Choosing computing infrastructure for a post-pandemic world

Senior tech execs gathered recently during a virtual Masterclass event hosted by CIO Australia to discuss the infrastructure that they would choose to support a hypothetical business challenge.

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2020 has been a huge challenge for Australian and New Zealand organisations across just about every market sector. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced businesses of all sizes to deliver technology almost overnight as teams move to new hybrid work environments.

This has placed enormous pressure on CIOs to provide technology infrastructure for staff who are working remotely now and will continue to be for the months and years ahead after the pandemic is long gone. Virtual desktops are playing a big role this year in helping to create new hybrid digital workspaces that can support thousands of remote workers.

Senior tech execs gathered recently during a virtual Masterclass event - hosted by CIO and supported by Lenovo - to discuss the infrastructure that they would choose to support a hypothetical business challenge.

Attendees were asked to imagine they were the CIO at a large healthcare organisation. They were asked by the CEO to evaluate new core technology infrastructure that will support thousands of staff who are moving to hybrid work environments (alternating between offices and remote locations) as well as a new hospital that is set to open in 2022.

Attendees were presented with two choices: introduce hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) paired with secure virtual desktops for remote workers, or deploy a ‘hybrid IT’ environment that mixes on-premise VDI and other services with public cloud computing platforms.

They considered the core drivers for their decisions - the potential benefits and drawbacks and the privacy and security issues that needed to be considered - drawing from their own experiences and applying them to this hypothetical scenario.

When presented with this challenge, Travis Timms, general manager, technology at Kings Transport, said that if cost wasn’t a factor, a hybrid solution would be the way to go.

He said depending on the application stack, there might be advantages of using cloud platforms such as containers to modernise applications.

“If the application stack is old with a lot of technical debt, staying on-premise with a HCI solution would be my recommendation,” he said.

Timms added that simply spinning up virtual machines in the cloud is very expensive in comparison to an on-premise solution.

“I’m thinking that there would be a lot of restrictions about public cloud in relation to health data and being on-premise would make it easier to be compliant,” he said.

As for the drawbacks to this decision? People may not view it as moving forward with technology by not having anything in the cloud, Timms said.

“If there’s a need to significantly flex up and down, there will be physical limitations without being in the cloud. Depending on where the on-premise solution is housed, the cloud may be more robust from a redundancy point of view. On-premise may require more infrastructure overall and those costs need to be factored in,” he said.

Daniel Morris, software-defined infrastructure lead, A/NZ at Lenovo’s Data Center Group, says that HCI is the next chapter in the evolution of the data centre. He said that compared to legacy 3-tier environments, HCI dramatically reduces complexity and latency in deployment and management of new infrastructure. It is this simplicity that many organisations are looking for, he said.

On the hybrid IT front, Morris said that over the last 10 years, public cloud has become prevalent in the IT landscape mainly for its consumption-based usage and flexibility.

“However, it’s not one size fits all, and there are many scenarios where the public cloud is not the best option for an organisation, primarily concerning cost, application latency and governance,” he said.

“A hybrid cloud environment gives companies the choice of where to deploy their applications to best suit their needs, as well as flexibility to move workloads between clouds when required.”

He added that true hybrid cloud comes when organisations span a hypervisor or underlying operating system between public and private cloud instances to provide on-demand, flexible workload mobility.

“While the main players in the hybrid cloud market all have viable offerings, the relative immaturity of the market makes deployment and management complex and in many instances, the cost can outweigh the benefits for organisations,” he said.

Meanwhile, when presented with this scenario, Joe Dempsey, group IT manager at Jefferson Automotive Group, said he would deploy hyperconverged infrastructure supported by VDI.

“I am loath to commit digital information into public clouds and leave security to the cloud vendor. Customer health data is private and it is our responsibility to ensure we protect it even to an extent that we put contracts in place with IT support vendors defining exactly what data they can touch and how they obtain approval to do so such as clearing a port in a database of health information,” he said.

Dempsey added that health data grows and while there are benefits to seamless growth in the public cloud, a private, hyperconverged infrastructure also offers dynamic storage as well as the ability to adjust system performance during peak loads.

Bernard Wansink, chief information officer at Schiavello Group, said that customer experience is everything - every solution needs to maximise human interaction, be unobtrusive and work seamlessly across platforms.

“It must dynamically scale to meet customers’ needs - a perfect example is the COVID-19 pandemic, placing unprecedented strain on people, processes and infrastructure.

“A ‘hybrid IT’ environment that mixes on-premise VDI and other services with public cloud platforms is my recommendation. This solution supports the customer regardless of location, volume of users, workload or platform, provides business continuity, mitigates risk and manages cost,” Wansink said.

Anirban Talukdar, head of IT at Southern Cross Care, said that the aged care organisation studied the benefits and drawbacks of HCI, public and private cloud infrastructure last year. It decided to roll out HCI.

“The hybrid cloud option didn’t score as high as HCI on parameters such as cost, scalability, availability, reliability and support. Having said that, I am sure that over a period of time, hybrid cloud architectures will evolve further and may potentially become a commercially-viable solution,” he said.

But HCI comes with its own limitations around scalability, which Talukdar said is ‘finite’ even though adding new nodes can scale up the resources available. Secondly, hyperconverged infrastructure deployed in the organisation’s own data centre also requires regular monitoring and management, Talukdar said.

“Even with these limitations, we designed HCI in a way that it can sustain growth for the future, and automated alerts along with the right level of support from the vendor keeps day-to-day administration low,” he said.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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