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HCI technology nourishes nonprofit's VDI deployment

City Harvest uses Cisco HyperFlex for its back-end infrastructure to power VDI so the nonprofit can feed 1.4 million people in New York.

Three years ago, City Harvest adopted VDI to help on-the-go workers deliver donated food to New Yorkers in need. But the deployment and back-end systems soon became too demanding in terms of cost, and the organization wanted a more flexible technology for future expansions.

As a result, the organization deployed hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) technology in June 2016. It found it was able to cut down on much of the cost and management complexity of VDI.

"It is easier to manage, and we can scale easier," said James Safonov, head of IT and information security at City Harvest. "We can add a lot more desktops if we want to."

City Harvest, a nonprofit in New York, delivers donated food to 500 community programs, feeding 1.4 million people a year -- all with the support of more than 15,000 volunteers and 160 employees. To do so, the company has 22 trucks that make about 400 total daily stops. The nonprofit uses VMware Horizon View for VDI allowing workers to access virtualized desktops and apps on PCs in offices and on mobile devices in the field to view and enter updates around inventory, storage space availability, delivery routes and schedules.

Because of the scale of the operation, it's important to have reliable back-end infrastructure, Safonov said. HCI technology consolidates networking, compute and storage resources and simplifies management by providing one control plane for all three areas. IT can also minimize the amount of hardware infrastructure needed in the environment.

City Harvest chose Cisco HyperFlex because it supported the organization's existing infrastructure and made it easy to scale, Safonov said.

I don't think it's overstating it to say that [HCI] is really a game-changer.
Robert Youngresearch analyst, IDC

In general, HCI leaves less of a data center footprint, requiring fewer servers and saving space and money on cooling systems and cabling. HCI also brings savings on software licenses and fees.

"All that stuff can add up pretty quickly," said Robert Young, research analyst at IDC.

Saving space is extremely valuable to City Harvest because New York real estate costs are among the highest in the country. The Cisco blade servers built into HyperFlex take up less space but still allow IT to deliver as many virtual desktops as with many larger servers. Because the servers are smaller, they also require less equipment for cooling.

"We were looking at $100,000 in just cooling cost [if we didn't] leverage new technology," Safonov said.

HCI also unifies management, which benefited City Harvest by allowing the IT department to have fewer admins manage the entire back-end infrastructure, as opposed to numerous people separately managing the storage, computing and networking. Plus, Cisco handles a lot of the deployment and maintenance tasks, which is typical for HCI in general. Businesses simply tell the vendor how many desktops and applications they want to deploy to how many users, and the vendor sets it up. Cisco sent a technician to City Harvest's headquarters to take care of that, which made the process much easier, Safonov said.

Troubleshooting is also easier, because IT doesn't have to call multiple hardware vendors to figure out an infrastructure issue, Safonov said.

Before the advent of HCI technology, VDI was quite demanding on an IT department's data center, Young said.

"I don't think it's overstating it to say that [HCI] is really a game-changer," he said. "It's allowing organizations that could not take on virtual client computing due to the complexity of managing and scaling the environment, to do that by simplifying it."

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