Well, it’s official, according to the release notes for VMware Horizon 2106, VMware now supports Media Optimization for Microsoft Teams on the VMware Horizon Linux Client.
This is great news for zero clients, as most VDI Zero Clients are based of embedded Linux. As soon as major vendors update their firmware to the latest VMware Horizon Client, we should start seeing Microsoft Teams Optimization on VDI Zero Clients.
The AMD S7150 x2 PCIe MxGPU is a Graphics card designed for multi-user (MxGPU) virtualized environments (VDI). Installing an AMD S7150 x2 MxGPU allows you to provision virtual GPUs to Virtual workstations to enable 3D acceleration for applications like engineering, gaming, or pretty much anything that requires accelerated graphics.
Being a big fan of VDI and having my own VDI homelab, I just had to get my hands on one of these cards to experiment with, and learn. It’s an older card that was released in February of 2016, but it’s perfect for the homelab enthusiast.
I secured one and here’s a story about how I got it working on an unsupported 1U HPE DL360p Gen8 Server.
AMD S7150 x2 Specifications
The S7150x2 features 2 physical GPUs, each with 8GB of Video RAM, while the little brother “S7150”, has one GPU and 8GB of Video RAM.
For cooling, the S7150x2 requires the server to cool the card (it has no active cooling or fans), whereas the S7150 is available as both active (with fan) cooling, and passive cooling.
This card supports older versions of VMware ESXi 6.5 and also some versions of Citrix XenServer.
AMD MxGPU Overview
The AMD MxGPU technology, uses a technology called SR-IOV to create Virtual Functions (VFs) that can be attached to virtual machines.
The S7150 x2, with it’s 2GPUs can actually be carved up in to 32 (16 per GPU) VFs, providing 32 users with 3D accelerated graphics.
Additionally, you can simply passthrough the individual GPUs to VMs themselves without using SR-IOV and VFs, providing 2 users with vDGA PCIe Passthrough 3D Accelerated graphics. vDGA stands for “Virtual Dedicated Graphics Acceleration”.
Please Note: In order to use MxGPU capabilities, you must have a server that supports SR-IOV and be using a version of VMware that is compatible with the MxGPU drivers and configuration utility.
The AMD FirePro S7150 x2 does not have any video-out connectors or ports, this card is strictly designed to be used in virtual environments.
The AMD S7150 x2 connected to a HPE DL360p Gen8 Server
As most of you know, I maintain a homelab for training, learning, testing, and demo purposes. I’ve had the S7150 x2 for about 7 months or so, but haven’t been able to use it because I don’t have the proper server.
Securing the proper server is out of the question due to the expense as I fund the majority of my homelab myself, and no vendor has offered to provide me with a server yet (hint hint, nudge nudge).
All I have left are 2 x HPE DL360P Gen 8 Servers. They don’t fit double width PCIe cards, they aren’t on the supported list, and they can’t power the card, but HEY, I’m going to make this work!
Connecting the Card
To connect to the Server, I purchased a “LINKUP – 75cm PCIe 3.0 x16 Shielded PCI Express Extension Cable”. This is essentially just a really, very long PCIe extension ribbon cable.
I connected this to the inside of the server, gently folded the cable and fed it out the back of the server.
I realized that when the cable came in contact with the metal frame, it actually peeled the rubber off the ribbon cable (very sharp), so be careful if you attempt this. Thankfully the cable is shielded and I didn’t cause any damage.
Cooling the Card
Cooling the card was one of the most difficult tasks. I couldn’t actually even test this card when I first purchased it, because after powering up a computer, the card would instantly get up to extremely hot temperatures. This forced me to power down the system before the OS even booted.
I purchased a couple 3D printed cooling kits off eBay, but unfortunately none worked as they were for Nvidia cards. Finally one day I randomly checked, and I finally found a 3D printed cooling solution specifically for the AMD S7150 x2.
As you can see, the kit included a 3D printed air baffle and a fan. I had to remove the metal holding bracket to install the air baffle.
I also had to purchase a PWM fan control module, as the fan included with the kit runs at 18,000 RPM. The exact item I purchased was a “Noctua NA-FC1, 4-Pin PWM Fan Controller”.
Once I installed the controller, I was able to run some tests adjusting the RPM while monitoring the temperatures of the card, and got the fan to a speed where it wasn’t audible, yet was able to cool and keep the GPUs between 40-51 degrees Celsius.
Powering the Card
The next problem I had to overcome was to power the card with it being external.
To do this, I purchased a Gigabyte P750GM Modular Power Supply. I chose this specific PSU because it’s modular and I only had to install the cables I required (being the 6-pin power cable, 8-pin power cable, ATX Power Cable (for PSU on switch), and a CFM fan power connector).
As you can see in the picture below, I did not install all the cabling in the PSU.
As you can see, if came together quite nicely. I also had to purchase an ATX power on adapter, to short certain pins to power on the PSU.
I fed this cable under the PSU and it is hanging underneath the desk out of the way. Some day I might make my own adapter, so I can remove the ATX power connector but unfortunately the PIN-outs on the PSU don’t match the end of the ATX connector cable.
It’s about as neat and tidy as it can be, being a hacked up solution.
Using the card
Overall, by the time I was done connecting it to the server, I was pretty happy with the cleaned up final result.
After booting the system, I noticed that VMware ESXi 6.5 detected the card and both GPUs.
You’ll notice that on the server, the GPUs show up as an “AMD Tonga S7150”.
Before I started to play around with the MxGPU software, I wanted to simply pass through an entire GPU to a VM for testing. I enabled ESXi Passthru on both GPUs, and restarted the server.
So far so good!
I already had a persistent VDI VM configured and ready to go, so I edited the VM properties, and attached one of the AMD S7150 x2 GPUs to the VM.
Booting the VM I was able to see the card and I installed the AMD Radeon FirePro drivers. Everything just worked! “dxdiag” was showing full 3D acceleration, and I confirmed that hardware h.264 offload with the VMware Horizon Agent was functioning (confirmed via BLAST session logs).
That was easy! 🙂
Now on to the issues. After spending numerous days, I was unable to get the MxGPU features working with the AMD Radeon FirePro drivers for VMware ESXi.
Even though I had the drivers and the scripts installed, it was unable to create the VFs (Virtual Functions) with SR-IOV. From research on the internet with the limited amount of information there is, I came to believe that this is due to an SR-IOV bug on the Gen8 platform that I’m running (remember, this is completely and utterly NOT SUPPORTED).
If anyone is interested, the commands worked and the drivers loaded, but it just never created the functions on reboot. I also tried using the newer drivers for the V340 card, with no luck as the module wouldn’t even load.
Here is an example of the configuration script:
[[email protected]:/vmfs/volumes/5d40aefe-030ee1d6-df44-ecb1d7f30334/files/mxgpu] sh mxgpu-install.sh -c
Detected 2 SR-IOV GPU
0000:06:00.0 Display controller VGA compatible controller: AMD Tonga S7150 [vmgfx0]
0000:08:00.0 Display controller VGA compatible controller: AMD Tonga S7150 [vmgfx1]
Do you plan to use the Radeon Pro Settings vSphere plugin to configure MxGPU? ([Y]es/[N]o, default:N)n
Enter the configuration mode([A]uto/[H]ybrid,default:A)a
Auto Mode Selected
Please enter number of VFs:(default:4): 2
Configuring the GPU 1 ...
0000:06:00.0 VGA compatible controller: AMD Tonga S7150 [vmgfx0]
Configuring the GPU 2 ...
0000:08:00.0 VGA compatible controller: AMD Tonga S7150 [vmgfx1]
Setting up SR-IOV settings...
pciHole.start = 2048
pciHole.end = 4543
PCI Hole settings will be added to these VMs. Is this OK?[Y/N]n
The configuration needs a reboot to take effect
To automatically assign VFs, please run "sh mxgpu-install.sh -a" after system reboot
And as mentioned, on reboot I would only be left with the actual 2 physical GPUs available for passthru.
I also tried using “esxcfg-module” utility to configure the driver, but that didn’t work either.
Both combinations failed to have any effect on creating the VFs.
Oh well, I still have 2 separate GPUs that I’m able to passthru to 2 VDI VMs which is more than enough for me.
Horizon View with the S7150 x2
Right off the bat, I have to say this works AMAZING! I’ve been using this for about 4 weeks now without any issues (and no fires, lol).
As mentioned above, because of my issues with SR-IOV on the server I couldn’t utilize MxGPU, but I do have 2 full GPUs each with 8GB of VRAM each that I can passthrough to VDI Virtual Machines using vDGA. Let’s get in to the experience…
Similar to the experience with the Nvidia GRID K1 card, the S7150 x2 provides powerful 3D acceleration and GPU functionality to Windows VDI VMs. Animations, rendering, gaming, it all works and it’s all 3D accelerated!
I’ve even tested the S7150 x2 with my video editing software to edit and encode videos. No complaints and it works just like a desktop system with a high performance GPU would. Imagine video editing on the road with nothing but a cheap laptop and the VMware Horizon client software!
The card also offloads encoding of the VMware BLAST h.264 stream from the CPU to the GPU. This is what actually compresses the video display feed that goes from the VM to your VMware View client. This provides a smoother experience with no delay or lag, and frees up a ton of CPU cycles. Traditionally without a GPU to offload the encoding, the h.264 BLAST stream uses up a lot of CPU resources and bogs down the VDI VM (and the server it’s running on).
Unfortunately, I don’t have any engineering, mapping, or business applications to test with, that this card was actually designed for, but you have to remember this card was designed to provide VDI users with a powerful workstation experience.
It would be amazing if AMD (and other vendors) released more cards that could provide these capabilities, both for the enterprise as well as enthusiasts and their homelab.
Looking at setting up Zoom for VDI in your Virtual Desktop Infrastructure?
In this post, I will guide you on how to deploy Zoom for VDI and the Zoom VDI Plugin in your VMware Horizon View VDI Infrastructure. There is also a Zoom VDI Plugin for Citrix XenDesktop and WVD (Windows Virtual Desktop) in addition to VMware Horizon.
While these instructions are targeted for VMware Horizon VDI environments, the process is very similar for Citrix XenDesktop.
VMware Horizon client on Windows or compatible Thin Client
VDI Desktop or Base Image
Endpoints must have internet access
Just like with Microsoft Teams, before Zoom’s VDI client, VMware’s RTAV (Real-time Audio-Video) was used to handle multimedia. This offloaded audio and video to the VMware Horizon Client utilizing a dedicated channel over the connection to optimize the data exchange. With minor tweaks (check out my post on enhancing RTAV webcam with VMware Horizon), this actually worked quite well with the exception of microphone quality on the end-users side, and high bandwidth requirements.
Using Zoom for VDI and the Zoom VDI Plugin, Zoom will offload (and a more optimized way than RTAV) video encoding and decoding from the VDI Virtual Machine and the endpoint will directly communicate with Zoom’s infrastructure. And, just like Microsoft Teams Optimization, this is one less hop for data, one less processing point, and one less load off your server infrastructure.
There are two components involved in deploying Zoom for VDI.
Zoom for VDI Application on VDI Virtual Machine (or Image)
Zoom VDI Plugin installed on the client system connecting to the VDI session (Computer, Thin Client, Zero Client)
It’s pretty straight forward. We just need to have the Zoom for VDI application installed on the VDI Virtual Machine (and/or base image), and have the plugin installed on the computer or thin client that we are connecting with.
Zoom is highly configurable both with a GPO (Group Policy Object) and registry settings. Please make sure you load up the Zoom Active Directory ADMX Templates and configure them appropriately for your environment and deployment.
To deploy in your existing infrastructure using persistent desktop pools, you can deploy the MSI via Group Policy Objects.
To deploy in your existing infrastructure using non-persistent desktop pools (Instant Clones), you can install Zoom for VDI in your base image, and then re-push the image/snapshot.
To manually install on an existing VDI Virtual Machine, you can double click the MSI, or run the following command:
msiexec /package ZoomInstallerVDI.msi
And that’s it! Make sure you have your Zoom GPO and/or registry settings configured as well.
Zoom VDI Plugin Installation on Client Computer or Thin Client
For the second part of deployment, we need to load the Zoom VDI Plugin on the connecting client computer and/or thin client.
The Zoom for VDI plugin is available for numerous different operating system and thin clients such as Windows, Mac, Mac (ARM), Linux (CentOS, Ubuntu), HP ThinPro Thin clients, Dell ThinOS Thin clients, and more!
Client Plugin Installation
The steps will vary depending on the computer or device you’re connecting with so you’ll want to download the appropriate plugin and install it.
As an example, to install the Zoom VDI Plugin manually on a Windows Client running VMware Horizon View Client:
Download the appropriate Zoom for VDI plugin
It’s actually that easy. You can also deploy the MSI file via Active Directory GPO or your application and infrastructure management platform if you’re installing it on to a large number of systems.
As you can see, it’s pretty easy to get up and running with Zoom for VDI. When deploying VDI, make sure you give your users the tools and applications they need to be productive. Including Zoom for VDI in your deployment is a no-brainer!
One last thing I want to mention is that you can have both the traditional Zoom Desktop and Zoom for VDI application installed at the same time. In my own high performance environment, I chose to have and use both due to the limitation of the Zoom for VDI application. When using the traditional Zoom Desktop application, VMware RTAV will be used if configured, and still works great!
So you’re looking at deploying Microsoft Teams for your Horizon View VDI deployment.
This guide will allow you to deploy Microsoft Teams Optimization for Manual Pools, Automated Pools, and Instant Clone Pools, for use with both persistent and non-persistent VDI. This guide will NOT provide instructions on deploying Microsoft Teams inside of non-persistent VDI or Instant Clones (stay tuned for a guide for that soon).
Before Microsoft Teams VDI Optimization, VMware’s RTAV (Real-Time Audio-Video) was generally used. This offloaded audio and video to the VMware Horizon Client utilizing a dedicated channel over the connection to optimize the data exchange. With minor tweaks (check out my post on enhancing RTAV webcam with VMware Horizon), this actually worked quite well with the exception of microphone quality on the end-users side, and high bandwidth requirements.
Starting with Horizon View 7.13 and Horizon View 8 (2006), VMware Horizon now supports Microsoft Teams Optimization. This technology offloads the Teams call directly to the endpoint (or client device), essentially drawing over the VDI VM’s Teams visual interface and not involving the VDI Virtual Machine at all. The client application (or thin client) handles this and connects directly to the internet for the Teams Call. One less hop for data, one less processing point, and one less load off your server infrastructure.
Microsoft Teams Optimization uses WebRTC to function.
Deploying Microsoft Teams Optimization on VMware Horizon VDI
There are two components required to deploy Microsoft Teams Optimization for VDI.
Microsoft Specific Setup and Configuration of Microsoft Teams
VMware Specific Setup and Configuration for Microsoft Teams
We’ll cover both in this blog post.
Microsoft Specific Setup and Configuration of Microsoft Teams Optimization
First and foremost, do NOT bundle the Microsoft Teams install with your Microsoft 365 (Office 365) deployment, they should be installed separately.
We’re going to be installing Microsoft Teams using the “per-machine” method, where it’s installed in the Program Files of the OS, instead of the usual “per-user” install where it’s installed in the user “AppData” folder.
Non-persistent (Instant Clones) VDI requires Microsoft Teams to be installed “Per-Machine”, whereas persistent VDI can use both “Per-Machine” and “Per-User” for Teams. I use the “Per-Machine” for almost all VDI deployments. This allows you to manage versions utilizing MSIs and GPOs.
Please Note that when using “Per-Machine”, automatic updates are disabled. In order to upgrade Teams, you’ll need to re-install the newer version. Take this in to account when planning your deployment.
For Teams Optimization to work, your endpoints and/or clients MUST have internet access.
Let’s Install Microsoft Teams (VDI Optimized)
For Per-Machine (Non-Persistent & Persistent) Install, use the following command:
And that’s it for the Microsoft Specific side of things!
VMware Specific Setup and Configuration for Microsoft Teams Optimization
When it comes to the VMware Specific Setup and Configuration for Microsoft Teams Optimization, it’s a little bit more complex.
VMware Horizon Client Installation
When installing the VMware Horizon Client, the Microsoft Teams optimization feature should be installed by default. However, doing a custom install, make sure that “Media Optimization for Microsoft Teams” is enabled (as per the screenshot below):
Group Policy Object to enable WebRTC and Microsoft Teams Optimization
You’ll only want to configure GPOs for those users and sessions where you plan on actually utilizing Microsoft Teams Optimization. Do not apply these GPOs to endpoints where you wish to use RTAV and don’t want to use Teams optimization, as it will enforce some limitations that come with the technology (explained in Microsoft’s documentation).
We’ll need to enable VMware HTML5 Features and Microsoft Teams Optimization (WebRTC) inside of Group Policy. Head over and open your existing VDI GPO or create a new GPO. You’ll need to make sure you’ve installed the latest VMware Horizon GPO Bundle. There are two switches we need to set to “Enabled”.
Expand the following, and set “Enable HTML5 Features” to “Enabled”:
Next, we’ll set “Enable Media Optimization for Microsoft Teams” to “Enabled”. You’ll find it in the following:
Computer Configuration -> Policies -> Administrative Templates -> VMware View Agent Configuration -> VMware HTML5 Features -> VMware WebRTC Redirection Features -> Enable Media Optimization for Microsoft Teams
And that’s it, you’re GPOs are now configured.
If you’re running a persistent desktop, run “gpupdate /force” in an elevated command prompt to grab the updated GPOs. If you’re running a non-persistent desktop pool, you’ll need to push the base image snapshot again so your instant clones will have the latest GPOs.
Confirming Microsoft Teams Optimization for VDI
There’s a simple and easy way to test if you’re currently running Microsoft Teams Optimized for VDI.
Open Microsoft Teams
Click on your Profile Picture to the right of your Company Name
Expand “About”, and select “Version”
After selecting this, you’ll see a toolbar appear horizontally underneath the search, company name, and your profile picture with some information. Please see the below examples to determine if you’re running in 1 of 3 modes.
The following indicates that Microsoft Teams is running in normal mode (VDI Teams Optimization is Disabled). If you have configured VMware RTAV, then it will be using RTAV.
The following indicates that Microsoft Teams is running in VDI Optimized mode (VDI Teams Optimization is Enabled showing “VMware Media Optimized”).
The following indicates that Microsoft Teams is configured for VDI Optimization, however is not functioning and running in fallback mode. If you have VMware RTAV configured, it will be falling back to using RTAV. (VDI Teams Optimization is Enabled but not working showing “VMware Media Not Connected”, and is using RTAV if configured).
If you’re having issues or experiencing unexpected results, please go back and check your work. You may also want to review Microsoft’s and VMware’s documentation.
This guide should get you up and running quickly with Microsoft Teams Optimization for VDI. I’d recommend taking the time to read both VMware’s and Microsoft’s documentation to fully understand the technology, limitations, and other configurables that you can use and fine-tune your VDI deployment.
In this post, I’m going to provide instructions and a guide on how to install the Horizon Agent for Linux on Ubuntu 20.04 LTS. This will allow you to run and connect to an Ubuntu VDI VM with VMware Horizon View.
In the past I’ve created instructions on how to do this on earlier versions of Ubuntu, as well as RedHat Linux, but it’s getting easier than ever and requires less steps than previous guides.
I decided to create the updated tutorial after purchasing an AMD S7150 x2 and wanted to get it up and running with Ubuntu 20.04 LTS and see if it works.
Create a VM on your vCenter Server, attached the Ubuntu 20.04 LTS ISO, and install Ubuntu
Install any Root CA’s or modifications you need for network access (usually not needed unless you’re on an enterprise network)
Update Ubuntu as root apt update apt upgrade
Install software needed for VMware Horizon Agent for Linux as root apt install openssh-server python python-dbus python-gobject open-vm-tools-desktop
Install your software (Chrome, etc.)
Install any vGPU or GPU Drivers you need before installing the Horizon Agent
Install the Horizon Agent For Linux as root (Enabling Audio, Disabling SSO) ./install_viewagent.sh -a yes -S no
Reboot the Ubuntu VM
Log on to your Horizon Connection Server
Create a manual pool and configure it
Add the Ubuntu 20.04 LTS VM to the manual desktop pool
Entitle the User account to the desktop pool and assign to the VM
Connect to the Ubuntu 20.04 Linux VDI VM from the VMware Horizon Client
And that’s it, you should now be running.
As for the AMD S7150 x2, I noticed that Ubuntu 20.04 LTS came with the drivers for it called “amdgpu”. Please note that this driver does not work with VMware Horizon View. After installing “mesa-utils”, running “glxgears” and “glxinfo” it did appear that 3D Acceleration was working, however after further investigation it turned out this is CPU rendering and not using the S7150 x2 GPU.
You now have a VDI VM running Ubuntu Linux on VMware Horizon View.
Do you have a VMware Horizon View VDI environment and some power users you’d like to optimize? I’ve got some optimizations that you can easily apply via the VMware Horizon GPO (Group Policy Object) bundle.
These are performance optimizations and configurations that I have rolled out for my own persistent desktop to optimize the experience for myself. These optimizations may use more resources to provide a better experience for power users.
Please note that these optimizations are not meant to be deployed for large numbers of users unless you have the resources to handle it. Always test these settings before rolling out in to production.
VMware Horizon GPO Bundle
As part of any VMware Horizon View deployment, you should have installed the VMware Horizon GPO Bundle. This is a collection of ADMX GPO (Group Policy Object) templates that you can upload to your domain controllers and use to configure various aspects of your VMware Horizon deployment.
These GPOs can be used to configure both the server, VDI VMs, VMware Horizon Clients, and various configurables with the protocols (including VMware Blast) being used in your deployment such as VMware BLAST, PCoIP, and RDP.
Below, you’ll find some of my favorite customizations and optimizations that I use in my own environment to enhance my experience.
Do you have a GPU for your VDI session and extra bandwidth? If so, let’s crank that framerate up for a smoother experience! Configuring this variable will increase the default framerate to 60 fps (frames per second).
Users are usually connecting from all sorts of devices, including laptops, tablets, and more. When connecting to a VDI session with a laptop or tablet that is using display scaling because it has a high native resolution, it may be extremely difficult to read any text because scaling is disabled on the VDI session.
To allow display scaling in the VDI session, we need to enable it via GPO on both the “Computer Configuration” and “User Configuration”.
And we’ll also set that “Allow Display Scaling” to “Enabled”.
Configuring this will allow you to configure display scaling on the VMware Horizon View client. After enabling this, it automatically configures scaling to match what I have configured on my connecting workstation (such as my Microsoft Surface Tablet, or my Lenovo X1 Carbon laptop). You also have the ability to manually configure the scaling on the session.
VMware Horizon Client Configuration/View USB Configuration: Allow keyboard and Mouse Devices
While you never want to use USB Redirection for keyboards and mice, you may need to use USB redirection for various HID (Human Interface Devices) that appear as keyboards or mice. You may need to enable this to make the following devices work:
2FA/MFA Security Tokens
One Touch Tokens
In my case, I had a Yubico Yubikey security key that I needed passed through using USB Redirection (more on that here) to authenticate 2FA sessions inside of my VDI session.
To enable the passthrough of keyboards and mice (HID) devices, change the following.
We’re going to “Enable” the following and set the values below:
Max frames per second = 25
Resolution - Default image resolution height in pixels = 600
Resolution - Default image resolution width in pixels = 800
Resolution - Max image height in pixels = 720
Resolution - Max image width in pixels = 1280
You’ll now notice a clearer and higher resolution webcam running at a faster framerate.
VMware View Agent Configuration/VMware HTML5 Features/Enable VMware HTML5 Features
There’s numerous HTML5 optimizations that VMware has incorporated in to the latest versions of VMware Horizon View. These include, but are not limited to:
HTML5 Multimedia Redirection
Media Optimization for Microsoft Teams
We want all this good stuff, so we’ll head over to the following:
So there’s this little thing called “HTML5 Multimedia Redirection”, where when configured and the plugins are installed, VMware Horizon will essentially redirect HTML5 based multimedia from the VDI session to your local system to handle.
This offload makes video extremely crisp and smooth, however comes with some concerns, security risks, and learning on your part. When you enable this, you only want to do so for trusted websites.
In this location, we need to set “Enable VMware HTML5 Multimedia Redirection” to “Enabled”. After this, we need to configure the URL list for domains and websites that we will allow HTML5 Multimedia Redirection to work with.
To do this, we’ll set “Enable URL list for VMware HTML5 Multimedia Redirection” to “Enabled”, and then add YouTube to the exception list to allow HTML5 Multimedia Redirection for YouTube. In the URL list, we will add:
And that’s it!
VMware View Agent Configuration/VMware HTML5 Features/VMware WebRTC Redirection Features
We’re all using Microsoft Teams these days, and while Microsoft Teams does have VDI optimization, you need to enable what’s needed on the VMware Horizon side of things to make it work.
For over a year and a half I have been working on building a custom NVMe Storage Server for my homelab. I wanted to build a high speed storage system similar to a NAS or SAN, backed with NVMe drives that provides iSCSI, NFS, and SMB Windows File Shares to my network.
The computers accessing the NVMe Storage Server would include VMware ESXi hosts, Raspberry Pi SBCs, and of course Windows Computers and Workstations.
The focus of this project is on high throughput (in the GB/sec) and IOPS.
The current plan for the storage environment is for video editing, as well as VDI VM storage. This can and will change as the project progresses.
More and more businesses are using all-flash NVMe and SSD based storage systems, so I figured there’s no reason why I can’t have build and have my own budget custom all NVMe flash NAS.
This is the story of how I built my own NVMe based Storage Server.
The first version of the NVMe Storage Server consisted of the IO-PEX40152 card with 4 x 2TB Sabrent Rocket 4 NVMe drives inside of an HPE Proliant DL360p Gen8 Server. The server was running ESXi with TrueNAS virtualized, and the PCIe card passed through to the TrueNAS VM.
The results were great, the performance was amazing, and both servers had access to the NFS export via 2 x 10Gb SFP+ networking.
There were three main problems with this setup:
Virtualized – Once a month I had an ESXi PSOD. This was either due to overheating of the IO-PEX40152 card because of modifications I made, or bugs with the DL360p servers and PCIe passthrough.
NFS instead of iSCSI – Because TrueNAS was virtualized inside of the host that was using it for storage, I had to use NFS since the host virtualizing TrueNAS would also be accessing the data on the TrueNAS VM. When shutting down the host, you need to shut down TrueNAS first. NFS disconnects are handled way healthier than iSCSI disconnects (which can cause corruption even if no files are being used).
CPU Cores maxed on data transfer – When doing initial testing, I was maxing out the CPU cores assigned to the TrueNAS VM because the data transfers were so high. I needed a CPU and setup that was better fit.
Version 1 went great, but you can see some things needed to be changed. I decided to go with a dedicated server, not virtualize TrueNAS, and go for a newer CPU with a higher Ghz speed.
And so, version 2 was born (built). Keep reading and scrolling for pictures!
On version 2 of the project, the hardware includes:
While the ML310e Gen8 v2 server is a cheap low entry server, it’s been a fantastic team member of my homelab.
HPE Dual 10G Port 560SFP+ adapters can be found brand new in unsealed boxes on eBay at very attractive prices. Using HPE Parts inside of HPE Servers, avoids the fans from spinning up fast.
The ML310e Gen8 v2 has some issues with passing through PCIe cards to ESXi. Works perfect when not passing through.
The new NVMe Storage Server
I decided to repurpose an HPE Proliant ML310e Gen8 v2 Server. This server was originally acting as my Nvidia Grid K1 VDI server, because it supported large PCIe cards. With the addition of my new AMD S7150 x2 hacked in/on to one of my DL360p Gen8’s, I no longer needed the GRID card in this server and decided to repurpose it.
I installed the IOCREST IO-PEX40152 card in to the PCIe 16x slot, with 4 x 2TB Sabrent Rocket 4 NVME drives.
While the server has a PCIe 16x wide slot, it only has an 8x bus going to the slot. This means we will have half the capable speed vs the true 16x slot. This however does not pose a problem because we’ll be maxing out the 10Gb NICs long before we max out the 8x bus speed.
I also installed an HPE Dual Port 560SFP+ NIC in to the second slot. This will allow a total of 2 x 10Gb network connections from the server to the Ubiquiti UniFi US-16-XG 10Gb network switch, the backbone of my network.
The Server also have 4 x Hot Swappable HD bays on the front. When configured in HBA mode (via the BIOS), these are accessible by TrueNAS and can be used. I plan on populating these with 4 x 4TB HPE MDL SATA Hot Swappable drives to act as a replication destination for the NVMe pool and/or slower magnetic long-term storage.
I may also try to give WD RED Pro drives a try, but I’m not sure if they will cause the fans to speed up on the server.
TrueNAS Installation and Configuration
For the initial Proof-Of-Concept for version 2, I decided to be quick and dirty and install it to a USB stick. I also waited until I installed TrueNAS on to the USB stick and completed basic configuration before installing the Quad NVMe PCIe card and 10Gb NIC. I’m using a USB 3.0 port on the back of the server for speed, as I can’t verify if the port on the motherboard is USB 2 or USB 3.
TrueNAS installation worked without any problems whatsoever on the ML310e. I configured the basic IP, time, accounts, and other generic settings. I then proceeded to install the PCIe cards (storage and networking).
All NVMe drives were recognized, along with the 2 HDDs I had in the front Hot-swap bays (sitting on an HP B120i Controller configured in HBA mode).
The 560SFP+ NIC also was detected without any issues and available to configure.
I created a striped pool (no redundancy) of all 4 x 2TB NVMe drives. This gave us around 8TB of usable high speed NVMe storage. I also created some datasets and a zVOL for iSCSI.
I chose to go with the defaults for compression to start with. I will be testing throughput and achievable speeds in the future. You should always test this in every and all custom environments as the results will always vary.
Initial configuration was done via the 1Gb NIC connection to my main LAN network. I had to change this as the 10Gb NIC will be directly connected to the network backbone and needs to access the LAN and Storage VLANs.
I went ahead and configured a VLAN Interface on VLAN 220 for the Storage network. Connections for iSCSI and NFS will be made on this network as all my ESXi servers have vmknics configured on this VLAN for storage. I also made sure to configure an MTU of 9000 for jumbo frames (packets) to increase performance. Remember that all hosts must have the same MTU to communicate.
Next up, I had to create another VLAN interface for the LAN network. This would be used for management, as well as to provide Windows File Share (SMB/Samba) access to the workstations on the network. We leave the MTU on this adapter as 1500 since that’s what my LAN network is using.
As a note, I had to delete the configuration for the existing management settings (don’t worry, it doesn’t take effect until you hit test) and configure the VLAN interface for my LANs VLAN and IP. I tested the settings, confirmed it was good, and it was all setup.
At this point, only the 10Gb NIC is now being used so I went ahead and disconnected the 1Gb network cable.
Sharing Setup and Configuration
It’s now time to configure the sharing protocols that will be used. As mentioned before, I plan on deploying iSCSI, NFS, and Windows File Shares (SMB/Samba).
iSCSI and NFS Configuration
Normally, for a VMware ESXi virtualization environment, I would always usually prefer iSCSI based storage, however I also wanted to configure NFS to test throughput of both with NVMe flash storage.
Earlier, I created the datasets for all my my NFS exports and a zVOL volume for iSCSI.
Note, that in order to take advantage of the VMware VAAI storage directives (enhancements), you must use a zVOL to present an iSCSI target to an ESXi host.
For NFS, you can simply create a dataset and then export it.
For iSCSI, you need to create a zVol and then configure the iSCSI Target settings and make it available.
SMB (Windows File Shares)
I needed to create a Windows File Share for file based storage from Windows computers. I plan on using the Windows File Share for high-speed storage of files for video editing.
Using the dataset I created earlier, I configured a Windows Share, user accounts, and tested accessing it. Works perfect!
Connecting the host
Connecting the ESXi hosts to the iSCSI targets and the NFS exports is done in the exact same way that you would with any other storage system, so I won’t be including details on that in this post.
We can clearly see the iSCSI target and NFS exports on the ESXi host.
To access Windows File Shares, we log on and map the network share like you would normally with any file server.
For testing, I moved (using Storage vMotion) my main VDI desktop to the new NVMe based iSCSI Target LUN on the NVMe Storage Server. After testing iSCSI, I then used Storage vMotion again to move it to the NFS datastore. Please see below for the NVMe storage server speed test results.
Note, that when I performed these tests, my CPU was maxed out and limiting the actual throughput. Even then, these are some fairly impressive speeds. Also, these tests were directly testing each NVMe drive individually.
Moving on to the NVMe Storage Server, I decided to test iSCSI NVMe throughput and NFS NVMe throughput.
I opened up CrystalDiskMark and started a generic test, running a 16GB test file a total of 6 times on my VDI VM sitting on the iSCSI NVMe LUN.
You can see some impressive speeds maxing out the 10Gb NIC with crazy performance of the NVME storage:
1145.28MB/sec WRITE (Maxing out the 10GB NIC)
62,725.10 IOPS READ
42,203.13 IOPS WRITE
Additionally, here’s a screenshot of the ix0 NIC on the TrueNAS system during the speed test benchmark: 1.12 GiB/s.
And remember this is with compression. I’m really excited to see how I can further tweak and optimize this, and also what increases will come with configuring iSCSI MPIO. I’m also going to try to increase the IOPS to get them closer to what each individual NVMe drive can do.
Now on to NFS, the results were horrible when moving the VM to the NFS Export.
You can see that the read speed was impressive, but the write speed was not. This is partly due to how writes are handled with NFS exports.
Clearly iSCSI is the best performing method for ESXi host connectivity to a TrueNAS based NVMe Storage Server. This works perfect because we’ll get the VAAI features (like being able to reclaim space).
iSCSI MPIO Speed Test
This is more of an update… I was finally able to connect, configure, and utilize the 2nd 10Gbe port on the 560SFP+ NIC. In my setup, both hosts and the TrueNAS storage server all have 2 connections to the switch, with 2 VLANs and 2 subnets dedicated to storage. Check out the before/after speed tests with enabling iSCSI MPIO.
As you can see I was able to essentially double my read speeds (again maxing out the networking layer), however you’ll notice that the write speeds maxed out at 1598MB/sec. I believe we’ve reached a limitation of the CPU, PCIe bus, or something else inside of the server. Note, that this is not a limitation of the Sabrent Rocket 4 NVME drives, or the IOCREST NVME PCIe card.
I’ve had this configuration running for around a week now with absolutely no issues, no crashes, and it’s been very stable.
Using a VDI VM on NVMe backed storage is lightning fast and I love the experience.
I plan on running like this for a little while to continue to test the stability of the environment before making more changes and expanding the configuration and usage.
Future Plans (and Configuration)
I plan to populate the 4 hot-swappable drive bays with HPE 4TB MDL drives. Configured with RaidZ1, this should give me around 12TB usable storage. I can use this for file storage, backups, replication, and more.
This design was focused on creating non-redundant extremely fast storage. Because I’m limited to a total of 4 NVMe disks in this design, I chose not to use RaidZ and striped the data. If one NVMe drive is lost, all data is lost.
I don’t plan on storing anything important, and at this point the storage is only being used for VDI VMs (which are backed up), and Video editing.
If I can populate the front drive bays, I can replicate the NVMe storage to the traditional HDD storage on a frequent basis to protect against failure to some level or degree.
Version 3 of the NVMe Storage Server
More NVMe and Bigger NVMe – I want more storage! I want to test different levels of RaidZ, and connect to the backbone at even faster speeds.
NVME Drives with PLP (Power Loss Prevention) for data security and protection.
Dual Power Supply
Let me know your thoughts and ideas on this setup!
If you’re using Azure AD, and have Hybrid Azure AD joined machines, special considerations must be made with non-persistent VDI workstations and VMs. This applies to Instant Clones on VMware Horizon.
Due to the nature of non-persistent VDI, machines are created and destroyed on the fly with a user getting an entirely new workstation on every login.
Hybrid Azure AD joined workstations not only register on the local domain Active Directory, but also register on the Azure AD (Azure Active Directory).
If you have Hybrid Azure AD configured and machines performing the Hybrid Join, this will cause numerous machines to be created on Azure AD, in a misconfigured and/or unregistered state. When the non-persistent instant clone is destroyed and re-created, it will potentially have the same computer name as a previous machine, but will be unable to utilize the existing registration.
This conflict state could potentially make your Azure AD computer OU a mess.
In my own testing and after researching, there are a few workarounds to clean this up:
Utilize login/logoff scripts to Azure AD join and unjoin on user login/logoff. You may have to create a cleanup script to remove old/stale records from Azure AD as this can and will create numerous computer accounts on Azure AD.
In this post I’m going to explain what VDI is in the most simplest form and how you can benefit from virtualized desktops with your EUC strategy.
Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI)
VDI standards for Virtual Desktop Infrastructure. Think of your existing physical desktop infrastructure (your desktop computers, also called end user computing), now virtualize those desktop computers in a virtual environment much like your servers are, and you now have Virtual Desktop Infrastructure.
End User Computing (EUC)
Traditionally end user computing has been delivered by means of deploying physical (real) computers to each user in your office (and possibly remote users). This brings with it the cost of the systems, the time/cost to maintain the systems and hardware, and the management overhead of maintaining those systems.
By utilizing VDI, you can significantly reduce the cost, management, and maintenance required to maintain your EUC infrastructure.
So seriously, what is VDI?
When you implement a VDI solution, you virtualize your desktops and workstations on a virtualization server, much like your servers are probably already virtualized. Users will connect via software, a thin client, or a zero client to establish the session to transmit and receive the video, monitor, and keyboard of workstation that is virtualized.
This might sound familiar, like RDS (Remote Desktop Services). However, in an RDS environment numerous users share the same server and resources and access it un a multi-user fashion, whereas with VDI they are using a virtualized Windows instance dedicated to them running an OS like Windows 10.
How does VDI work?
Using the software, thin client, or zero client, a user establishes a session to a connection broker, which then passes it along to the Virtual Machine running on the server. The Virtual Machine encodes and compresses the graphics and then connects the users keyboard and mouse to the VM.
What’s even cooler, is that remote devices like printers and USB devices can also be forwarded on to the VM, giving the user the feeling that the computer that’s running on the server, is actually right in front of them.
And if that isn’t cool enough, in an environment where 3D accelerated and high-performance graphics are required, you can use special graphics cards and GPUs to provide those high end graphics remotely to users. Technically you could game, do engineering work, video and graphics editing, and more.
Why use VDI
So your desktops are now virtualized. This means you no longer need to maintain numerous physical PCs and the hardware that is inside of them.
You can deploy a standardized golden image that instantly clones as users log in to give them a pre-configured and maintained environment. This means you manage 1 or few desktops which can get deployed to hundreds of users, instead of managed hundreds of desktops.
If a thin client or zero client fails you can simply re-deploy a new unit to the user, which are very inexpensive, and reduces downtime.
In the event of a disaster, your VDI EUC environment would be integrated in to your disaster recovery solution, meaning it would be very easy to get users back up and running.
One of the best parts is that the environment can be used inside of your office and externally, allowing you to provide a smooth experience for remote users. This made business continuity a breeze for organizations that need to deploy remote users or “Work from home” users on the fly.
The cost of VDI
The cost to roll out a VDI solution varies depending on the number of users, types of users, and functionality you’d like.
Typically, VDI is a no-brainer for large organizations and enterprises due to the cost savings on hardware, management, and maintaining the solution vs traditional desktops. But smaller organizations can also benefit from VDI, examples being organizations that use expensive desktops and/or laptops for uses such as engineering, software development, and other uses that require high-cost workstations.
One last thought I want to leave you with; imagine an environment with 50-100 systems, and all the wasted power and CPU cycles when users are just browsing the internet. In a virtual environment you can over-allocate resources, which means you can identify user trends and only purchase the hardware you need to based on observed workloads. This can significantly reduce the cost of hardware, especially for software development, engineering, and other high performance computing.
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