Citrix and Nvidia accelerate desktop virtualization with virtual GPUs

By combining XenDesktop 7 and Grid vGPU technology, graphics-intensive applications become possible for VDI

Nvidia's portfolio of hardware, software, and appliances has been focused of late on providing GPU acceleration within the data center. Until recently, the company's general-purpose GPU (GPGPU) development was largely aimed at high-performance computing (HPC) environments. But now Nvidia is going after the much larger enterprise market with its new Grid GPU virtualization technology.

The company originally unveiled its Grid VCA appliance at the GPU Technology Conference in March to support its Grid VGX virtual desktop software. At the time, Nvidia said it was working with other hypervisor vendors to allow virtual machines to run directly on the GPU rather than on the CPU.

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During Citrix Synergy last week, Citrix CEO Mark Templeton joined with Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang to announce that Citrix XenServer will be the first hypervisor to use this new technology. They also discussed how the newly announced Citrix XenDesktop 7 platform will be the first desktop virtualization solution capable of remotely accessing GPU resources using Nvidia's Grid vGPU technology.

The announcement was perhaps the most talked about demonstration at the show -- with good reason. This technology seems like an immediate game changer.

Nvidia Grid technology will let businesses enjoy the broad benefits of desktop virtualization -- flexibility, manageability and security -- while still delivering a full PC experience to end users without skimping on graphics performance. And by delivering fast 3D graphics capabilities to a virtual desktop from a hosted server in the data center, Nvidia may have touched on one of the key missing components of a VDI environment, also known as the VDI Holy Grail. It's no wonder major hardware manufacturers like Cisco, Dell, HP, and IBM have been lining up to provide servers powered by Nvidia Grid technology.

The new Grid vGPU also targets another challenge that has grown in recent years: BYOD. More and more employees are choosing to use their own laptops and portable devices for work, and they are relying on desktop virtualization for the anytime, anywhere access to their desktops. Unfortunately, until now desktop virtualization technologies have been limited to standard enterprise applications and could not provide support for graphics-intensive software.

But according to Citrix, tens of millions of knowledge workers can now benefit from graphics acceleration across any platform (Windows, Mac, or Android), using any device (desktops, laptops, tablets, or smartphones), on any application (OpenGL, DirectX, or GPGPU). As long as the device has a display and a Citrix receiver, Nvidia's Grid vGPU "makes it work."

Nvidia is offering a set of server products and graphics boards under the brand name Grid, which will allow the company to connect GPUs to the growing number of virtualization and cloud deployments. Nvidia currently produces two options: a dedicated GPU pass-through, which means a single VM would get access to a single GPU (a solution showcased at Citrix Synergy last year, but which doesn't scale); and a new virtual GPU, which currently allows up to eight users to share a single physical GPU.

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