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VDI At Enterprise Scale With Netapp Virtual Desktop Service

Scalable, Hybrid/Multi-Cloud Infrastructure For Virtual Desktops

By Tony Palmer, Senior Validation Analyst
MAY 2021

ESG Technical Validations

The goal of ESG Technical Validations is to educate IT professionals about information technology solutions for companies of all types and sizes. ESG Technical Validations are not meant to replace the evaluation process that should be conducted before making purchasing decisions, but rather to provide insight into these emerging technologies. Our objectives are to explore some of the more valuable features and functions of IT solutions, show how they can be used to solve real customer problems, and identify any areas needing improvement. The ESG Validation Team’s expert third-party perspective is based on our own hands-on testing as well as on interviews with customers who use these products in production environments.


This ESG Technical Validation examines the capability of NetApp Virtual Desktop Service (VDS) to deploy, manage, and optimize virtual desktop environments through a SaaS-delivered global control plane for hybrid/multi-cloud environments. We also take an analytic look at cost of ownership to explore how NetApp VDS could reduce cloud infrastructure spending through advanced scaling and resource management technologies and IT administrative costs through automation and streamlining.


In a recent survey, ESG asked IT professionals about their organizations’ productivity applications and endpoint devices, including virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) and desktop-as-a-service solutions (DaaS). More than two-thirds (67%) of respondents indicate that their organization is currently planning, deploying, or actively using virtual desktop infrastructure technology. The usage of VDI has grown in terms of the number of businesses using it but rarely has the technology been used in a company-wide fashion.1

Historically, VDI usage has been limited to narrowly defined user segments, even though these implementations have clearly demonstrated improvements in the way that IT can manage and maintain a digital workspace environment for users. With this experience and success that current users have had with the delivery model, the drive to expand VDI implementations is strong. The number of current VDI users who report that more than half of their desktop environment is composed of VDI instances is expected to more than triple (from 8% to 27%) over the next two years.

Figure 1. Top Six VDI Deployment Challenges

Which of the following challenges has your organization experienced – or what concerns does it have – with respect to its VDI deployment? (Percent of respondents, N=344, multiple responses accepted)

Source: Enterprise Strategy Group

The most common benefits of VDI align with the challenges identified by organizations with regard to their traditional desktop delivery experience. Specifically, improved security (39%), decreased operational expenses (38%), and employee productivity gains (36%) all stand out as top benefits that VDI has delivered to current users. When VDI strategies and implementation plans align to provide fixes to existing shortcomings, the technology enables businesses to achieve their goals of improving the end-user workspace delivery experience.

There are still challenges associated with VDI deployments, despite the reported benefits (See Figure 1). Organizations report management complexity (29%) and total cost of the solution (26%) as two of the most common challenges. Nearly one-quarter (22%) of current and potential VDI users remain concerned about the potential for security breaches of managed desktop environments.

NetApp VDS

NetApp VDS is a SaaS-delivered global control plane for VDI, ideal for enterprises who wish to manage their VDI internally, on premises, in Azure, Google Cloud, or AWS.

The service is SaaS-delivered access, enabling organizations to manage their virtual desktop infrastructure across public and private clouds. The Virtual Desktop Service is engineered to automate the hundreds of manual tasks required for deploying desktops that can normally take multiple days with the goal of reducing deployment time significantly. After deployment, management of the virtual infrastructure is streamlined by event-driven toolsets and policy-based management designed to keep workspaces up to date, in sync, and meeting service level expectations.

Figure 2. NetApp Virtual Desktop Service

Source: Enterprise Strategy Group

VDS is designed to manage all aspects of the virtual desktop cycle, including:

• Automation of the deployment of virtual desktops at scale.
• The ability to manage the application stack—from Windows infrastructure to approved applications, their pre-requisites, updates, etc.
• Unification of management of all aspects of the VDI environment, including infrastructure and storage.
• Optimization of IaaS resource costs—VMs, storage, GPU resources, etc.—to minimize wasted provisioned resources while providing users with the right resources when they need them.
• User management, including credentials, profiles, roles, security, and more.
• A SaaS-delivered global control plane that is a seamless “single pane of glass” regardless of where these virtual desktops might physically reside—AWS, Azure, GCP, or on-premises systems.

In 2020, NetApp announced a managed VDI service called NetApp Virtual Desktop Managed Service, or VDMS, powered by NetApp VDS. VDMS extends beyond traditional Windows-based DaaS solutions by integrating NetApp’s cloud services portfolio as part of the offering. VDMS integrates NetApp Cloud Insights analytics, SaaS Back-up for Microsoft 365, enterprise-class file system and data management support. VDMS is a turnkey, full-featured, managed service solution for VDI, priced for one flat monthly fee per user.

NetApp Cloud Volumes is designed to optimize file services in the cloud. Built on NetApp ONTAP, Cloud Volumes is engineered with the goal of providing robust performance, availability, and protection for business applications. Cloud Volumes can be deployed as a fully managed storage service or as a user-managed storage layer on an organization’s choice of cloud infrastructure.

NetApp’s vision of all these solutions and technologies working together is VDI at enterprise scale, where end-users can access the enterprise environment from anywhere. VDI at enterprise scale is a true hybrid/multi-cloud model that leverages NetApp tools, technologies, and integrations with cloud platforms to provide transparent access for end-users.

Figure 3. NetApp VDI at Enterprise Scale

Source: Enterprise Strategy Group

NetApp provides multiple services to protect and secure data, ensure compliance, and enable organizations to manage resources across the entire ecosystem.

ESG Technical Validation

ESG performed evaluation and testing of NetApp VDS to validate the value and differentiation VDS provides for customers looking at cloud-based VDI, desktop-as-a-service (DaaS), and hybrid/multi-cloud environments. This report will also examine the value and differentiation NetApp VDS provides for customers that start in the cloud, have hybrid or multi-cloud environments, or are looking to migrate to their cloud of choice.

NetApp is an interesting choice to provide the infrastructure for large-scale VDI environments, based upon their legacy with global enterprise applications. As a foundation for the environment, NetApp leverages its enterprise-class ONTAP storage operating system, which can be used not only in the traditional data center storage implementation with their AFF, FAS, and FlexPod offerings supporting Microsoft Remote Desktop Services (RDS) implementations of VDI in a VMware vSphere environment, but also in multiple cloud formats. Azure users (using Windows Virtual Desktop, or WVD) can employ Azure NetApp Files, a fully managed Microsoft first-party offering for large-scale storage requirements. In addition, Azure, AWS, or Google Cloud users can take advantage of Cloud Volumes ONTAP, a software instantiation of ONTAP that runs on hyperscaler resources, managed by the customer in their cloud account. All these cloud and on-premises environments can be supported and managed by the NetApp offerings noted in this paper concurrently, even to the point of sharing a single, common data store.

To ensure the scale and stability required by the emerging large-scale VDI footprints, NetApp ONTAP provides features such as FlexGroup volumes to enhance the performance, automatic load distribution, and scalability of file services needed by VDI users. Along with this, the adaptive quality of service (AQoS) feature can be used to automatically maintain appropriate performance-to-capacity ratios as capacity changes. To help ensure cost-effective capacity in a dynamic workload environment, ONTAP simplifies capacity management using FabricPools for storage capacity management, which provides automated tiering of data to low-cost object storage in the form of either NetApp’s StorageGRID or cloud storage.

In addition to ONTAP’s security features, NetApp’s Snapshot/SnapMirror provide the embedded ability for block-level, incremental-forever backup technology to have fast and efficient data protection to either on-prem or cloud backup targets, as well as the potential to be used for data mobility between environments. The company’s SaaS-delivered Cloud Backup service can use Snapshot technology to have all unstructured data (from any ONTAP system either on-prem or in the cloud) to have scheduled “set and forget” backups done to inexpensive object storage. This service is often paired with NetApp SaaS Backup for Microsoft 365, which likewise backs up the M365 user accounts for the VDI population (Exchange, SharePoint, OneDrive, Teams, etc.), as this is often overlooked when consolidating end-user compute workloads to the cloud. And with the growing awareness that data protection is more than just backup/restore, NetApp’s Cloud Compliance service enables data governance through automated controls for data privacy regulations such as General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), as it scans the data stores for potential risks or breaches—again, delivered as a SaaS-service with a “set and forget” paradigm. Finally, for service providers or segmented enterprises, NetApp storage virtual machines (SVM) offer greater levels of secure multi-tenant access.

In cases of distributed VDI landscapes (i.e., multiple workspaces around the globe to keep virtual desktop resources within a certain latency to their end-users), Global File Cache (GFC) allows multiple workspaces around the world to share a single storage footprint without latency penalties. This keeps VDI desktop resources close to the users, without the requirement of replicating the storage footprint in different cloud data centers.

From a management perspective, wrapping up the package is NetApp’s Cloud Insights, a monitoring service that enables organizations to monitor, troubleshoot, and optimize both infrastructure and applications in public clouds and private data centers. NetApp is obviously attempting to bring all these services together in a way that allows support of a large-scale VDI environment, which is managed by NetApp VDS.


NetApp VDS addresses cloud-based virtual desktop integration with the top three major cloud providers (Azure, AWS, and Google), as well as on-premises environments, providing hybrid/multi-cloud management from a “single pane of glass.” First, we looked at the VDS Dashboard, as shown in Figure 4. This portal provides a single control plane for an organization’s VDI environment. Admins can do everything they need from this portal. The portal behaves a lot like an orchestration tool, with most tasks automated or automatable, including deploying a new environment or workspace, spinning up required file services, Active Directory, application services, and data protection. Admins can insert scripts for any app or system that can be controlled by a CLI.

Figure 4. NetApp VDS Dashboard

Source: Enterprise Strategy Group


Next, we clicked on Deployments. Our testing environment was deployed on Azure. All required components of the local control plane— which operates under the direction of the global control plane—reside on the platform servers, which are VMs in the Azure environment. In our demo environment, we only configured one platform server, but in a production environment, it may reside on multiple VMs depending on the scale.

If an environment contains on-premises, AWS, or GCP infrastructure, users connect to those via NetApp’s RDS client. For Azure workspaces, the Microsoft WVD client would be used. In our hybrid cloud environment, we had Azure and vSphere sites configured. We used the Azure environment for testing (see Figure 5), so we used the Microsoft WVD client.

Figure 5. NetApp VDS—Managing Deployments

Source: Enterprise Strategy Group


NetApp VDS makes it easy to manage Apps and Servers in the environment (see Figure 6).

Figure 6. NetApp VDS—Managing Applications and Servers

Source: Enterprise Strategy Group

NetApp Virtual Desktop Service can also be used as a platform to accomplish digital transformation—to migrate from or expand from an on-premises to a hybrid/multi-cloud environment. Since the control plane allows “single pane of glass” visibility to both on-premises and multiple cloud environments, it provides easy access, visibility, and control over these workloads and users as they are migrated from one environment to another. The data can be migrated from the on-premises to cloud environments using NetApp’s Cloud Sync service. Recommended best practice would be to establish a direct link to the hyperscale environment using Azure Express Route, AWS Direct Connect, or Google Cloud Interconnect; alternatively, a site-to-site IPsec VPN tunnel/connection could be established. If an ongoing hybrid/multi-cloud environment is the strategic preference, Global File Cache should be considered to allow a single data footprint for all users, streamlining the backup/management/availability/scalability equation.

Organizations can connect to the platform server via the GUI or via API. We clicked Connect and were connected to the platform server via the WVD client. To add, manage, or delete a site, admins use a tool called DCConfig. We clicked on the shortcut on the desktop of the cloud workspace manager (CWMgr) VM and navigated to the DataCenter Sites tab (Figure 7), where we could see that we had one Azure and two vSphere connections in this environment.

Figure 7. NetApp VDS—Managing the Platform Server

Source: Enterprise Strategy Group

Clicking on each site will open the configuration specific to that environment and enable management of all aspects of the environment, including endpoint IP addresses, FQDNs, credentials, and filtering. When a site is created or modified, admins can click the Test button or click Load Hypervisor to check any dropdown under the vSphere section and verify that it’s populated with appropriate values.

While many options are provided in the UI, NetApp also provides the Command Center application. The Command Center is an executable that runs on the CWMGR1 Platform Server in a VDS deployment. It is accessed by connecting to the CWMGR1 VM and executing it locally on that VM.

Figure 8. NetApp VDS—Command Center

Source: Enterprise Strategy Group

This application was designed for troubleshooting, diagnostics, and advanced management functions. This application is primarily used by NetApp’s internal development and support teams. However, some functions are used by customer admins to quickly troubleshoot or perform advanced functions.


NetApp Cloud Insights is a monitoring tool that provides visibility into both infrastructure and applications. Organizations can monitor, troubleshoot, and optimize all resources, including public clouds and private data centers, using Cloud Insights. Cloud Insights is designed specifically for cloud-based infrastructure and deployment technologies and provides advanced analytics on the connections among resources within the environment.

The Cloud Insights dashboard (Figure 8) provides an integrated view of the virtual machine and GPU environment as seen within VDS.

Figure 9. NetApp VDS—Cloud Insights

Source: Enterprise Strategy Group

Financial elements tie utilization back to the financial expenditure picture, a key element in understanding what the Virtual Desktop/public cloud management solution costs to operate in real time. Instrumentation like user latency maps directly to the end-user experience and resource utilization metrics show how VDS Live Scaling and Workload Scheduling features can reduce the billable uptime for VMs to match user sessions.


The usage of VDI has grown in terms of the number of businesses using it, but historically, the technology has rarely been used in a company-wide fashion. Many organizations using or planning for VDI and/or desktop-as-a-service (DaaS) solutions find that they don’t have the people or expertise to deploy and manage their infrastructure. Solutions that ease the deployment and management burden, while removing the manpower and competency bottlenecks, will be key for successful enterprise virtual desktop deployments.

ESG validated that NetApp VDS addresses these challenges and provides a unified control plane to simplify and automate hybrid cloud VDI. VDS automated deployment and management with common tools for similar tasks across platforms. Cloud Insight provided visibility and context to enable organizations to ensure that their VDI environment is performing optimally while managing costs.

Cost of Ownership

ESG leveraged the information collected through vendor-provided material, publicly available pricing data, and ESG’s industry knowledge of economics and technologies to validate an economic benefit model that compares the costs and benefits of implementing and operating VDI in a traditional hybrid cloud with deploying and running the same environment using NetApp VDS. The environment we modeled included 1,000 users, with 65% concurrency, meaning that the environment had to support 650 desktops simultaneously. The user workloads included 5% light users (task workers), 10% medium users (office workers), 80% heavy users (knowledge workers), and 5% power users (engineers/designers).

Table 1. Ongoing Management Tasks
Ongoing Management Tasks
Create and set up VDI users Track application usage
Connect to VMs Set up additional administrators
Unlock accounts Manage third-party admin access
Reset passwords Install agents
Check and kill processes Update VM images
Connect to VMs Manually run scripts
Manage WVD users Migrate users

Source: Enterprise Strategy Group

The model included initial deployment and multiple ongoing, recurring costs, including both monthly cloud costs and administrative costs based on ongoing tasks like those shown in Table 1.

Figure 10. Cost of Deployment and Operation

Source: Enterprise Strategy Group


Organizations clearly recognize that VDI offers numerous potential benefits; Improved security, productivity, and support for remote users are all high on the list, as is reduced end-user support expenses. Total costs for these solutions that are higher than expected was reported as a challenge by more than one in four of those same organizations.

Hybrid Cloud VDI with NetApp VDS demonstrated significant value compared to hybrid cloud VDI using native tools. Most of the savings come from the automation and simplicity of management of the solution. NetApp VDS provides hybrid cloud orchestration that includes managing cloud and on-premises environments. While many of the individual administrative tasks don’t take too long for a single use, with a pool of 1,000 users, the time needed to perform even simple administrative functions adds up quickly.

The initial and recurring costs for a traditional hybrid cloud VDI environment were more than $1.9 million dollars over three years, while NetApp VDS deployment and recurring costs were just over $720,000, or 63% lower than hybrid cloud VDI using native tools alone.

The Bigger Truth

When asked specifically about challenges associated with VDI deployments, 29% of organizations cited management complexity, while 26% cited the total cost of the solution. Nearly one-quarter (22%) of current and potential VDI users remain concerned about the potential for security breaches of managed desktop environments. Organizations need a solution that can simplify deployment and management, enhance user and administrator productivity, and reduce operational expenses. When VDI strategies and implementation plans align to provide fixes to existing shortcomings, the technology enables businesses to achieve their goals of improving the end-user workspace delivery experience.

With NetApp VDS, enterprises can take a big step toward reducing hybrid/multi-cloud VDI complexity. Decreased complexity means better use of resources, time, and money, which in turn enables innovation and the development of new applications and revenue-generating services. Consider the implications of a simple, automated VDI architecture that integrates with existing environments, provides comprehensive telemetry and visibility, centralizes policy management, helps organizations ensure compliance, and scales as needed. Fast time to value is a compelling rationale, and NetApp VDS delivers it in multiple ways, not the least of which is centralized management for deployment, configuration, monitoring, and provisioning.

ESG’s modeled scenarios demonstrate significant savings for organizations running hybrid/multi-cloud VDI. ESG analysis revealed a 63% cost reduction over three years for an organization with 1,000 VDI users. NetApp VDS provides automation of repetitive, time-consuming tasks to deliver a single control plane that can manage cloud, on-premises, and hybrid cloud deployments using a single consistent toolset.

ESG is impressed with NetApp’s vision and execution of hybrid/multi-cloud VDI with NetApp VDS. NetApp has designed the solution with a powerful, consistent simplicity that can save its customers time, effort, and money. We strongly recommend organizations running or planning to deploy and run a virtual desktop infrastructure—especially those who have started on-premises or in the cloud and are looking to scale to hybrid cloud—give NetApp VDS serious consideration.

VDI solutions: Bring on the elastic workforce

This ESG Technical Validation was commissioned by NetApp and is distributed under license from ESG.

Source: ESG Research Report, Trends in Digital Workspaces, Nov 2020. All research in this technical validation was taken from this research report unless otherwise specified.

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