at http://mylearn.vmware.com/feedback.cfm?survey=31965.

Tools.. what can we use or find?

– The VCAP5-DCD Exam blueprint. The blueprint is intended to provide information about the VCAP5-DCD objectives covered in the exam, related resources, and recommended courses. This is your starting point. Download at http://mylearn.vmware.com/register.cfm?course=123608.
– VMware documentation included in the blueprint. Consist of whitepapers, customer references and such. Jason at virtuallanger.com created a zip package of all the documents. You can find and download them at the blogpost of Jason http://www.virtuallanger.com/2012/09/30/vcap-dcd-5-document-package/.
– Take the interactive exam simulation. This gives you insight in the simulations used at the exams (not the subject). Unfortunately this is rather small, but I have not yet find any others around. Access it at http://mylearn.vmware.com/register.cfm?course=149330.
– The VMware vSphere Design 2nd Edition book (also available for Kindle). Get it at: http://www.amazon.co.uk/VMware-VSphere-Design-Forbes-Guthrie/dp/1118407911/ref=dp_ob_title_bk.
– VCAP5-DCD Official Cert Guide: VMware Certified Advanced Professional 5  Data Center Design (VMware Press Certification). Kindle edition on Amazon. Great with scenario’s and questions to test your state of knowledge for the subjects. Also do visit writers (Paul McSharry) website http://www.elasticsky.co.uk/.
– Free instructional vSphere video’s. Look them up at http://vmwarelearning.com/. Be sure to stick to the objectives and not watch all the video’s.
– There are several locations to get the vBrownbags covering the VCAP5-DCD subjects. Go to http://professionalvmware.com/brownbags/ and register or search for the VCAP-DCD objectives (as they are not yet categorized). The sessions are also available via iTunes.
– Hands on experience. The baggage of knowledge you hold from real world experience. Else get your experience from Hands on Labs. VMware’s HOL is a great online place, go to http://www.projectnee.com/HOL/. You can also build your own labs (resources!) in VMware Workstation for example.
– VMware vSphere Plan and Design Service Delivery Kit. If your a solution partner you can grab this kit of partner central.

Advice?

You can find a lot of VCAP5-DCD experience posts out there, just use your google-fu. Most of those post have one critical component in there (just next to preparation) and that one is time management. The exam consists of 100 questions and 225 minutes. But that not all multiple choices, there are several scenario’s in there. At the beginning of the exam you will be shown how many design tool scenario’s there are, and those together are time bound around one hour. So there is not lot of time to wander and take your time on obscure questions.

For now this is my list. I will try to update when I have some news. When you have some input or advice please drop them in the comments (or tweet them at me).

Update VMworld Exam Experience

So during VMworld I tried the exam. Next to it’s part of my goals, an important reason to do it on the VMworld site is the 75% off the price. But it is hard to do an exam in the middle of the VMworld hurricane, I missed passing with a couple of points. Main reason running out of time and missing some 10 questions and one scenario.
On Wednesday morning I had my chance. I had a bad night of sleep (something with my diner or nerves got my stomach doing somersaults), but I managed to reach the site (and some coffee) on time.

After signing in I entered the exam room. The exam starts with an assessment where you are in the VMware world of designing. I think they use the answers to present you with a specific set of questions, or an order of them. After this the exam starts. At the beginning you are told how much of the 100 questions are scenario’s. In my case there were six in total. After this the show starts for real.

The design question where a real difficulty. I had practiced with the interactive exam simulation (see above for linkie), but in the real world it was hard (maybe fatigue was a problem there to). I lost time just getting re-introduced to the system and lost a couple of drawings when trying to go back in the drawing to much. Next time use the scissors for disconnecting the connections and check if connection are connected properly else moving objects around really screws up your drawing (I knew this upfront, but somehow I didn’t do this in the real exam. Tried the undo to much). I kept count of the number of scenario’s on my note-board. Most of them were in the second part of the exam (well I mean after a started introduce a faster pace as already 2,5 hours were over and I wasn’t even past the half of the questions).

Most of the multiple questions have multiple answers where two or more answers are common. Several have resource subjects where the calculator comes in handy. The drag and drops are straightforward, but you will have to check if you dropped them in the right column. Sometimes the upper part of the column makes your answer go to the column above (same for the below). Stability is ok, I had to move computers when one of my scenario’s returned an error (what was probably due to my excessive use of shuffling around objects or hitting the undo button). But the time missed from the exam by moving is added when starting at the return point of the exam. Your open scenario (the one you are working on) is lost. All previous answers are saved. Unfortunately you miss some concentration.

Four hours weren’t enough for me. I tried to randomly tick some boxes on some remaining question when the countdown started. But I still had some ten questions open. After that the exam forcefully terminated. At somewhat past two in the afternoon it unfortunately did not show the congratulations, I missed about 20 points for that.

I was devastated the first half hour and tried some RR and walk it off around the venue. Exhausted the rest of the day. In the rest of the afternoon I followed some sessions and went to the VMworld party in the evening. There I did some drinks, food and some games. But I left early to catch some sleep.

Okay lesson learned: Don’t do this at a venue like VMworld. Pace should be up. Design tool simulation, repeat close to the exam. Check score report for subjects that need attention, and learn.

Update November 2013 – Passed

Today 15th of November I did my retake of the VCAP5-DCD exam. And this time I managed to finish all the questions and scenario’s in time. Furthermore this time the grade result was a Pass. I introduced a faster pace this time. Again I had six scenario’s, but this time the where almost all in the last part of the exam. But luckily time management was this time on my side.

I did a last repeat of VCAP5-DCD Official Cert Guide and VMware vSphere Design 2nd Edition book in the last week before the exam (just to get the 5.5 out of my system). I also checked the exam simulation and looked if I was confident with the exam blueprint. I was feeling better prepared and settled nicely in the exam. Question where faster answered then the first time, I probably got used to the question style and the exam drag and drops/scenario’s from the first time (however this is still partly a blur in my memory). The only hesitation was at the ending of the exam, shall I push the end exam button? Fortunately for me it showed congratulations!

– So with this I finish my DCD experience. What is going to be next?