Vodafone Built a Hybrid Cloud to Power End User Computing

Lead architect for remote access Michael Janssen explains how Vodafone used hyperconverged infrastructure to build a hybrid cloud IT operation that supported virtual desktop and desktop as a service, which kept remote workers connected to essential business applications and data through the COVID-19 pandemic.

By Calvin Hennick

By Calvin Hennick March 05, 2021

Asked to define the term end-user computing, Michael Janssen’s response was simple: “Providing the best compute power to our employees.”

Janssen, the lead architect for remote access at Vodafone, is responsible for providing end-user computing (EUC) services for the company, which has 100,000 employees located in 21 companies around the globe. 

“At the moment, we are responsible for providing remote access service to the majority of all of our contact center agents and retail employees, as well as a shared service function for contractors,” Janssen explained during the End User Computing Tech Summit event in December 2020.

In the online event, Janssen discussed how Vodafone optimizes its EUC environment, the benefits and drawbacks of different deployment models, and where he thinks EUC is headed.

HCI and EUC

The term “end-user computing” refers to a set of technologies, such as Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) and Desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS), which organizations can use to securely deliver and manage desktops, applications, and data to their users. Already foundational to the IT environments at many companies, EUC solutions have proven even more beneficial throughout the COVID crisis, when businesses worldwide were suddenly met with a pressing need to support widespread remote work. 

Compared to other remote work solutions, EUC tools typically offer superior performance, simplified governance, and improved elasticity – and are particularly suited to organizations with legacy custom applications that can’t be procured through cloud software vendors.

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“Over the last couple of years, we have been a Citrix customer,” Janssen noted. “We are providing all of our virtual apps and virtual desktop services based on Citrix technology, predominantly.” 

Until recently, that environment was running on aging data center infrastructure. When the time came for a refresh, the company looked to a hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) environment from Nutanix.

“We started scouting for a next-generation platform,” Janssen said.

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“We said, let’s keep an eye on hyperconverged infrastructure because we’ve heard from other customers that it is a good fit for the linear scaling of end-user computing use cases.” 

His team did proofs-of-concept with four vendors.

“Two years ago, we decided to standardize all of our next-generation remote access platforms on a hybrid cloud environment, using both Nutanix HCI and Azure public cloud.”

Simplified Deployment and Management

The linear scalability of HCI is only one reason that Vodafone opted to host its EUC environment on Nutanix infrastructure, Janssen noted. 

“Of course, one of the main advantages was that there is a deep integration of the Citrix tools into the Nutanix portfolio,” he said. “We are using machine creation services to deploy images and manage the images across our on-prem environment, as well as public cloud resource layers. We are using the file servers, which is also a benefit of the Nutanix solution, compared to other competitors in that space.”

Unlike traditional data center infrastructure, HCI gives organizations the ability to centrally manage their storage, compute and hypervisor with a single management plane. As a result, a move to a hyperconverged model can often help organizations drastically reduce the time associated with troubleshooting and management tasks.

Cloud and On-Premises

Should EUC environments reside in corporate data centers or be migrated to the public cloud? There’s no one right answer – and, in fact, Janssen and Vodafone effectively answered “both” when the company opted for hybrid cloud architecture.

“In the Vodafone tech community, there is a cultural strategy of ‘cloud first,’ and this is also happening in the remote access space,” Janssen said.

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This means that the company’s virtual machines and applications are migrated to Azure “by default.” However, Janssen noted, the public cloud is not always the best option, and the company opts to run a significant portion of its EUC environment on on-prem infrastructure. He said there are so many use cases where public cloud does not fit. 

“The most common issue is latency,” he said. “Think of a front-end application that needs to connect to data on the back end. If the latency is too high for some of these applications, it does not work in public cloud, so we need to take these back into our own data centers. The second use case is that there are legal reasons why you are not allowed to run certain applications in the public cloud, and these applications also need to stay on-prem.”

The Future of EUC

With COVID transmission numbers dropping significantly throughout the first two months of 2021 – and with millions of people around the world being vaccinated against the virus each day – there is some hope that companies will be able to bring workers back into physical office spaces in the not-so-distant future. However, this doesn’t mean that the need for architecting effective EUC environments will fade. Both VDI and DaaS were going strong before the pandemic, and many companies have signaled an intention to support flexible work schedules even after the crisis ends. To meet future needs, Janssen said, companies will need to continue to emphasize remote work solutions that support both powerful performance and strong security.

“The biggest competition to EUC tools is the PC,” Janssen noted. “So the performance that we want to give to the end users needs to be comparable to – if not better than – what you have with your physical notebooks or desktops. Of course, EUC adds security and also makes it easier to update and maintain applications. That will all continue in the future.”

Calvin Hennick is a contributing writer. His work appears in BizTech, Engineering Inc., The Boston Globe Magazine and elsewhere. He is also the author of Once More to the Rodeo: A Memoir. Follow him on Twitter @CalvinHennick.

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