This content is part of the Conference Coverage: Citrix Synergy 2016 conference coverage

VDI shops welcome cheaper Citrix-Nutanix HCI options

Hyper-converged infrastructure can help VDI admins scale their deployments more easily, but many of today's offerings are too expensive.

LAS VEGAS -- Early adopters of hyper-converged infrastructure have seen its benefits for supporting virtual desktops, but others are tentative to adopt the technology.

IT professionals who use hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) said here at Citrix Synergy 2016 that the technology let IT shops easily scale their VDI deployments as their companies grew. Organizations that have not yet adopted HCI are hesitant because they don't trust new technology and are put off by expensive price tags. Citrix and Nutanix are among the companies that rolled out cheaper HCI products aimed at small and-medium-sized businesses at this week's conference.

St. Luke's Hospital in Boise, Idaho, first implemented HCI -- which tightly integrates compute, storage, networking and server virtualization through software -- to deal with its rapidly growing workforce, including remote employees. By adding hyper-converged nodes to its data center, the IT department was able to manage the organization's growth from about 4,000 to 18,000 users in just five years.

"We knew some organizations had failure with scaling, so we looked for hyper-converged technology to remediate that," said Brett Taylor, director of IT infrastructure and operations at the hospital. "It's been interesting to watch the value come out of [HCI], but it's also been interesting to watch other organizations holding back."

The company used Citrix XenDesktop on Nutanix infrastructure to deploy about 20 legacy applications on Windows XP to newer Windows 7 PCs. Soon after, St. Luke's Hospital took over management of 30 clinics and another hospital, which left IT with three months to virtualize another 150 legacy applications.

"It's very easy to make sure your performance is consistent, and it saves you a ton of money in scaling," Taylor said.

Other IT departments have been hesitant to adopt converged or hyper-converged infrastructure, mostly because of the expensive cost of products aimed at large businesses, said Logan Rosenstiel, systems administrator at Rivermark Community Credit Union in Beaverton, Ore.

"When speaking with decision makers, it's the price tag that initially steers people away," he said. "The biggest issue is definitely the expense."

Citrix-Nutanix offerings grow HCI for VDI market

Nutanix and Citrix announced two less expensive HCI products at Synergy for smaller companies.

Nutanix Xpress, which will be available in July, starts at $25,000 and is designed to allow a single IT professional to manage their entire HCI environment. The platform can support five to 500 virtual machines, and with the built-in Nutanix hypervisor, it requires IT to install no additional software or management components. That setup eliminates the cost of additional licenses that are often needed, Nutanix said. Comparable products designed for enterprise-class usage cost $40,000 and higher.

Rivermark Community Credit Union, which has less than 200 employees today, is looking for ways to support its growing remote workforce, Rosenstiel said.

"We've had demos with Nutanix's product, and from what I can see, it's incredible," he said. "They're the ones setting the standard, and other players are trying to catch up."

We are absolutely looking to deliver simplified solutions to midmarkets.
Kirill TatarinovCEO, Citrix

Another new Citrix-Nutanix offering, InstantOn VDI, starts at $415 per desktop and also includes Nutanix's hypervisor. The product allows IT to deliver XenDesktop instances from Nutanix's enterprise cloud platform that combines the compute, storage and networking back end. InstantOn VDI supports inexpensive Raspberry Pi devices as VDI endpoints, so the total package can cost less than an individual PC, Citrix said.

"That's one of the aspects of our growth strategy," said Citrix CEO Kirill Tatarinov in an interview. "We are absolutely looking to deliver simplified solutions to midmarkets."

Citrix and Hewlett Packard Enterprise also rolled out Hyper Converged 380, another HCI appliance for medium-sized businesses designed to simplify desktop and app deployments.

With the market continuously maturing, VDI shops might be taking a second look at HCI.

Sunrise Health Region, a healthcare provider in Yorkton, Sask., deployed VDI about six years ago, when hyper-convergence was in its infancy. Now that the technology has matured, the organization is evaluating its options, said Sheranga Jayasinghe, IT director for the healthcare provider.

"We are looking at it right now in terms of what the next generation of our virtualization rollout will be," he said.

Many businesses simply stay away from emerging technologies, but IT professionals should begin to implement HCI technology and watch how it helps their business, Taylor said.

"Don't wait, because you'll start seeing a benefit rapidly," he said.

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