Technology Fit for a King: the Royal Court Migration to HCI
Once upon a time, hardware ruled the tech world. Information technology has evolved, however, and virtual machines running on hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) have replaced bare metal servers and storage arrays in data centers. At the same time, end users log into remote desktops that are perfectly matched to their applications, and they no longer worry their desktops won’t have the right specs to run the software they require.
In my role, I look after the infrastructure network, system, and virtualization at the in the Kingdom of Bahrain, an island nation situated between the and the northeastern coast of Saudi Arabia. Our archipelago comprises 40 natural and 51 artificial islands and connects to the Saudi mainland via the 25-kilometer King Fahd Causeway. We are known for our oil, but Bahrain is also home to the largest aluminum smelter in the world. We have invested heavily in our banking and tourism industries, and our country is considered the business capital of the Persian Gulf.
I joined Bahrain's Information Technology and Telecommunication Directorate in 2013 and am part of the team that supports IT infrastructure and applications for the Royal Court. We provide direct support to the Royal Family, including His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, and the ministers, government bodies, and public service entities that work with the Royal Court. Among other things, I also manage our data centers and our IP backbone. We help close to 1,000 people fulfill their IT needs.
A Search for Excellence
When I joined the directorate, all of our data centers ran on physical hardware and our end users were equipped with PCs. This required racks of servers and hard drives at one end and desktop computers with local memory and storage at the other. Maintaining and managing this setup was tricky, especially when it came to adding capacity.
If our desktops needed more RAM or bigger hard drives to run a new version of Microsoft Office for example, we had to upgrade thousands of computers one by one. When we had to increase compute and storage at one of our data centers, it took weeks to add and cable racks of new equipment. Each process was long and laborious. They diverted time, money, and people from providing outstanding service and support to the Royal Family and the legions of staffers who ensured the day-to-day functioning of the Royal Court.
My team strives for excellence. We have set extremely high standards for ourselves and have entered into a 99.9% service level agreement (SLA) with the Royal Court. But we couldn't guarantee that degree of stability using traditional IT infrastructure.
After doing some research, I discovered that our first step should be to reduce the number of our physical servers and streamline our data centers. Virtualization brought us partway to our ultimate goal, but it wasn't enough. The best way to achieve our targets was to shift to hyper-converged infrastructure, or HCI.
Taking a Chance on an Emerging Leader
In 2014, the HCI market was still in its infancy. Hyper-convergence was the next big thing, but the technology was still maturing, and there were few options available in Bahrain. I learned as much as I could about different vendors' solutions and how well they handled virtual machines. One of the most helpful resources during my search was the . It not only summarized the state of the market but also helped us better understand technology providers and how they performed relative to their stated visions.
At the time, had yet to emerge as a category leader, but the company was making tremendous strides in that direction. I had a good feeling about their progress and called them before they had even opened an office for the Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) region. From our first conversation, I was impressed with their VDI solution and signed up for a 100-user trial.
I then looked at our virtualization options and decided to pair Nutanix with Citrix VDI technology to see if we could phase out traditional desktops. I suspected that Nutanix and Citrix were a solid replacement, but we had to convince our end users. Keep in mind, this was nascent technology, and most people had yet to experience the speed and convenience of VDIs running on hyper-converged infrastructure.
We tested this Nutanix and Citrix combination on HP and Dell thin clients. We set them up with Citrix desktops on our Nutanix cluster and let them log in remotely for a few months. They immediately noticed the faster speeds and appreciated the convenience of logging into a full-powered system from any device connected to our network.
They enjoyed the same performance on a top-of-the-line desktop as they did on a thin client or a budget laptop. They could take their work with them anywhere, and they could do so without carrying their files on USB sticks because all their data was stored in our data center.
Sure enough, we won over that first group of users. That was just our first hurdle, though. Next, we had to convince the directorate to migrate more people to VDI. We had already demonstrated that Nutanix accelerated and improved the end-user experience. We had also shown that Nutanix made it easier to scale our IT infrastructure because it allowed us to roll out new virtual machines and capacity to existing virtual desktops as needed.
Still, there was one more factor to consider: cost.
Reducing Costs and Headaches
With traditional desktops, we had to increase our budget for operating expenses (OPEX) every year to purchase new hardware. Switching to Nutanix allowed us to eliminate this expense, thus substantially lowering our annual costs. Once the directorate did the math, they authorized the expansion of our VDI user base to 300 employees. We have since expanded this project and hope to move everyone at the Royal Court to VDI by the beginning of 2023.
Nutanix has simplified my team's work. Our infrastructure is more secure because all the applications and data they contain reside in our data center. We can manage updates and upgrades from a central location and spin up more capacity whenever users need it. Files no longer go missing because they are centrally stored, automatically backed up, and retrievable from any computer with access to our network.
We have also standardized our application base. Royal Court users are restricted to Microsoft Office, Microsoft Exchange, SAP, and a handful of apps required by some of our specialists. Troubleshooting now is easier than ever. We can monitor, manage, and configure our entire data center or down to the more granular desktop level from a single pane of glass. Using intuitive dashboards, we can also add RAM, CPUs, and storage at a push of a button. If a virtual machine crashes, we can restore it in a matter of minutes.
Nutanix has reduced our number of headaches and increased our uptime. We haven't had an incident with our hardware since we adopted the platform in 2014. We’ve never even submitted a support ticket.
Slow and Steady Wins the Race
Our next step is to refresh our Nutanix cluster. Our existing setup is at 75% capacity, and we're going to need more infrastructure to move all of the Royal Court's staff to Citrix. We are also adding to our mix of products next year to improve data sharing with NFS and iSCSI functionality and to scale archival storage. We have 4 level user profiles: knowledge user (1 vCPU, 2GB vRAM), power user (2 vCPU, 3GB vRAM), super user (2 vCPU, 6GB vRAM), and ultra user (4 vCPU, 6GB vRAM), and department shares files managed by active directory. Nutanix has given us so much more capacity than we had before, and we want to put it to good use.
We've taken a slow but steady approach to Nutanix. We could have moved everything over immediately, but we wanted to get our infrastructure right and get everyone—from end users to management—excited about the possibilities of HCI. After all, we're not just another company.
In serving our King, the Royal Family, and the Royal Court of Bahrain, my team helps our nation inspire people in the Middle East and around the world through our leadership in business, industry, and culture. Having laid the right technology foundation for our operations, there’s no limit to what we can accomplish.