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COVID-19’s Impact on VDI, HCI and Digital Transformation

COVID-19 is causing widespread changes within businesses and accelerating digital transformation. VDI, HCI and hybrid multicloud are well-positioned to help.

Virtual desktop infrastructure has always been a killer app for hyperconverged infrastructure, and we’re seeing it in this new world of COVID-19 as well. The appeal of VDI has been its promise to simplify the deployment and maintenance of hundreds or thousands of users’ desktop computers by running each as a VM on a central computer. With COVID-19-impacted users now working at home, and the timing of their return to the office uncertain, VDI is well-positioned as a desktop solution for many businesses. In addition to lower cost and greater convenience for IT, VDI solutions offer companies improved security for and control of user systems, which are oftentimes BYOD technology.

But, beyond the shift to greater numbers of remote workers, COVID-19 is also causing more widespread changes in companies, accelerating their digital transformations. In this article we’ll look at some of those changes and how IT organizations can address them with an infrastructure they’re already familiar with.

According to an Evaluator Group study titled “Enterprise IT Responds to COVID-19,” companies are putting larger infrastructure replacement and upgrade projects on hold or cancelling them altogether. And although a majority of companies are cutting new spending as well, one in four are increasing their investments on certain projects, like VDI. Aside from the knowledge that the economy will be in bad shape for a while, many IT organizations just don't know what to prepare for.

Whether it’s regarding the status of their own jobs, how their kids will attend school in the fall or even coronavirus itself, people don’t know what the future will look like. For companies this means uncertainty about when things will return to normal – and what that new “normal" will be.

But one thing that is clear: Like the shift to remote work, interaction with customers and suppliers is happening primarily online as well. This emphasis on the digital experience can mean new or upgraded IT infrastructure for e-commerce and customer service and better support for mobile platforms. VDI, HCI and hybrid multicloud are well-positioned to help.

Uncertainty in the Public Cloud

In the spring, public cloud providers began to ration services as companies rushing to adopt the cloud made a run on resources as a result of COVID-19. This situation was probably exacerbated by the increase in streaming video as users watched more TV and movies while sheltering at home. While the rationing has subsided, this cloud capacity “shortage” emphasized the importance of a hybrid, multicloud strategy for companies that enables applications to run on-premises as well as in one or more public clouds.

Unpredictable situations like COVID-19 make people focus on how they'll deal with change they know is imminent. For IT, this means more flexible and less complex infrastructure that can be more easily deployed and managed by more personnel with less expertise, in less time. When the future is uncertain, companies want fewer commitments. They need to carefully manage their resources, especially personnel, and increase their ability to respond to what comes next. 

The good news is that many companies already have an answer. Whether they stood up an HCI cluster to support a new VDI project, or have had one running for a while, this comprehensive, scale-out compute environment may be the novel solution an IT organization needs to navigate the novel coronavirus world.

Why HCI?

HCI supports most workloads, from mission-critical databases and VDI to edge computing and general-purpose applications. An example of HCI's flexibility is its use as a consolidation platform. In fact, “consolidation” was the use case most often cited by respondents in Evaluator Group’s current study on HCI in the enterprise. An HCI cluster can be configured with essentially any combination of resources that are available to handle almost any workload – that includes high-capacity storage, high-performance compute, GPUs, non-volatile memory, etc. 

As a scale-out architecture, HCIs can be expanded in node-level increments. This makes it an appealing alternative for a company that has put the brakes on traditional infrastructure replacement. Adding a node or two is much easier than buying a new SAN-attached storage array. Some HCIs offer disaggregated architectures in which storage and compute are housed in separate nodes, allowing customers to scale only the required resources.

Of course, HCI isn’t the answer for every scenario. For large enterprises with no shortage of IT expertise and extensive infrastructures in place, adding capacity to existing systems may be the most cost-effective. For some, HCI can represent another “silo” of infrastructure itself compared with a new SAN-attached storage array or compute servers.

Hybrid Multicloud

HCI is also a strong solution for the on-premises portion of a hybrid cloud. Most of the major HCI solutions can easily connect to the public cloud for services like backup and disaster recovery, or to support cloud-native development. Products like VMware Cloud Foundation and the recently released Nutanix Clusters offer a simple way to stand up HCI software in AWS or other public clouds and then transfer workloads between the cloud and the data center as needed.  

The overriding characteristic of hyperconverged infrastructure is simplicity. From design to deployment to operations, HCIs make it easy to stand up a new cluster and easy to run it, with IT generalists, not specialists. For many companies, a hyperconverged cluster was the answer for supporting their growing population of remote workers. Why stop there? Beyond hybrid multicloud and VDI, HCI can be the answer for a range of other projects that call for a flexible, scalable, cost-effective compute infrastructure as well.

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