Web-Scale Platform Is the Right Prescription for St. Luke’s VDI Ailments

Business Needs

Faced with migrating 14,000 desktops and over 2,000 applications for an upcoming Windows 7 migration, St. Luke’s made the decision to implement virtual desktops. But before they launched the VDI project, they needed to find a new storage platform that would simplify deployment and improve scalability.


Nutanix Virtual Computing Platform
Citrix XenDesktop and XenApp 6.5


  • Provides healthcare providers with personal virtual desktops, boosting employee productivity and enhancing patient care
  • Speeds the deployment of new applications and services
  • Simplifies scaling as desktop virtualization demands increase
  • Improves data security

St. Luke’s Health System

As the only Idaho-based, not-for-profit health system, St. Luke’s Health System is a vital part of the communities they serve, with local physicians and boards who further their mission “To improve the health of people in our region.” Working together, St. Luke’s share resources, skills, and knowledge to provide the best possible care, at each of their hospitals, clinics, and centers.

IT Challenges

Brett Taylor is the director of IT at St. Luke’s Health System. “Over a year and half ago, we realized that we needed to be more agile in how we deploy our desktop environments,” Taylor said. “We knew that virtual desktops would be a good fit for us because of the way our providers and our caregivers function. As opposed to the ‘average knowledge worker’ who sits at a desk behind a computer screen, our physicians move quickly from patient room to patient room, and from machine to machine. Their productivity is based on how efficiently they can interact with patients, without technology getting in their way. After speaking to patients and collecting vital information, they need the ability to easily document everything in our electronic health records system — without having to wait a long time to log into any device.”

Fast logins were simply not possible with St. Luke’s previous environment. “Boot times on average were around six or seven minutes with our old devices,” Taylor reported. “This was clearly an unacceptable delay for our busy health practitioners. Providing caregivers with their own personal desktops that follow them from room to room was clearly the best and most secure solution. Virtual desktops are not only more convenient for our healthcare providers, they ultimately improve patient outcomes as well.”

Looking for a Storage Platform to Support VDI

Saint Luke’s made the decision to deploy virtual desktops for all physicians and caregivers. Virtual desktops would enable them to isolate patient information and easily deploy new desktops in a secure fashion. St. Luke’s chose the Citrix XenDesktop and XenApp suite of desktop virtualization products. Once they chose the Citrix platform, Taylor and his team started the search for a new storage platform that could more effectively support the demands of virtual desktops.

“We started talking to Nutanix around that time we were considering the VDI project, evaluating whether it was a good choice for our environment,” Taylor reported. “We had been hearing a lot about Nutanix from our colleagues, and were receiving very good feedback on the use of the converged appliances for VDI implementations. So we decided to give Nutanix a try.” St. Luke’s Health System then purchased Nutanix for their VDI project.

Prepared for OS Migration

“Although providing virtual desktops for our physicians and caregivers was our primary goal, another problem came up that we needed to remediate immediately,” Taylor reported. “We had to migrate all of our users and applications to the Windows 7 operating system. But the task was going to be massive, since St. Luke’s manages over thousands of desktops with over two thousand application packages. With that immense volume of users and applications, we knew it was going to be extremely difficult to make sure all of the systems and applications were Windows 7 compliant before we started the migration.”

To resolve the potential application incompatibility issues in the desktop OS migration, Taylor and his team decided to virtualize some of St. Luke’s older enterprise applications. This allowed them to continue running those application, which were exported to the Windows 7 user desktops.

“We knew had to complete the Windows 7 migration very quickly so we wouldn’t impact our end users,” Taylor explained. “With the amazing simplicity of the Nutanix converged appliances, we were able to build out and deploy the entire environment within just a few weeks. That was our first foray into the world of VDI and Nutanix. We now have about 3,000 users accessing our virtual desktops on Nutanix, and this number is growing fast.”

Easy Scalability and Simple Management

“One of the reasons we originally chose Nutanix was its easy scalability,” Taylor said. “We knew we would have to scale out the environment and would eventually have a very high percentage of virtualized desktops in our organization, but we didn’t know how fast we would need to do this. Nutanix removes that worry from our IT planning. With our previous solution, we had to over-provision infrastructure to ensure we could meet demand. The Nutanix building block approach to scalability provides a much easier and cost-effective way to grow our environment. We were able to add Nutanix nodes quickly and easily.

Merging IT Systems During an Acquisition

Nutanix was a tremendous help to St. Luke’s IT team during a recent merger. “We acquired a patient services company in Idaho that was closing its business. We received the scope for the project in July and were told it had to be completed by October 1st. It was a very complicated process, since we had to keep both companies running during the merger. We knew we had to simplify everything we could if we were going to meet the short deadlines.” St. Luke’s was also deploying its new Epic EHR system at the same time as the merger, further complicating the project.

“Nutanix was one of the most influential parts of this simplification,” according to Taylor. “We could never have completed that project on time with our old methods of deployment. With the Nutanix converged appliances and our Citrix VDI environment, we were able to quickly deploy all of our services to the newly acquired organization and our new EHR systems simultaneously. We deployed several dozen personal desktops into their facilities on the same day that we finished transitioning their operations into a St. Luke service. That integration project couldn’t have been done in that timeframe with our traditional storage and server technology.”

Providing Virtual Desktops to Physicians and Healthcare Providers

St. Luke’s is now testing Nutanix and VDI in its clinical practices. “With the new environment, user desktops and sessions will follow our physicians and healthcare providers as they complete their rounds,” Taylor said. “We have already deployed VDI at 30 separate locations with approximately 100 desktops each and will be rolling this out across our entire health service organization over the next year.”

Before moving to Nutanix and VDI, St. Luke’s had been encrypting all of its normal desktops. “It was a lot of work for our technicians,” Taylor said. “Moving to thin clients and virtual desktops has simplified the process and reduced a lot of risk by enabling our physicians, and third-party contractors, to have access to data in a more secure fashion.”

Final Thoughts

“Our goal is to simplify our IT infrastructure whenever possible, while at the same time keeping it ultra-secure,” Taylor concluded. “We plan to optimize the number of applications we deploy in certain areas, but we know that software will drive the future of healthcare delivery. So instead of limiting our choices of software, we have to simplify our backend space. That’s why we chose the Nutanix hyperconverged platform. Nutanix has been a big win for us in terms of IT agility – both in the ability to deploy quickly and move applications, and dealing with the unknowns of scaling. In all measures, Nutanix has been an excellent solution for our organization.”

About Nutanix

Nutanix delivers web-scale converged infrastructure to medium and large enterprises with its software-driven Virtual Computing Platform, natively converging compute and storage into a single solution to drive unprecedented simplicity in the datacenter. Customers can start with a few servers and scale to thousands, with predictable performance and economics. With a proprietary elastic data fabric and consumer-grade management, Nutanix is the blueprint for application-optimized and policy-driven infrastructure.

“Nutanix has been a big win for us in terms of IT agility – both in the ability to deploy quickly and move applications, and dealing with the unknowns of scaling. In all measures, Nutanix has been an excellent choice for our organization.”

Brett Taylor, Director of IT, St. Luke’s Health System