CBRE eyes expanded VDI footprint in APAC

Real estate services company has swapped SAN for hyperconverged to scale in region

NYSE-listed real estate services CBRE is continuing to expand its virtual desktop infrastructure in the Asia-Pacific region. The Fortune 500 company has some 1500 end points in Asia and Australia and it is expecting this to increase to 6000 within 12 months.

The initial VDI rollout took place in 2010, said Darren Warner, regional director, infrastructure and operations Asia Pacific, with CBRE aiming to centralise a lot of the company’s applications across the region.

“We were going down that virtualization path of pulling the apps back in and we needed to have a way for users to remotely access those — either from remote locations or from their office with a thin client.”

The company serves users out of data centres in Hong Kong and Sydney, streaming desktops to a range of devices that in many cases are not owned by CBRE, Warner told Computerworld.

“We might go into a building and the owner of it says, ‘Here’s some computers – good luck with that’,” Warner said.

“In that case we don’t even know what the computer is a lot of the time and we don’t want to. In some other cases we use thin clients — that’s just easier for us to manage we don’t have to think about going off site to remote locations to manage a PC when it fails. It’s a real mixture of end user devices — we have people that run on iPads, we have people that have Cisco telephones with Android and run VDI on a telephone.”

Initially the virtual desktop deployment was based on a traditional SAN setup, but the company has since switched to hyperconverged infrastructure from Nutanix (it is now looking at moving server workloads onto hyperconverged infrastructure in Japan, Australia and Hong Kong in the near future).

“Our first hardware stack supporting VDI was based on traditional SAN,” Warner said. “What’s happened with CBRE over time is that the company has grown and grown quite quickly. We’re probably more than double the size we were back when we set this up.”

“The problem we found with traditional servers and SAN was that massive uplifts were required if you wanted to do an upgrade — so you fill up a SAN and then you’ve got to go and buy another SAN to go to the next group of five users, which gives you some really big spikes in expenditure,” he said.

“What we wanted to do was take away those spikes and get it more back to a flat cost per user.”

Rolling out hyperconverged infrastructure has given it the ability to scale out and more closely match demand growth, he said, with the company beginning to deploy Nutanix nodes towards the end of last year.

“We continue to find new use cases for VDI,” Warner said. “An obvious one is we have a lot of property managers that work in various locations around the region. They don’t use CBRE’s network, they often don’t use a CBRE-issued computer, yet they still need a way to securely connect back into our applications. VDI is a great solution for them.

“We have teams that run construction management. They’re off at sites and use 4G-type services — for them the ability to get into a corporate desktop is a great use case for VDI.

“We continue to investigate and to grow our VDI platform based on these use cases.”

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