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GIS has evolved at a rapid pace ever since computers took up to the challenge of providing spatial capabilities. The evolution of GIS from a Map creation platform to a Location Intelligence platform necessitates the need to build systems that are robust, reliable, and elastic as they are utilized to host solutions that your business relies on to be successful. GIS is everywhere running from servers running within traditional data centers, the Cloud, and from mobile and IoT devices. Supporting such a diverse landscape creates unique architectural challenges that require a systematic approach to designing your GIS.

 

Esri system architecture design is based upon traditional architecture patterns centered around multiple tiers, namely a Client, Presentation, Services, and Data tier. Each tier aligns with Esri products and solution components as depicted by the example logical architecture below. Following a systematic approach, this blog series will explore the various architectural tiers and their related solution components in support of building modern GIS platforms to meet today's business and Location Intelligence needs.

 

As cloud adoption evolves from Web GIS to full GIS deployments, questions continue to be raised such as, “What about the desktops?”. That is, when moving desktops to the cloud, what technologies should be used to support Esri desktop GIS? The cloud offers multiple desktop options and the following will provide some high-level guidance as to how and when these technologies should be used. It is important to realize that each deployment is unique and deciding on which of these technologies to deploy involves multiple factors. The purpose of providing this information is primarily to share information regarding all of the potential solutions and high-lighting some of their key characteristics. However, they will not be ranked in any way as deciding on one approach over the other requires more detailed analysis and discussion based on specified requirements, costs, and constraints. Further, this list can likely be expanded but the solutions below represent the most common options that Esri has encountered. 

 

Note: ArcGIS Pro requires a GPU-enabled machine type for the underlying host VM. Examples include the NV6 for Azure and a Graphics Design Instance for AWS AppStream.

 

Virtual Machines - Azure and AWS

  • Use Case: Typically used to support administrative functions or small number of desktop users
  • Client Connectivity: Utilizes the Remote Desktop Connection client and the RDP protocol
  • User Experience: Published desktop with growing visual latency as geographic distance increases
  • Scalability: Limited due to no more than two concurrent users per VM
  • Management: Typically deployed without a base image
  • User Profiles: Locally stored per VM

 

Remote Desktop Services - Azure and AWS

  • Use Case: Supporting users at scale where the users are not globally distributed
  • Connectivity: Utilizes the Remote Desktop Connection client and the RDP protocol
  • User Experience: Published desktop or apps with growing visual latency as geographic distance increases
  • Scalability: Limited for ArcGIS Pro based on the number of concurrent sessions that can share a GPU
  • Management: Can be used with snapshot technology to create a base image
  • User Profiles: Roaming profile or equivalent, assuming at least two servers deployed

 

Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops (XenApp) - Azure and AWS

  • Use Case: Supporting users at scale where the users could be globally distributed
  • Connectivity: Utilizes the Citrix Workspace app and the HDX protocol
  • User Experience: Supports both published desktops and apps and performs well with high-latency
  • Scalability: Limited for ArcGIS Pro based on the number of concurrent sessions that can share a GPU
  • Management: Can be used with snapshot technology to create a base image
  • User Profiles: Roaming profile or equivalent, assuming at least two servers deployed
  • Other: Can utilize Citrix Cloud to manage the "back-end" (e.g., Controllers/Licensing)

 

Amazon WorkSpaces - AWS

  • Use Case: Supporting users at scale where client bandwidth is not a limiting factor
  • Connectivity: Utilizes either a desktop or web client with the PCoIP protocol
  • User Experience: Supports a published desktop to an assigned WorkSpace instance
  • Scalability: Can scale as needed as users increase but is 1:1 user to VM assignment
  • Management: Cannot be used with snapshot technology so each WorkSpace is an independent deployment
  • User Profiles: Locally stored on each WorkSpace

 

Amazon AppStream 2.0 - AWS

  • Use Case: Supporting users at scale, but not all use cases are known since this is a newer offering
  • Connectivity: Utilizes either a desktop or web client with the NICE DCV protocol
  • User Experience: Supports published desktop applications
  • Scalability: Can scale as needed as back-end infrastructure capacity is managed by AWS
  • Management: Based on creating base images for different application configurations as needed
  • User Profiles: Saved to a Virtual Hard Disk (VHD) and synchronized to Amazon S3
  • Other: Esri / AWS AppStream 2.0 Deployment Guide

 

Windows Virtual Desktop - Azure*

  • Use Case: Supporting users at scale, but not all use cases are known since this is a newer offering
  • Connectivity: Utilizes the Remote Desktop Connection client and the RDP protocol
  • User Experience: Supports both published desktops and apps
  • Scalability: Can scale as needed and either be deployed as one user per VM or concurrent sessions
  • Management: Can be used with snapshot technology to create a base image
  • User Profiles: Roaming profile or equivalent, assuming at least two servers deployed
  • Other: The only solution supporting multi-session Windows 10

 

* Third-party vendors are working to extend the core Windows Virtual Desktop capabilities and providing additional client options and management features. Current examples include CloudJumper Cloud Workspace and Citrix Managed Desktops.

As the Esri platform continues to evolve, it is critical that organizations maintain a capable GIS system architecture that will support new GIS/IT capabilities and scale to support growing user demand. There are further key considerations that we have seen most recently such as moving to the cloud, migrating to ArcGIS Pro, and expanding the adoption of GIS capabilities within the organization. Esri Architects can work with you to understand your organization’s needs and provide guidance. We will be available at UC2019 at the Guiding Your Geospatial Journey area of the Esri Showcase and participating in several sessions throughout the conference. Meanwhile, have a look at the Architecture and Security section of GeoNet where you will discover valuable information related to GIS system architecture!

 

Technical Workshops

Tuesday, July 9                                                                                                         Location: SDCC - Rooms

8:30 am

Esri Best Practices: Architecting Your ArcGIS Implementation

SDCC, Room 33 C

8:30 am

Moving to a Managed Cloud Services Environment

SDCC, Room 30 A

Wednesday, July 10                                                                                         Location: SDCC - Rooms

8:00 AM

Designing an Enterprise GIS Security Strategy

SDCC, Room 30 A

1:00 pm

Moving to a Managed Cloud Services Environment

SDCC, Room 31 A

4:00 pm

Esri Best Practices: Architecting Your ArcGIS Implementation

SDCC, Room 31 A


Thursday, July 11                                                                                             Location: SDCC - Rooms

10:00 am

How to be Successful with Esri Managed Cloud Services

SDCC, Room 16 A

 

Spotlight Talks                                               

Tuesday, July 9                             Location: SDCC – Expo: Guiding Your Geospatial Journey Spotlight Theater      

11:15 am

ArcGIS Enterprise: Architecture Best Practices

 

1:00 pm

ArcGIS in the Cloud

 

1:30 pm

Build Security into Your System

 

Wednesday, July 10                          Location: SDCC – Expo: Guiding Your Geospatial Journey Spotlight Theater      

10:00 am

Are You Cloud Ready?

 

11:15 am

Designing a Robust Environment - Workload Separation

 

1:30 pm

Considerations for a Highly Available Enterprise

 

4:30 pm

Designing a Robust Environment - Environment Isolation

 

5:45 pm

Distributed Web GIS - A Modern Approach to Sharing

 

 

Appointments         

Tuesday, July 9 – Thursday, July 11  Location: SDCC – Expo: Guiding Your Geospatial Journey Spotlight Theater                                             

Architecture Maturity Review

Get expert advice and feedback on your enterprise implementation, including best practices. Leave with recommendations for meeting security and architecture needs.

Schedule an appointment

 

Stop by to connect 1-on-1 with Esri Staff that can talk more about your system architecture plans in our Guiding Your Geospatial Journey area.

 

Tuesday, July 9               9:00 AM–6:00 PM

Wednesday, July 10        9:00 AM–6:00 PM

Thursday, July 11            9:00 AM–4:00 PM

jdeweese-esristaff

What is VDI Anyway?

Posted by jdeweese-esristaff Employee Apr 25, 2019

Often the term "VDI" is used to define ArcGIS Desktop/ArcGIS Pro deployed as a virtual application. The challenge is understanding what specific virtualization technology is actually being referenced when using this term since VDI, or "Virtual Desktop Infrastructure", represents just one of several desktop virtualization options. So, the intent of this article is define the options and differentiate what VDI truly means.

 

ArcGIS Desktop has been delivered virtually for over 20 years using what is referred to as "hosted virtual applications" which includes technologies such as Citrix XenApp (recently renamed to Virtual Apps) and Microsoft Remote Desktop Services (RDS). This approach is referred to as "hosted"  because it is being hosted by a singular operating system which users share by initiating individual user sessions. This technology option represents a many-to-one relationship in terms of users and virtual machines. Further, the shared operating system is a server OS, such as Windows 2016 and not a desktop OS, such as Windows 10. Hosted virtual applications provides a means to share a singular server with multiple users and is an attractive option since since each user doesn't require their own dedicated virtual machine. For this approach, system resources are shared including processors, memory, and GPU and there isn't a practical way to assign resources at the individual user session level.

 

A more recent innovation is to provide individual virtual machines to users as "virtual desktops" where each user accesses a remote desktop deployed with a desktop operating system such as Windows 10. This includes technologies such as Citrix XenDesktop (recently renamed to Virtual Desktops) and VMware Horizon. This approach represents the true meaning of "VDI" as it is defined by a one-to-one relationship between users and virtual machines. Though this approach increases per-user deployment costs, it also provides a more isolated deployment in terms of resources since processors, memory, and GPU resources can be assigned accordingly. The ability to manage GPU resources for the virtual desktops has made this approach an attractive option for ArcGIS Pro which requires a GPU.

 

So, the next time you hear the term "VDI" used for delivering ArcGIS to users, know that this implies that each user is being presented with their own individual Windows desktop virtual machine with a set of assigned resources as opposed to users accessing a singular server-based virtual machine and sharing it with multiple users, including sharing the server's assigned system resources. 

When it comes to technology companies, product renaming and refocus is often inevitable. This recently occurred with Citrix as they have moved away from the "Xen" prefix and have simplified their product portfolio naming to make them easier to understand. For example, the new name for XenApp is "Citrix Virtual Apps" while XenDesktop is now "Citrix Virtual Desktops". These are the two primary products from Citrix that are used to deploy ArcGIS Desktop and ArcGIS Pro as virtualized applications. At the same time, Citrix is changing the associated product versioning and moving to a year and month format, for example:

 

      YYMM = Year and month when the product or component released. For example, a release in August 2018 appears       as 1808.

 

Citrix recently released the latest version of Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops utilizing these changes and the current release is "Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops 7 1808.2". This means that XenApp/XenDesktop 7.18 was the last release of the 7.x releases and the new version of "Citrix Virtual Apps" appears to be what XenApp 7.19 would have been and not a major upgrade, though Citrix is constantly evolving their products.

 

Though the naming changes are helpful for understanding product purpose, I don't anticipate much of an impact from these changes at a technical level. Over the last few years Esri has been certifying multiple Citrix releases and the most recent "certified" Citrix release for ArcGIS is XenApp/XenDesktop 7.17. It is likely that the new "Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops" release, or a subsequent release, will be certified with the next major ArcGIS release so look for updates on the associated ArcGIS system requirements pages.

I just returned from the Esri 2018 User Conference and had a great time. During UC, I encountered many questions about ArcGIS Pro virtualization. For the past 20 years I have worked with Esri customers assisting them with deploying ArcMap using virtualization technologies such as RDSH and Citrix XenApp.

 

As customers plan their migrations to ArcGIS Pro, it is important to be aware that it is not merely a matter of upgrading to ArcGIS Pro utilizing the same IT solutions within the current IT infrastructure. That's because ArcGIS Pro has a different set of system requirements and one of the key differences is the requirement for a graphical processing unit (GPU).

 

ArcGIS Pro leverages advanced display technologies such as DirectX and OpenGL which are highly dependent upon a graphics processing capability. This was not an issue in the past with ArcMap in virtualized deployments since ArcMap is GDI-based and for the most part cannot be accelerated by a GPU. However, Because of this specific requirement for ArcGIS Pro, traditional session-based deployment solutions are not the best fit for ArcGIS Pro, and in most cases Esri is recommending the use of virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) coupled with GPU management technology such as NVIDIA GRID virtual GPU (vGPU) to provide the IT infrastructure to host virtualized ArcGIS Pro desktops.

 

A variety of servers and VDI solutions are available, and the ArcGIS Pro system requirements page reflects which ones have been certified by Esri. Also, be sure to review the On-Premises virtualization documentation to determine how to work with your chosen VDI solution.

 

The key take-away is that infrastructure upgrades will likely be required if ArcGIS Pro is to be delivered using a virtualization platform and will need to include GPU-enabled servers to support the virtualized desktops.