In the corona period, organisations have been forced to go for VDI solutions, as the office based conventional desktop hardware infrastructure has to be either shifted to the employees’ workplace or he is working on a personal or company provided mobile device. The work from anywhere (WFA) scenario has given a boost to virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) solution adoption. The employee devices are no longer on the corporate network but on the home network, which exposes it to vulnerabilities. The home network, when compared to the corporate network is not as hardened and designed to securely provide access to solutions for employees. The WFA / VDI solutions enable application access on any device in a secured manner.
Airbus stands out, amongst others, as an anecdote of scale and complexity on VDI adoption. In the view of the disruption the pandemic has unleashed, virtualization has had a great impact on Airbus. “Started as a virtualization initiative in 2019, the information management centre and offices at Airbus India now have reduced their carbon footprint and power consumption by 60 percent (amounts to an annual CO2 emission of 150 tonnes) and have successfully enabled its engineers to work from home during the lockdown. With the help of virtual computing, Airbus now runs applications on server computers rather than on individual desktops. Since all the heavy computing is performed by the servers, the bandwidth needed to process has significantly reduced, enabling seamless connectivity for data intensive tasks,” said Carlo Nizam, Chief Information Officer, Airbus India & South Asia.
So which boxes does virtualisation tick for Nizam, “We were looking for something which is more flexible, more secure, more sustainable, something even potentially more powerful and lower on costs, and that led us to many options and consequently we deployed virtual computing as a primary source of computing back in 2019, for our employees,” said Nizam.
‘Primary source of computing’ is a key phrase here. How is it different from other adoption models ? Usually other companies have various hardware devices like desktops and laptops already functioning and the VDI is adopted as an additional layer. “We stopped buying work stations, because we were primarily a work station based organisation. They were replaced with thin clients. Our office doesn’t have desktops but instead thin clients connected to virtual desktop infrastructure. It’s almost a wire free office,” said Nizam.
The virtual computing rollout at Airbus India is a few notches higher than virtualisation done by other companies. “In the wake of the pandemic, many customers have implemented VDI solutions but Airbus India has taken a couple of steps more and have done innovative deployments,” said Prajit Nair, Director Sales – End User Computing, VMware India.
Going one step further, Airbus India also inducted GPU virtualisation to suit the engineering heavy development requirements of the engineers. Airbus India is not only into commercial aircrafts but also into manufacturing helicopters, tactical aircrafts, and it has also worked with ISRO on many satellite launch missions Including the MARS mission. These areas require a lot of heavy engineering work.
The Virtualisation take-off transforms the way of working at Airbus India
It’s important to understand the universe of work that Airbus India’s Information centre is working on in order to appreciate the important role that virtual computing plays. The first dimension is the ‘modernisation’ of the core such as Engineering & Product Lifecycle Management as well as ERP systems. The second is the powering of digital capabilities such as Big Data, IoT, DevOps, Cloud and API to name a few which sit around the core systems. Thirdly, are digital transformation initiatives which combine these digital capabilities with the Core systems. These three areas demand different kinds of computing.
Virtual computing has significantly reduced the bandwidth requirement and has enabled an even more secure WFH computing. “Instead of transmitting the high volume engineering data on the network (which wouldn’t have been possible in a traditional WFH scenario), we are now only transmiting the images, the pixels so to speak. Engineers can also use tablets, which otherwise wouldn’t have been possible for working on 3D applications,” said Nizam.
The other benefits include, it allows many employees to connect from home, who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to access, in the absence of VDI; Airbus India was able to provide low powered mobility devices, to even engineers who can do hi end valuable engineering work. As soon as the lockdown was announced, there was a scarcity of laptops, so Airbus India seamlessly continued operations even by using low powered thin clients; the VDI model translates to being thirty percent more cost effective than the traditional computing; it transforms the workplace experience with less wires, and just a small screen. Another major benefit for the engineers is the elimination of the requirement to reload the heavy engineering applications. In a traditional computing environment, depending on the complexity of the application, it takes about 15-20 mins to load. However now, the engineer logs off the screen and when he comes back the next day, the application does not have to be reloaded.
On the security front, “a major advantage with VDI over traditional computing is it blocks any access to the data centre via the VPN network. In a VDI setup on a traditional computing platform, there is direct access to the data centre. It’s a known fact in the industry,” said Prajit Nair, Director Sales – End User Computing, VMware India.
The next step?
The company is in the final stages of completing the virtual computing deployment in India. VDI currently is eighty percent deployed across the 1500 user base. “The next step is to leverage the Airbus India results and experience as an industrial pilot for Airbus globally and potentially expand it where it makes sense.” said Nizam.
Airbus, globally have been using virtual computing along with the partners but not at the employee level. The India operations plans to work seamlessly with the supply chain and other partners too, using its virtual systems.
Airbus India took two months for the overall designing of virtual computing working closely with partners such as VMware, HPE, Dell etc. Further to that a small pilot was conducted to test the potential that VDI could deliver for the hi end engineering work. The pilot lasted for six months. It has been nine months, since the overall implementation was kicked off to cover all the applications. Overall, a 10-15 member team from Airbus India with an extended team from the various business functions along with the partners, have been working for a 12-18 month project. “We are eighty percent into the project and the rest will be completed by December 2020,” informed Nizam.
When asked about the most critical juncture of the journey of virtual computing, Nizam said, the designing of the solution coupled with the understanding of how the technology works and marrying it to the requirements of the hi end use cases has been an important part of the implementation if not the most important. “If you don’t get the design right, then you have to pay for it later on. Future proofing is important,” concludes Nizam.
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