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Northern Trust banks on hyper-converged appliance for VDI

A global bank struggled with performance and scalability for its virtual desktop infrastructure until replacing a SAN with a Nutanix hyper-converged platform.

Already a fan of converged infrastructure, Vijay Luthra, head of global infrastructure engineering at Northern Trust Corp., said he considered hyper-convergence the next logical step to overcome his virtual desktop infrastructure challenges.

Northern Trust implemented Nutanix's hyper-converged appliance platform in early 2015 to serve thousands of users. Luthra said the appliances improved scalability and performance for VDI. Now, he is looking to expand to other use cases, including a private cloud.

Northern Trust is a Chicago-based global bank, with 20 U.S. offices and international offices in Canada, Europe, the Middle East and Asia. The bank has $887 billion in assets under management.

Luthra said his team uses Nutanix NX-3060-G4 appliances to support close to 1,500 virtual desktop users in the United States, and nearly 500 users internationally. The bank replicates between appliances for disaster recovery. Northern Trust has twice expanded its Nutanix footprint since its initial deployment, he said.

He said Northern Trust has used converged infrastructure for nearly two years, buying hardware such as primary storage as integrated packages. "We saw [hyper-convergence] as a natural evolution where the converged/engineered systems market is going," Luthra said. "The fact that storage was a software-defined component made hyper-converged very powerful for us."

Luthra said he considered several hyper-converged vendors, but felt Nutanix had the most mature technology.

Luthra declined to say what product he used for VDI before Nutanix, but he said switching to a hyper-converged appliance improved performance and lowered costs significantly. "As we scaled, managing performance in the old architecture was complex," Luthra said. "We had multi-tiered blades and [storage area network] switches, and several teams were involved managing all that. It was time-consuming and challenging."

He said doing tasks such as software upgrades and patches impacted multiple systems, and slowed productivity with his old system.

"Right off the bat, we addressed the scale issue," Luthra said. "Now, we can scale rapidly. We get linear scalability when we implement new systems, and it's simple to procure and install. Operational tasks like patching and deploying software updates have gotten very efficient. Now, we don't have to stagger the patches. There's enough performance built into the system, so we can do simultaneous patches and not impact end-user productivity."

He said the Nutanix hyper-converged appliance increased performance to the point where 95% of virtual machines (VMs) on the box run at an average disk I/O of 3.5 milliseconds or less. Previously, 50% of VMs ran at that rate. He said in testing, Northern Trust also failed over close to 1,000 VMs in less than 25 minutes using Nutanix, compared to more than two hours with his previous infrastructure.

Luthra expects to use Nutanix next for Web and application servers, and what he calls next-gen private cloud applications. "The characteristics of those applications are cloud-native, container-oriented, and they need scale-out characteristics and very high throughput," he said. "We feel Nutanix would be an excellent fit."

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