Atlantis VDI storage helps hospitals save £500,000 a year

Leicester hospitals study Atlantis ILIO flash caching to boost VDI storage efficiency and cut £500,000 a year from hardware refresh

University Hospitals of Leicester (UHL) are set to save £500,000 a year by deploying VMware virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) for 2,500-plus users on IBM Pureflex converged compute/storage with Atlantis ILIO flash caching software.

The deployment follows a successful proof-of-concept in which the UHL IT team deployed virtual desktops for 50 users on existing server hardware with direct-attached storage only by using Atlantis ILIO’s ability to retain VDI storage in memory.

UHL comprises three acute hospitals in Leicester and has around 12,000 staff. It has one of the busiest A&E departments in the UK with up to 400 patients a day, and it was here that the proof-of-concept roll-out took place.

“Staff need fast access to data on the Emergency Department Information System (EDIS) and to be able to take it from point to point,” said Dave Rose, head of design authority at UHL. “The existing system – PC workstations with Citrix Metaframe with local drives – had generic logins and a highly restricted set of apps. Staff were meant to log in each time they used them and log out again but they were too slow so they didn’t, which meant they were insecure.”

Rose said that, 18 months ago, he began to look for an alternative method of accessing desktops with rapid access time and user switching.

UHL’s IT partner, Warwickshire-based Centralis, came up with a plan to use three existing HP DL580 servers – each with six 300GB SAS drives – for a 50-user proof-of-concept using with Atlantis ILIO flash caching software.

Atlantis ILIO boosted performance for the VMware Horizon View virtual desktops and did away with the need for extra or high performance storage capacity.

Atlantis’s ILIO flash caching product addresses a key challenge with virtual desktop environments, which is the massive and random I/O demands they place on storage.

With physical desktop devices there is unhindered access to directly attached storage on boot-up. But, with virtual desktops user configurations and data served remotely, so I/O from users comes in randomly to the server and can be demanding in volume of throughput, especially when many users log on at the start of shift, creating so-called boot storms.

The Atlantis flash caching product deals with this by directing virtual desktop images to reside in server cache, ensuring rapid access.

“Managing virtual desktop profiles is a huge part of the job,” said Rose. “Atlantis puts them back into a gold/Vanilla state after every session.

“We’ve been able to reduce boot times from as much as 15 minutes to under 5 seconds, with login times under 10 seconds, while at the same time cutting the capex cost per desktop by 50%. We’ve got fast user switching, reduced maintenance with profiles no longer being stored on PCs and improved governance; and it all fits excellently with what clinicians want.”

The move to virtual desktops also helps UHL save around £500,000 a year that would have been spent on hardware refreshes, said Rose.

“We have a yearly refresh cycle that sees a percentage of our 8,000 PCs replaced at a cost of £1/2 million annually. This is not sustainable, but if we can take away that PC refresh we’ll have money to spend elsewhere," said Rose.

Now, UHL plans to deploy VDI for around 2,500 users with eventual roll-out organisation-wide. The next phase will see Horizon View delivered from an IBM Pureflex converged compute/storage stack with large numbers of users taken off Citrix Metaframe.

Rose said: “We thought we’d have to connect to the SAN for that kind of deployment but the Pureflex box will support 1,000 desktops and up to 2,500 users, so there’ll be no need for extra fast disk.”

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