Why Web Browsing is Killing VDI Performance and Costing You Big $$$!

Written by Project VRC on .

Internet Explorer 10 logo.svg Which application in your enterprise uses the most resources on your VDI or RDS systems?  Is it something like AutoCAD, Photoshop, Visio, PowerPoint, or HD Video? These are often the applications that VDI architects and engineers worry about the most.  Sure, these applications can have a large footprint and you certainly need to size for them; however, the biggest resource pig that we often overlook is a common tool that is taken for granted; the web browser.


Nick Rintalan and I recently presented a session on RDS and VDI scalability at BriForum 2015 in Denver, CO.  One of the topics we covered in our session was the impact of modern day web browsing on VDI scalability.  Time and time again Nick and I have been called in to help troubleshoot performance issues for customers in large VDI and RDS environments and there is one culprit that consistently is to blame for most performance issues time and time again… The web browser.  Often it is Internet Explorer; however, Firefox and more recently Chrome have also risen to the top of the list of applications that suck up the most CPU, Memory, Bandwidth and IOPS!

I have been noticing a slow and steady climb in IE resource usage over the last 10+ years.  My first inclination was simply to assume that as web content become richer with more hi-res images, some video and audio as well as more interactive and feature rich web sites, that a steady increase in the amount of resources required was simply natural.  However, about 5 years ago I really began to see the amount of resources consumed by web browsers increase at a much more rapid rate and something just didn’t seem right.

I decided to dig into web browsing resource usage at several of my customers as well as my own personal system and in my own lab.  To my surprise, it really wasn’t the actual content of most web sites that was eating up all the resources, it was all the ADVERTISMENTS!  Over the last few years, advertisements on web sites have simply gotten out of control!

This out of control resource consumption by web applications is a problem that can no longer be overlooked.  That is why Nick and I covered it in our BriForum presentation and that is why we are proud to announce that one of the first white papers on the newly rebranded Project VRC site will be a paper discussing Web Browsing Impact on Scalability.  Our paper will do a deep dive into the true impact and cost of web browsing on today’s VDI and RDS systems.  Whenever you look at scalability reports and benchmarks released by most vendors, they typically use canned scripts with offline content that does not actually connect to live Internet web sites.

In our upcoming paper, we will use the LoginVSI tool to create real world use cases that actually connect to all the live and public Internet web sites that your users access today such as You Tube, ESPN, Weather, News, Amazon, Facebook, etc…  Our paper will show you the real impact that today’s web sites have on resource usage and scalability.  More importantly, we will show you how you can combat this challenge and tame the resources that these greedy web sites try to consume!  As some of you already know, there are tools out there to help fight back against these resource hungry web sites.

Tools such as AdBlock and proxy filtering solutions such as websense and Blue Coat as well as a few other simple zero cost tricks that we will share as well! In our paper we will compare and contrast some of the more common filtering options and show you not only how you can reclaim significant resources and reduce your costs, but how you can also significantly improve the user experience! So just how bad has web browsing become? Well, let me give you a quick example of how bad! I ran a quick test using the home page of CNN.com. On a standard Windows 7 x64 VM with 2 CPUs (3.4 GHz i7) and 4 GB RAM I navigated to the CNN home page, waited 30 seconds for it to load and then simply scrolled to the bottom of the page and back up. I did not click any links on the page. I let the browser sit idle for 5+ minutes after I finished scrolling and then took the screen shot below from Task Manager.

Browsing 1

Check out how much memory has been consumed and I haven’t even clicked on anything! It is almost 400 MB!!! On top of that, my CPU for the IE process was constantly floating between 4 – 12% the entire time. It never went down! Even if I let the page just sit there for 30 minutes, I still continued to use on average 8%+ CPU and the VM was doing nothing!

Now watch what happens when I implement one of the free and incredibly simple optimizations for blocking ads that Nick and I are going to write about in our upcoming paper and run the exact same test against the same VM configuration.

Browsing 2

As soon as I stop scrolling, the CPU usage for IE goes to 0% and never any higher. Additionally, the IE process is only taking 130MB of RAM compared to nearly 400 MB in the previous example. This is a significant reduction in usage. The problem was not the actual CNN news content that I wanted to view as a user, it was all the advertisements that were running. I think you can now see how this extra resource usage could really begin to add up and have real impact in your production environment when you start to scale out to hundreds, thousands, or tens of thousands of users!

Nick and I are excited to be part of the VRC team working on this paper and sharing with you some great information on how you can improve performance and lower costs by taming the most resource hungry application in your enterprise today, the web browser! Stay tuned to this web site for not only this upcoming paper, but several more great case studies that we plan to share as well!

Cheers, Dan Allen


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