Earlier last month, VMware released Horizon 7.1, which has major features and improvements. Today I’m going to focus on a couple that specifically improve the VDI user experience.
Blast Extreme Adaptive Transport (BEAT) Addresses Latency
The big thing in Horizon 7 was Blast Extreme, which is the protocol for connecting to virtual desktops. In 7.1, we have improvements upon this protocol that VMware calls Blast Extreme Adaptive Transport (BEAT). This was built to handle your lower-quality, higher latency WAN connections, like cell phone hotspots or coffee shop public Wi-Fi where connectivity is spotty.
This is huge. Even though Blast Extreme was a big improvement in VDI connection quality, it still struggled with unreliable WAN connections from outside the network.
In testing, you’ll see that with BEAT, previously unworkable connections are now usable. While you can’t completely fix the latency, it does a good job of making it functional.
By now you may be wondering how they back up their claims for performance improvements. It’s not new for vendors come out and say their latest release is “faster” and “better,” but there’s infrequently empirical evidence of those claims. This time, VMware has actually made a large, measurable jump in performance that you’ll see in the charts below.
But before we get to those, let me lay out some background on how we got here. As we generically develop more video requirements, for example 60 frames a second for video game-like performance, there is significant overhead for a virtual desktop. To combat this, VMware and NVIDIA teamed up to addressed photon latency. NVIDIA is a major supplier of GPUs, which in conjunction with their GRID software, is deployed in certain VDI environments.
What is photon latency? It is the latency felt by the user between when a stimulus is presented (moving the cursor) and the corresponding reaction occurs (the cursor actually moving). This all occurs at an extremely high rate, but as humans, we are very sensitive to changes to the latency. NVIDIA has a lot of experience dealing with this through their video gaming and virtual reality background.
In the chart below, the dotted line is NVIDIA’s video gaming cloud latency threshold. This is their minimum to provide a quality gaming experience.
You can see above the comparison of the different protocols and where they stack up in terms of photon latency. The only “passing” configuration (below 150 milliseconds) is the last one on the right, Blast Extreme M10-1B – H.264 Hardware (full GRID GPU passthrough). Compare that to Horizon 7 with and PCoIP and you’ll see that VMware and NVIDIA have cut that photon latency by over half. Swap PCoIP out with Blast Extreme in Horizon 7 and Horizon 7.1 with BEAT without a GRID GPU passthrough and it still cuts the latency in half.
Below is a diagram of the Blast Extreme stack, accounting for all the processes that must occur for a simple mouse click on VDI.
As you can see, a lot of processes occur for every action on a virtual desktop. If your end user is on a weak connection, the latency adds up and gets frustrating fast.
BEAT also lowers CPU utilization by about a third, depending on where you’re coming from. This is important because it helps with your host density and can get more users on each host, simplifying your environment and getting more out of your infrastructure, which can mean better return on investment.
New Skype for Business Plugin
There is now an update to the 2013 Lync (now Skype for Business) plugin, which was only on PCoIP. With Horizon 7.1, you can now utilize Blast Extreme as your protocol. This introduces improved performance and quality of service.
Improvements to the Client
A common challenge with VDI environments comes in with end users who split time remotely and on the network. It’s hard to optimize protocols for both at the same time, because each one has its own separate requirements and networking conditions. With the new end user Horizon Client 4.4 in conjunction with Horizon 7.1, there is some capability from the client end point to configure the quality settings of Blast Extreme.
The above window allows the end user to assess the quality of the network he or she is on, and then Horizon Client will configure Blast Extreme to operate within the configured parameters. As your organization’s IT professional, it’s up to you communicate how to use this with your end users and test out which setting works best when. Personally, I usually just choose Poor, even at the office, because it’s designed to be lighter to work on a lesser network. It always works well on Poor for what I’m doing, even on my arguably “Excellent” Mirazon network.
Here’s how VMware breaks it down:
Typical – TCP is used for the initial connection to authenticate, and then our new adaptive UDP-based transport is used for the connection to the desktop or published app session.
Excellent – Suited to LAN environments or can be useful in low bandwidth WAN links. Blast Extreme uses TCP for both the initial authentication and the connection to the desktop or app.
Poor – Helps adapt to very poor network connection, such as one with more than 20 percent packet loss, the adaptive UDP component will take measures to ensure an acceptable user experience. This adds a capability to duplicate some packets on the network to improve user experience on a high packet loss connection.
There are quite a few more additional features out with Horizon 7.1, so you can read up on them on VMware’s blog.