Savings with desktop virtualization
Having the right technology means efficient solutions and savings opportunities
With server virtualization an established tool for agencies to cut and control data center costs, it’s natural for them to look at other ways virtualization can bring savings and efficiencies to the IT environment. The next target, with its sprawling reach and ever-increasing maintenance costs, is the enterprise desktop.
Desktop virtualization is conceptually a return to the old client/server model. Instead of each user having their own PC with its own operating system, applications and local storage, those services are managed and deployed on a server before being delivered to the desktop.
The benefits of desktop virtualization seem every bit as compelling as those of its server-based cousin. The cost of maintaining all those separate desktop images is drastically cut because that is now done on just a few servers instead of hundreds or thousands of individual desktops. The approach also provides for better control of those images, which melds well with the federal government’s requirements for a standard desktop configuration.
What’s more, desktop virtualization provides a way to centrally manage the burgeoning number of mobile devices that are accessing agency networks because the images for those devices can be handled in the same way as those for the desktop. An added benefit is improved security because the data produced by users doesn’t reside on the individual’s desktop or mobile device but usually on network-attached storage devices that sit behind the enterprise firewall.
A recent MeriTalk survey found that most government agencies have plans to implement desktop virtualization and pointed out that, if desktop virtualization provides just half of the savings of server virtualization, agencies could save about 9.5 percent of their IT budgets. Across government, that would produce a yearly total savings of some $7.5 billion.
“Over the last year, we’ve seen a big uptake in agencies looking to move into desktop visualization,” said Jim Smid, Chief Technology Officer at Iron Bow Technologies. “From an overall strategy of driving efficiencies into the IT infrastructure, it’s the obvious next step.”
In February, Defense Department CIO Teri Takai told participants in AFCEA International’s Cyberspace 2012 symposium that her department would be moving away from a reliance on PCs and shift to thin-client systems, which are essentially dumb terminals with a keyboard and monitor attached to a virtual desktop on a server.
A few weeks later, the Air Force issued a request for information for a thin-client infrastructure it intends to implement by 2014. The Space Command, which manages the Air Force’s computer networks, intends to run thin-client pilots for both classified and unclassified users. Potentially, it could mean replacing Air Force PCs with more than 1.2 million thin clients.
In October 2011, in a keynote speech to the Executive Leadership Conference in Williamsburg, Va., Homeland Security Department CIO Richard Spires described how his organization was planning a cloud-based workplace-as-a-service approach that bundles virtual desktops and mobile devices into a single security architecture. The new business model that strategy would require would be a game changer for DHS, he added.
There are a number of other examples of agencies committing to desktop virtualization. For example, the Veterans Affairs Department awarded a four-year, $476 million contract in 2011 to upgrade desktops at 1,200 sites nationwide to include desktop virtualization. In July 2011, the Environmental Protection Agency awarded a five-year, $25 million desktop virtualization contract for 19,000 of its employees.
In reality, said Susie Adams, chief technology officer for Microsoft’s federal government business, what people are looking for is a way to manage the IT environment better to make sure users have access to applications when they need them, wherever they need them.
“So instead of a one-size-fits-all show where IT supports an image on a desktop or multiple images on a laptop, what you start to see them do is create what I call tiers of service,” she said. “Those services will be mapped to categories of information that particular workers need, from a very basic desktop for administrative people to a more complicated one for a senior executive that could include application virtualization and remote access technology as well as a virtual desktop.”
That implies a fairly high level of complexity when introducing desktop virtualization, she said. Most agencies will find there is a unique combination of virtualization technologies, involving the network and applications as well as the desktop, to provide data to a worker on the device of his or her choice based on need and security risk posture.
“And I don’t think most people understand those complexities,” she said.
Although the MeriTalk survey found that most agencies are looking to deploy desktop virtualization, it also indicated some hesitancy. Only 7 percent of federal respondents said their agencies would virtualize all desktop applications for their users. Nearly 60 percent said server virtualization was more important to them.
There are huge, compelling reasons for agencies to do desktop virtualization, said Mark Weber, president of NetApp’s U.S. Public Sector, but it’s different from server virtualization. With the latter, you are talking about a relatively small number of IT professionals in the data center, and it’s pretty obvious that taking 100 servers down to 20 is going to save money.
“Desktop virtualization often involves a different group of people who have to manage all of these [desktop] assets, which are everywhere throughout the enterprise,” he said. “Anything you do with them is going to affect maybe 10,000 users or more, not just the guys in the data center.”
There are huge cost savings to be achieved, he said, but they are not as automatic as with server virtualization, and you have to put in a lot of work to understand where they will come from. You have to have the right technology, you have to have efficient storage solutions, and you have to implement them properly to realize those savings.
“Even so, there are clearly less than 10 percent of government desktops that have been virtualized already,” Weber said. “You’ll never get to 100 percent, but even if you expect to just get to 50 or 60 percent, that’s still a long way to go. That’s millions of desktops from which you can still wring big savings.”