What is Virtual Machine Graphics Acceleration and what can it do for you?

By Mike Leahy, Senior Systems Engineer, Dell, Limerick, Ireland.

As VDI has evolved and matured, it is no longer constrained to low resolution desktops normally associated with task workers. VDI can now to deliver feature rich, high resolution, and multi monitor 3D desktops to a broad variety of users and it can do this cost effectively. Beginning in vSphere 5.1 and VMware Horizon View 5.2, a number of different workloads can now be offered by VDI, ranging from knowledge workers using 3D desktops to high performance intensive 3D application workloads like AutoCAD.

There are two types of graphics acceleration for a VMware view environment, vSGA and vDGA.  vSGA shares the GPU resources between virtual machines in a view pool. You can allocate the video RAM to the virtual machine manually via the vSphere client or you can allocate it evenly using the view pool. Note however that when using vSGA, the maximum amount that you can assign to a VM is 512 mb. One of the advantages of vSGA is that a VM can dynamically switch between software or hardware acceleration without any reconfiguration needed.

vDGA offers much better performance as the whole GPU is passed through the hypervisor to the VM so in effect each VM has access to its own GPU. This makes vDGA very suitable for high end graphics applications and as a result is a viable option for the engineering / medical imaging and the oil and gas sectors. vDGA is more expensive because the amount of VM’s on the host is limited to the amount of GPU’s you have available but cost savings are still possible because you don’t have to purchase very expensive high end workstations for each graphics user.

At Dell, we have been testing and characterizing these new offerings for inclusion in our DVS Enterprise for VMware Horizon View reference architecture. We tested primarily with the NVIDIA Grid K1/K2 cards which are equipped with keppler based GPU’s and we were impressed with the results. We feel that evaluating graphics acceleration in your view environment is a very worthwhile exercise and its one which has the potential to offer many benefits like cost savings, consolidation of graphics hardware into the datacentre and excellent performance.

As mentioned above, virtualizing 3D graphics applications has traditionally presented significant technical and cost challenges. By virtualizing 3D graphics graphics designers, engineers, and business professionals can be more productive and collaborative. IT can provision users with secure access to multimedia and graphics-intensive applications from anywhere on any device.

Organizations also benefit by extending secure access to intensive 3D graphics and rich media experiences to more users in more locations. The testing described in this post illustrates how Dell and VMware deliver true end-to-end solutions for desktop virtualization in the Dell DVS Enterprise solution portfolio with VMware Horizon View and now we support virtualized 3D graphics capabilities.

Another important aspect coming out of our solution testing  is that we found varying degrees of performance depending on which endpoint we used. The Dell Wyse P25 zero client (shown below) offered impressive performance during our tests and provided FPS (frames per second) comparable to an Optiplex workstation . This dedicated zero client is designed specifically for VMware Hoirzon View and features the latest processor technology to process the PCoIP protocol. 

More information on the specific tests and results can be viewed in our our DVS Enterprise for VMware Horizon View reference architecture. If you are planning to attend VMworld 2013, make to stop by the Dell Booth and our virtualized graphics solutions in person!


About the Author: Brent Doncaster

Brent Doncaster - Senior Strategist, Product Marketing Leveraging his 20+ years of technology experience into the creation of portfolio messaging for Dell EMC Cloud Solutions in support of global marketing campaigns and initiatives in Dell EMC’s Integrated Solutions Group. Twitter: @Brent_BWD