Why Desktop Virtualization?
Are you looking to save significant costs and streamline your enterprise architecture, especially if you have many locations or remote workers?
Would you like to create a technology infrastructure that is stable, robust, and runs like the Energizer Bunny?
Would freeing up your staff and allowing them “anytime, anywhere, any device” access, including a secure “bring your own device,” approach help you create a more agile, flexible business environment?
Are you about to purchase a number of new PCs, as part of yet another PC refresh, and think there must be a better way?
Are you looking to move to Windows 7 or make other major application rollouts? Are you in the process of reimaging all the PCs in your organization?
Is lowering support costs and reducing the volume of help desk calls by 70-80 percent something your organization desires?
If you answered “Yes!” to any of these questions, then you should seriously consider a strategic approach to desktop/endpoint consideration; if planned and executed correctly, it will provide these benefits and many more. It is the only solution I’ve implemented and supported in my thirty years in IT that has exceeded my original vision and expectations.
What Is Desktop/Endpoint Virtualization?
Virtualization can mean different things to different people. Often, the first instinct is to think about server virtualization, since it has been very popular and many organizations have some degree of server virtualization. Server virtualization definitely has some advantages and benefits, but it is not the transformative force that strategic desktop/endpoint virtualization can be.
At its most basic, desktop virtualization makes an employee’s full work desktop available to them without having to be at the specific PC or laptop that was set up especially for them (the traditional approach in most organizations). You would see the exact same desktop, with the exact same functionalities, whether you were in the office or at a remote location. This includes almost any device, from a home PC to hotel PC, a personal laptop to a netbook or an iPad, an iPhone or a Droid—anything that has a browser. It is this “anytime, anywhere, any device” approach that allows for tremendous agility in your organization’s business strategy.
This past January and February saw much of the country fighting some really treacherous winter weather. With a virtualized desktop, instead of closing for a snow day, your staff could work safely and securely from home. They would have the exact same functionalities at home that they would have in the office, and instead of losing a whole day of productivity for the majority of the company (incredibly expensive), your organization would be fully, if remotely, staffed.
This would not only apply to snow days, but also to other real-life situations that keep staff from being in the office and being productive–when an employee’s child is sick, when the employee himself is sick and contagious, or days when some other event requires the employee to be at home. Instead of being forced to take a whole personal day, your employees can be connected and productive. This is a real “quality of work/life” benefit that builds loyalty and attracts talent.
The Current State of the IT Infrastructure
The IT infrastructure varies a bit from organization to organization, but there is an organic pattern that tends to repeat itself, namely that companies tend to “layer on” new technologies as they evolve. So most company that began in the mainframe era still have mainframes; after that came the PCs and servers of the client-server era, then the web, and now the cloud. Over the years, the layers of technology have gotten deeper and deeper, making them harder and harder to maintain and support. It is important to not let desktop virtualization become just another layer.
Strategic desktop/endpoint virtualization (SDEV) offers a way to streamline your infrastructure, even allowing you to remove excess layers of technology and functionality. Many organizations have used forms of desktop virtualization for years, but only tactically, not strategically or as a core technology. SDEV demands vision and real leadership, but the technology is there and has a proven track record. The question becomes, is there someone in your organization who can drive the process and manage both the human and technological changes required to make such a fundamental transformation?
There is a Latin phrase, “Fortes fortuna adiuvat,” which, loosely translated, means “Fortune favors the brave.” No major improvement or breakthrough can happen without taking calculated risks. For those who are willing to take action, SDEV can provide a huge competitive advantage.
There are several key trends that work heavily in favor of the SDEV approach:
Connectivity: Our world is becoming more connected every day. With the almost ubiquitous access through WiFi, 3G/4G, MiFi devices, and data-tethering, you can always connected 24×7. In addition, because only the keystrokes, mouse clicks, and screen changes are traversing the network (all the “heavy lifting” is taking place in the central data center), bandwidth demands are very low and predictable.
Server Technology: The current trend in server technology is that servers are getting more and more powerful, while the price point continues to go lower and lower. Since the SDEV approach is based on running desktops on a server, it is critical that you optimize the number of desktops per server. And remember, the size of the company or number of staff doesn’t really matter; all that matters is how many servers are running in the virtualized server farm.
Bring Your Own Device: More and more people, especially the Millennial generation, already keep their “whole lives” on their computers and mobile devices. SDEV allows you to let them safely and securely use their own devices. In particular, the popularity of the iPad among executives has accelerated this trend. And since everything is saved and backed up on the SAN in the central data center, if a thin client or personal device is lost or stolen, there is no data loss, which is a huge security benefit.
The Cloud: Although the cloud can be very confusing, by adopting the SDEV approach and moving all the complex architecture components to a central data center, you will be in a better position to move your infrastructure to the cloud as that technology matures and develops.
Case Study: Amerisure Insurance
It’s one thing to talk theory; it’s another thing to actual build and support a strategically virtualized architecture. First, desktop virtualization is a business strategy at its core, not just a technology strategy. It’s all about creating business agility and giving the business the flexibility to adjust, not just to current conditions, but to changes in the market and its competition.
Amerisure Insurance centralized all the more complex components of its infrastructure, which meant all the servers came in from the remote locations and were returned to the central data center. Then, all the remote components were made as simple as possible. Every PC in the organization was replaced with stateless thin client devices, and all remote locations were provided with thin client devices and network routers.
The strategic “twist” taking on the total architecture. The goal was to master the SDEV approach, and we did. The first step was to gain an understanding of the applications in the organization’s portfolio (something few companies seem to be able to totally wrap their minds’ around). We used this opportunity to evaluate and rationalize the application portfolio. This meant getting rid of obsolete applications, and taking applications that were redundant and choosing one standard for the organization. Applications that were originally client-server applications that required components on an endpoint PC were upgraded to a SaaS web application. This process whittled the applications included in the PC image down from 388 to 125, all of which were “published” in our virtualized desktop environment.
The entire desktop and application infrastructure runs on twelve identical servers housed in a centralized data center that supports the entire organization. This allows for total access and full functionality whether the staff are in one of our offices, using a thin client devices (remember they are stateless–your profile follows you wherever you sign on), or remotely, on any device that has a browser and Internet access. This also streamlined the application update process, since such updates affect only the server farm in the data center. Since none of the staff were designated administrators on their devices and the thin clients themselves run a pared down operating system, this has reduced the incidence of viruses. And because of the nature of thin client devices, we were able to skip the PC refresh cycle in 2009 and defer it to 2012.
After we had been in production and running smoothly for three years, an outside firm was brought in to review the desktop/endpoint virtualization infrastructure and determine its ROI. They determined that our ROI was 392 percent!
Bear in mind, if SDEV doesn’t make good business sense for your staff, don’t force it. But most organizations have a somewhat similar “footprint,” with most of their staff running a fairly standard set of software (e.g., Outlook, Microsoft Office, Internet Explorer, etc.) and some transaction-based applications (either vendor-purchased or developed in-house). These organizations are a perfect fit for desktop/endpoint virtualization, and even if it were only applied to 60–80 percent of your staff, it would provide huge gains in flexibility and cost-savings.
The key to strategic desktop/endpoint virtualization lays in understanding that it is not the technology architecture that limits an organization’s business strategy. By creating a truly virtual and flexible architecture, it is up to management to decide how best to take advantage of that flexibility.
Jack Wilson has been in the IT industry for thirty years. He joined Amerisure Insurance in 2004 as their first enterprise architect, where he brought about a significant transformation by moving the company forward with a comprehensive virtualization strategy (desktops, laptops, endpoints, servers, faxes, paper/images, phones, etc.). Jack has since started his own consulting firm, Dynamix Technology, to help bring strategic virtualization and innovation to other organizations. For more information on strategic virtualization, just google “Jack Wilson virtualization,” or