Cornerstone Home Lending Upgrades with Citrix and Nutanix

By Preethy Padmanabhan

An Interview with Marc Grant, Director of Infrastructure at Cornerstone Home Lending, Inc.

Cornerstone Home Lending became a Nutanix customer just a few months ago. We recently checked in with Marc Grant to see how his Nutanix deployment was going. Here are some of the highlights of our conversation.

What IT challenges were you facing before Nutanix?

We have a large Citrix VDI environment with over 1,500 desktops. That deployment was mixed with our production environment on our existing blade chassis and SAN storage infrastructure. When we started seeing degradation in performance on the VDI side, we realized it was time to refresh our CPU and memory environment. We also wanted to separate our production servers and storage from the VDI environment in order to commoditize the VDI pieces. So we decided to run a bake-off between Nutanix hyperconverged systems and HP to determine the right solution for us.

Why did you choose Nutanix?

We were impressed with Nutanix’s ease of integration and maturity of vision. Nutanix knows exactly where they’re going with the hyperconverged approach. HP might get there eventually, but their vision for hyperconverged is counter to everything else they are doing. How do you sell blade storage and hyperconverged at the same time? They know they need to get their foot in the market, but they’re not sure how to do that with their existing infrastructure model. Nutanix also gives us more flexibility, with the freedom to use XenServer, vSphere, Hyper-V, or Nutanix AHV hypervisor.

Have you deployed the new systems yet?

Our Nutanix systems have been live for just over a month now. We’ve had them in running for about three months. We purchased the all flash configuration of their NX-3175-G5 system in order to get the latest and greatest Nutanix offered. We wanted to get the most cores, along with the best performance. On the older blade environment, we were only getting around 60 to 70 VMs per host. Now our max is about 145-155 virtual desktops per host, with much better performance than before. The NVIDIA Grid M10 vGPU on Nutanix was another differentiator too, since HP wasn’t ready for prime time with their vGPU solution.

Was Nutanix easy to deploy?

Our legacy three-tier environment always took a long time to rollout. We had the Nutanix systems up and running in less than two days. From the time we got the boxes in the offices and moved all of our workloads over, we were able to deploy 1,500 VDI users in a three-week period. This included a full upgrade to the newest XenDesktop version as well. When we told people that we only had three weeks to pull this off, everyone said we were pretty crazy. But the tight teamwork between Cornerstone, Citrix, and Nutanix made it all possible.

What benefits have you obtained with Nutanix?

Increased performance and better user experience. We saw huge performance increases after moving our Citrix workloads over to Nutanix. The audio, video, and responsiveness of our core applications was much better than before. We don’t have an exact comparison in before and after speeds, but our end users are reporting back how happy they are on the new system. The boot up and application speed feedback has been exceptional on the new system.

We were able to more than double both our density and performance. Once we had the 12 Nutanix node cluster up and running, our performance tests topped out at about 1 million IOPS, which was amazing. It’s far more speed than we’ll ever need in this environment.

We also reduced our datacenter footprint. We went from 24 blades of HP, down to 12 nodes of Nutanix. We found a sweet spot at about 6.5 vCPUs per core, but I think we could probably push that to about 7.2. It’s great to be able to improve the number of VDI sessions per node and also make those sessions perform better at the same time.

Do you have any plans to expand the Nutanix footprint?

Yes, but we still have some vendor lock-in that we have to contend with on our legacy production server and SAN deployment. The lease term and support on our existing systems goes on until next year, so we won’t be moving those workloads over until they reach end of life. We do have several new opportunities coming up where Nutanix will be a great fit.

Our marketing teams currently work from five different offices and share a lot of large videos and graphical designs for all of our marketing campaigns. We would like to put a hyperconverged system at each one those locations and run a single VM at each site for caching the distributed file systems.

Beyond that, we will probably grow out our DR site, so we will need to backfill for VDI. Right now we have blades doing that, so we have to determine how many users we’ll need to have online during a DR situation to avoid performance degradation, and then backfill that with another Nutanix cluster.

How’s the scalability?

We’ve already experienced the linear scalability of the Nutanix platform. My initial estimates were only a small factor off from where we needed to be. Since we were undersized by about 8%, we have already purchased another node to go in the cluster. It wasn’t a big deal, because all we had to do is buy one more node, add it, and start putting VMs on it. That new node is coming next week, and it will probably take us less than two hours to get it running. Scaling is so easy and predictable with Nutanix. If we ever do a merger or acquisition and have a bunch of users coming on board in a short timeframe, we can quickly and accurately estimate the costs of the expansion and deploy the new systems.

How has your experience been working with Nutanix and Citrix?

Our relationship with Nutanix and Citrix has been excellent. We worked closely together on the POC and then for the actual implementation. It was a very unified effort. We got together in a conference room for a couple of weeks, and the Nutanix and Citrix engineers bounced questions off each other. The tight teamwork really helped us meet our short timeline for implementation. I am looking forward to a long and happy partnership with both Nutanix and Citrix!

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