As businesses worldwide reel from the COVID-19 outbreak, many are looking for proven technologies to keep remote workforces connected to critical business operations. One example in the large enterprise is Vodafone, which relies on virtual desktop technology running on highly scalable hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) and public cloud.
The $62B UK-based telecommunications provider’s virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) serves approximately 50,000 concurrent employees scattered across a wide range of corporate locations in a number of different countries. Faced with the unprecedented strains of a pandemic, that implementation is now providing a high degree of resilience and reliability.
“Many of our Vodafone retail stores and shops across the globe are closed or will have to close soon,” said Michael Janssen, lead architect for remote access at Vodafone. “Contact center functions for our customers are shifting more and more to work-from-home scenarios.”
Fortunately, the needs of teleworking employees are similar to those of Vodafone personnel based in remote offices, enabling the company to bring home-based workers online quickly. The company has had to shift thousands of employees from internal to external access, capabilities already implemented in the company’s Citrix VDI environment, Janssen explained.
“Eight-five percent of our use cases are based on application virtualization – Server Based Computing (SBC) – making use of Citrix Virtual Apps,” Janssen said. “We are in the middle of a migration from traditional three-tier virtualization technology on-prem to a new hybrid architecture combining Nutanix HCI and Microsoft Azure public cloud.”
The other use case is Citrix Virtual Desktops, which also runs on traditional three-tier virtualization technology on-prem today.
“We want to migrate to Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD) in Azure,” he said. “Citrix Cloud Services combining on-prem VDI on additional HCI and WVD might be an interim step.”
HCI integrates storage, compute and networking functions into a single virtualized and software-defined system that streamlines data center operations and increases scalability. Desktop virtualization was one of the original applications for HCI; as enterprises add virtual desktops, which share pools of compute power and memory, they also need to add more of those resources along with sufficient storage for the operating system, applications and user files. That process becomes much simpler in a virtualized environment.
“Hyperconverged infrastructure for VDI is a natural fit because it can handle linear scaling,” said Janssen. “It’s like adding Lego bricks.”
The need for a scale-out server solution was a technical requirement that favored Nutanix, he said, adding that “for a business-critical application, you need a really robust back end,” which Nutanix delivered.
Vodafone’s VDI implementation is part of a worldwide trend. The desktop virtualization market is increasing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 11.4% and is expected to reach $13.45 billion in 2020, according to Markets and Markets.
Broad Cross-Border Support
The Vodafone VDI implementation serves three main constituencies: workers in all the company’s European customer contact centers, retail stores in larger European markets such as the UK, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands, and employees in multiple local markets worldwide with shared service functions.
Vodafone was attracted to Nutanix HCI technology because it supports multiple different hypervisors, according to Janssen. Although VMware ESXi is the default hypervisor for on-premises deployments at the company, Vodafone plans to use Nutanix Acropolis Hypervisor (AHV) for many dynamic on-premises workloads.
“The idea of using AHV is to reduce VMware ESXi license cost going forward,” he said, pointing to on-prem VDI as an example. AHV has all the functionality needed at no additional cost.
Janssen said the way Citrix integrates with Nutanix makes it easy to manage and scale VDI.
“Nutanix offers integration with Citrix tools such as the Citrix Studio and Director management console and offers plug-ins for Provisioning Server (PVS) and Machine Creation Service (MCS). Nutanix also offers InstantOn for VDI and Citrix Cloud products,” he said.
With over three decades of experience, Janssen has a broad view of the evolution of end-user computing, stretching back to the mainframe era.
“Whether a traditional PC, notebook or VDI, the goal is to give the best performance to employees who interact with our end customers,” he said.
In good times or bad, a remote access solution for virtual apps and desktops offers benefits, according to Janssen.
“This helps every organization concentrate on the real stuff – the applications – not infrastructure management, which should be invisible,” he said.
By providing flexibility for remote workers in offices or at home, Vodafone’s SBC VDI implementation underpinned by Nutanix HCI is helping the company breathe easier in a challenging time.
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Stan Gibson is a contributing writer with 36 years of experience as a technology journalist.
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