GPUs are changing the game of desktop virtualization

GPU Lately I’m talking to a lot of customers who are thinking about desktop virtualization for users with a demand for high end graphics on their virtual desktops. Even the knowledge workers are being supplied with high end graphics these days.


So what are the options with GPUs in desktop virtualization? NVIDIA is the most well know manufacturer of graphic cards specialized for desktop virtualization.

The so called GRID boards have GPUs on board based on the Kepler architecture, these boards allows us to virtualize the GPUs meaning that multiple users can share a single graphics card. By using GPU virtualization we can get higher user densities and a native experience and performance while accessing a virtual desktop.

These GPUs have an engine for H.264 encoding that enables us to offload this encoding from the CPU to encoding by the GPU and therefore add to a higher user density on your hardware.

The NVIDIA cards have multiple GPUs, depending on the type of card that are optimized for better scaling. The K1 has 4 GPUs and 16GB of RAM (4GB per GPU). NVIDIA claims it can support up to 100 users. The K2 has 2 high end GPUs and 8GB of RAM (4GB per GPU).

As you can see there are a couple of ways to offer users a better experience by adding more GPU features:

Dedicated GPU

By using GPU pass-through you can create a VM and access the GPU that is dedicated by this VM and thus offering a virtual machine that acts like if the user has a fat client with a high end graphics card.


NVIDIA dedicated GPU technology

Shared GPU

The vGPU is a more advanced technology as it can be used to share a GPU between multiple virtual desktops offering the same user experience as native GPU’s.

The graphics command that are given by the virtual machines are processed by the GPU directly. There’s no interference from the hypervisor so there’s no performance penalty in delivering those high-end graphics.

NVIDIA shared virtual GPU technology (vGPU)

NVIDIA K1/K2 Specs


So we’re talking about the K1 and K2 cards, what are the specs? I found these specs from the NVIDIA website:

K1 K2
GPU 4 Kepler GPUs 2 High End Kepler GPUs
CUDA Cores 768 (192 / GPU) 3072 (1536 / GPU)
Memory Size 16GB  DDR3 (4GB / GPU) 8GB  GDDR5 (4GB / GPU)


And to be more specific:

NVIDIA GRID Graphics Board

Virtual GPU Profile

Max Displays Per User

Max Resolution Per Display

Max Users Per Graphics Board
























The strength of these NVIDIA K1 and K2 cards is that the major desktop virtualization vendors: Citrix, Microsoft and VMware all support these cards integrating the technology into their own solutions.

VMware vSphere

The SVGA is the Windows Display Driver Model driver and comes with the installation of VMware tools into the virtual desktop. This driver adds support for DirectX and OpenGL. The VMware SVGA 3D graphics driver provides support for DirectX 9.0c and OpenGL 2.1.  One of the benefits of VMware SVGA 3D for both software 2D and 3D and vSGA implementations is that a virtual machine can dynamically switch between software or hardware acceleration, without you having to reconfigure it.

There’s another option called vDGA on which Thomas Poppelgaard wrote an excellent blog post on vDGA: VMware vDGA now officially supported.

If you use vDGA you have to use the native graphics card driver that needs to be installed directly into the virtual desktop. vDGA supports OPenGL 4.3, DirectX 11 and CUDA.

Citrix XenServer


With the launch of XenServer 5.6 there was a feature added called Multi-GPU pass-through. It allows us to map multiple GPUs to the same number of virtual machines so you have a one to one relationship between the GPU and the VM. Even though it’s not the most optimal configuration it does reduce hardware cost while delivering an optimal user experience. Consider the reduction when using shared GPUs as mentioned earlier in this blogpost. XenServer adds support for OPenGL 4.3, DirectX 11 and CUDA.


Microsoft Hyper-V

Microsoft offers Windows Server 2012 and Hyper-V 3.0 as virtualization platform. This platform delivers a suite of improvements (just like Citrix HDX is) called RemoteFX. Its an optimization for the user experience on high latency networks and it improves access to peripheral devices attached to the client, e.g. via USB.

RemoteFX offers a vGPU feature too, this adding the option to share a GPU to multiple VM’s and thus (again) improving user density for high end graphic performance. Hyper-V supports DirectX11.



These K1/K2 cards are getting more and more a commodity hardware configuration, our users are demanding better performance and are using high end graphics in their day to day job.

We see that Citrix, Microsoft and VMware are supporting these cards and hardware vendors are gaining traction on these configs as well as Cisco, Dell, HP, IBM, and SuperMicro already support these cards and as of today Nutanix has a model that supports the K1 and K2 card:

The Nutanix NX-7000 series

The NX-7110 is the next evolution of converged infrastructure, with cutting edge acceleration for graphics rich desktops. By partnering with NVIDIA and Teradici, the new NX-7110 has all the flexibility and simplicity you’ve come to expect from Nutanix combined with powerful new features.

It’s extensible, appliance-based server with built-in enterprise storage that optimizes any VM. Built with the same distributed software that powers leading cloud infrastructures, it radically simplifies enterprise IT.

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Kees Baggerman

Kees Baggerman is a Staff Solutions Architect for End User Computing at Nutanix. Kees has driven numerous Microsoft and Citrix, and RES infrastructures functional/technical designs, migrations, implementations engagements over the years.


  1. […] I'm talking to a lot of customers who are talking about desktop virtualization for users with a demand for highend graphics (GPU) on their virtual desktops.  […]

  2. Nice article, Kees! I am a big fan of Teradici Apex Cards and NVIDIA Grid! How to subscribe to your blog? -Amitabh Dey, vExpert | http://www.Amitabh-vWorld.Com

  3. Kees Baggerman says:

    Cheers Amitabh, when leaving a reply there’s an option ‘Notify me of new posts via email’. Is that what you where looking for?

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