Taking the plunge — desktop virtualization

Taking the plunge — desktop virtualization

In the last 12 months, desktop virtualization has gone from being the concept that every vendor was pushing to an organisational reality

Natural disasters, bring-your-own (BYO) computing and the overall familiarity that many organisations now have with virtualization has generated a groundswell of activity, with CIOs seeing desktop virtualization as a means to reassert their authority over the end-points in their business.

It is hard to find an organisation that is not piloting or deploying a desktop virtualization strategy, and many of those that aren’t are at least considering it.

According to Ovum Asia-Pacific research director, Dr Steve Hodgkinson, even traditionally conservative public sector agencies are implementing virtual desktop environments. These include ASIC, the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, and the Department of Immigration and Citizenship.

“Certainly the small to medium sized agencies in Canberra seem to have either full production desktop virtualization in place, or substantial pilots underway,” Hodgkinson says.

The reasons are many. Organisations that have extended the life of their desktop hardware are facing mandatory software upgrades that they cannot support. Others are seeking to create a more flexible working environment that supports BYO computing, making an OS-independent application strategy essential. The move to BYO computing has made it harder to secure company data on remote devices, so keeping that data resident centrally is a definite attraction.

Others have latched on to the disaster recovery benefits that come from having critical systems located in secure data centres, rather than out in the field. Some are moving to desktop virtualization to create a more environmentally friendly workspace through the use of low-power thin clients.

“It’s a combination of all those things, buzzing around at the same time as solutions are maturing,” Hodgkinson says. “Virtualization software is now more capable of delivering a reasonably rich multimedia-style service than it was in the past.”

In many instances, organisations have been using presentation style technology for several years, and the switch to desktop virtualization is in name only. Others are attracted by the maturing of true desktop virtualization technology such as Citrix XenDesktop and VMware View.

For Australian building products company Stramit, adoption of desktop virtualization was prompted by Microsoft ending support of its Windows 2000 and Office 2000 environments, and the knowledge that its ageing desktop hardware might not tolerate the transition to newer software.

“We were in a position where we were going to have to move to maintain security patching and that kind of stuff,” says infrastructure services and support manager, Des Woolfield. “We saw it as an opportunity for a strategic review of the way we delivered our desktop environment to the user base.”

Stramit profiled three solutions, ultimately opting for application virtualization using the Citrix XenApp technology. Applications are streamed to users from a central server, with thin clients from HP now making up roughly half the company’s desktop environment. Stramit also implemented Citrix’s Branch Repeater WAN optimisation technology to enhance application delivery. It commenced the migration to XenApp in September 2010, completing it by February 2011.

Woolfield says that while Stramit considered a full desktop virtualization solution, the usage profile of workers and higher management overheads of that model made application virtualization more suitable.

“As things change, XenDesktop will potentially have a case for deployment in isolated pockets within the business,” Woolfield says. Stramit has achieved its goal of a low-cost migration to modern systems, and Woolfield notes support calls related to desktop hardware have diminished significantly. The company has also gained a flexible solution for remote access, reducing the need to equip remote workers with company-issued laptops.

“From a home PC or internet kiosk employees can have an experience identical to sitting in front of their PC in the office,” Woolfield says. “We have been able to reduce our laptop fleet by 20 per cent.

“Now we’re looking at opening device flexibility to users, such as a BYO-style option to give users the opportunity to bring their own devices into the office.”

Disaster recovery has also emerged as a key driver of desktop virtualization adoption, with Longhaus research director, Scott Stewart, noting a marked increase in interest in the wake of the January 2011 Brisbane floods.

He says the event highlighted the vulnerability of many organisations’ desktop infrastructures. “That is driving investment in infrastructure-as-a-service,” Stewart says. “Of the people we talk to in our research, 50 per cent are already using desktop virtualization, and there’s another 33 per cent that are planning or considering it. That breaks down to 11 per cent who have no intention, and the rest aren’t sure.

“If you want to work out how to survive the next natural disaster, moving the IP out of the desktop into a virtualized Cloud delivery model means you then have to protect just your data centre, and it doesn’t matter what happens to your office.”

Stewart says this has made desktop virtualization a significant business driver in the infrastructure-as-a-service market.

It is an opportunity taken by Trusted Cloud (part of IntraPower, which was recently bought by TPG). Chief executive officer, Greg Kennish, says the company has invested heavily in technology to deliver clients’ legacy applications as a virtual desktop.

To date, 88 organisations are using the platform, based on NetApp’s FlexPod technology, with 3500 total users. Kennish says Trusted Cloud has added eight customers in the past four months.

Motivation for using a Cloud services company as a desktop provider is often driven by organisations being simply unable or unwilling to employ the personnel required to manage specific applications.

“Customers may be coming to us because they have lost their IT staff or they are not sure where everything is,” Kennish says.

Others are turning to Trusted Cloud to reduce their capital expenditure, while some are attracted by the disaster recovery capabilities of the model.

Kennish has also noted an increase in interest because of the Queensland floods. “Customers on our Trusted Cloud platform sent their people home to log on to the service,” he says.

Disaster recovery may be the initial motivator, but Kennish says it does not take long for clients to begin taking advantage of other features, such as an ability to implement a BYO computing strategy. For all of these reasons, he believes desktop virtualization is inevitable for many organisations.

“To make that work, a virtual desktop is the key,” he says. “I think it’s not a matter of ‘will we go on to a virtualized platform’, but ‘which one will we choose’.”

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