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Virtualisation: mobilising a greener workforce

GreenThe adoption of server-based virtualisation is gaining pace as organisations face up to a new decade with ever tighter budgets. However, many of the potential benefits of desktop virtualisation are as yet untapped. The Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) presents the opportunity to fundamentally transform the cost model of desktop computing – from device costs to power consumption and support.

Furthermore, by combining VDI with Unified Communications, organisations can begin to meet key strategic objectives from a reduction in the carbon footprint to the introduction of flexible working.

Organisations can not only drive down power consumption significantly but create an environment that supports a fundamental shift in working practice. From hot-desking strategies that more than halve the number of devices required to cost effectively secure remote working, organisations now have the opportunity to leverage technology to deliver significant reductions in the carbon footprint – and deliver bottom line value.

However, making this work requires careful planning, from specifying each user’s desktop environment to building resilience. Without a strategic approach VDI could fundamentally undermine the quality and stability of business systems.

Cost Model

The ever expanding and increasingly complex desktop infrastructure is now a significant financial and resource burden for every IT department. From the escalation in mobile devices and remote working to the increasingly complicated desktop devices, support and maintenance costs are spiralling out of control.
For any organisation with a large user population, the combination of support costs and escalating power costs is now placing the spotlight firmly on a need for far more cost effective desktop computing.

Given the clear cost and environmental benefits associated with server virtualisation, it is little surprise that a growing number of IT departments now have VDI on the table for strategic assessment over the next 12 months. However, many have yet to recognise the very real effect VDI can have on transforming the working environment, saving money, reducing carbon footprint and delivering an improved work/life balance for employees.

Changing Focus

As organisations begin to face up to the increasing likelihood of government legislation on the carbon emitted during the production, distribution and disposal of goods, there is a realisation that every aspect of business needs to consider its carbon footprint. And, of course, IT equipment is a major contributor as a result of its huge power consumption.

But greener IT is not just about reassessing the IT infrastructure to drive down the carbon impact; it is about working practices. Would home or remote working reduce employee travel significantly? Can video conferencing cut down travel to meetings? And can hot-desking significantly reduce the desktop infrastructure?
All of these decisions, of course, have to balance both cost and environment: however keen an organisation is to publish its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) strategy, the underpinning business focus has to be the bottom line.

The good news is that many of the tools and techniques for improving the green status of the IT department will also cut costs significantly.

Impose Control

Replacing expensive PCs with virtual thin client devices delivers a huge range of benefits. Not only do these devices cost a fraction of the price of a PC, they also have a far longer lifespan, with a typical six year warranty. With most devices highly recyclable, disposal costs are far lower as well, creating a significantly reduced lifetime cost of ownership.

Power consumption is also lower, with thin client devices using at most 30% of the power of the PCs they replace – and that includes the proportion of server power. Indeed, if VDI is added to server virtualisation, organisations can achieve significant reductions in power consumption: the virtual infrastructure is estimated to use 60-70% less power than existing physical environments. This enables the IT department to support strategic targets on reducing CO2 emissions whilst also driving down costs.

However, the real cost benefit is derived from a transformation in desktop support. Thin client devices can be supported remotely, significantly reducing the time taken to resolve problems. Furthermore, with no local disk, these machines are much more robust: users cannot download and store viruses that could compromise the infrastructure; whilst vandalism and theft are also reduced.

Should users experience a problem, IT support can remotely revert the system to the last overnight backup and reload the image. In the event of complete hardware failure, a new device can simply be plugged in and set up within minutes – whilst the failed device is sent off for repair/replacement under warranty. As a result, the adoption of VDI increases uptime, boosting employee productivity and drastically reducing costs.

Flexible Working

In addition, by combining VDI with Unified Communications (UC), organisations can squeeze even more return on investment by considering telephony at the same time as virtualisation. Reducing desktop devices to one device per desk delivers significant savings in both power consumption and support, whilst organisations can also adopt highly efficient hot desking strategies that further reduce the number of devices required by at least 50%. Indeed, several local authorities in England & Wales are currently restructuring, replacing several small offices with a single centralised office space that represents only 25% of the desk space of the previous infrastructure.

By adding the UC element to the solution, users not only gain immediate access to the data set up that exactly replicates the last visit, but the log in process automatically transfers that user’s telephone number to the extension. This enables employees to work anywhere – across any building or remotely – at any time, improving space utilisation and reducing waste. UC also supports the adoption of cross departmental teams using video conferencing to remove the need to travel to meetings – by road, rail or air. By reducing overall employee travel time, organisations can not only drive down the level of carbon emissions but also boost productivity and support strategies for improving employee work/life balance.

Indeed, this integrated approach works not only in the office but also supports far more cost effective home and remote working, with calls automatically re-routed to the most appropriate telephone number. Employees no longer need to carry around laptops holding sensitive data, but instead they connect remotely to the corporate data source via wi-fi or 3G. With this approach, organisations can ensure that all data is consistently controlled, stored and managed within the corporate infrastructure.

Combining this flexibility with the low cost of support and the improved security suddenly creates a cost effective, viable strategy to enable employees to work from home as required.

Effective Planning

While the VDI model is simple, planning is crucial if organisations are to exploit virtual technology to meet key business objectives, from reducing costs to supporting environmental policies.

This is a huge change from today’s desktop with its user customised range of applications. In the VDI world, the IT team has far more control: but to make that work, it is essential to understand and meet user requirements. The IT department needs to take a strategic approach to the desktop, defining specific user requirements to determine the services required. And, while demands on support staff will reduce dramatically, they will need training in new remote management tools.

In addition, the virtual environment has to be highly resilient. Effective VDI requires more than a server, a few thin clients and virtual middleware. Organisations need to put processes in place to ensure desktop images are effectively backed up, that there is a robust fail-over and disaster recovery in place and that the infrastructure can scale to support additional server and desktop devices as required.

Bandwidth is also a critical consideration, especially for remote workers. Whilst none of these technologies demand huge bandwidth requirements, quality of service is essential, especially when running voice over IP, and to support the emerging demands for video conferencing.

Future Proof

IT is facing a challenging juggling act in addressing the growing cost pressures associated with the recession, the corporate desire for sustainable business and the flexible working required to deliver competitive advantage.

Virtualisation provides a solution to all these concerns, critically driving down escalating support costs by enabling highly effective remote support of the entire desktop infrastructure. Combining the cost reduction with a quantifiable drop in power consumption and a platform for flexible working strategies, VDI appears to tick every box.

However, without adequate planning, organisations will actually fail to reduce costs or boost green credentials. Instead, by failing to put in place adequate resilience, bandwidth and user appropriate desktop services, they will fundamentally undermine the quality and stability of business systems. Sustainable business is not just about meeting targets and being seen to be green, but actually adopting efficient, well managed processes that deliver quantifiable benefit to the bottom line.

The author

Chris de Silva, Managing Director of NEC Philips Unified Solutions

(ITadviser, Issue 61, Spring 2010)



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