Right now, for the same cost, we can deliver a higher
level of service, which is what I need to be doing.
daniel rainey, IT DIRECTOR, CITY OF ANN ARBOR, MICH.
desktops at $1,100 each, we’re making a $250,000 investment in
our server hardware and the Citrix software,” he says.
More cost savings will occur when the county moves off old
PCs to thin clients, at which point Jackson can stop investing in
new desktop operating systems. Volume purchasing also helps
reduce Citrix licensing costs. “Once we crossed the 1,000-user
threshold, it made a big difference,” he says.
A second benefit of desktop virtualization is ease of administration. Centralized maintenance won’t make it possible for
the county to reduce IT head count, but it will free up staffers
to focus on more important projects, Jackson says. With some
desktop virtualization implementations, the server runs a custom
image of each desktop. At Gaston County, however, servers run
application images, with each server running multiple applications for a certain number of users. So if you have 1,500 users and
have defined five general roles for that user base, you might have
five different images for those five roles instead of 1,500 images.
The biggest challenge so far, Jackson says, has been ensuring an accurate inventory of the county’s desktop applications
and understanding their needs in a virtual environment. For
instance, some applications need to interact with proprietary
hardware such as scanners or, in one case, a digital scale.
But Jackson believes that the efficiencies, cost savings and
overall architecture of desktop virtualization make dealing with
challenges like those worthwhile. “There’s an awful lot of wasted
horsepower on the desktop, and it’s better to invest those computing resources in the data center,” he says.
a slow but inevitable move
to desktop virtualization
For ann arbor and washtenaw County, it’s more about
improving service than saving money.
There are two sides to the desktop virtualization coin for Daniel
Rainey, IT director for the city of Ann Arbor, Mich., and Dale
Vanderford, manager of technical operations for both the city of
Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County. On one hand, the technology
has great potential for improving users’ computing experience,
with simplified desktop management and maintenance. On the
other hand, it’s difficult for smaller governments like theirs to
justify the cost of virtualization.
As a result, both Rainey and Vanderford — who have been
sharing a data center since 2009 — are cautiously stepping into
desktop virtualization, with an eye on both its benefits and its costs.
Vanderford has rolled out 100 virtualized desktops for public use
in county employment offices. “We have a lot of people come in
and search for jobs or update their résumés,” Vanderford explains.
12 Computerworld FEBRUARY 28, 2011
“We almost had to put a PC technician
on-site because [machines] were breaking on
a daily basis.”
With the new VMware View-based desk-
tops, however, “maintenance is amazingly
low,” Vanderford says. The implementation
is also helping him begin to understand how
desktop virtualization would play out for
employees. While it wouldn’t make sense
for all desktops, such as the ones used by
engineers who need high-end processing power, he is eyeing it
for people in administrative roles. “Patching and upgrades would
be easier, and if the hardware breaks, you can just take a new
machine off the shelf,” he says.
Rainey has a smaller implementation — just 25 test machines
for government employees — and he is considering virtualization
in order to simplify desktop management and limit downtime,
particularly for emergency workers and field operations. “We
spend a lot of time on the help desk troubleshooting machines
that are used by a lot of people,” Rainey says. “It really is a service
improvement, especially for those high-maintenance PCs.”
The main benefits of desktop virtualization are threefold,
Rainey says: more desktop standardization, reduced downtime
and a shift toward the infrastructure of the future, which Rainey
sees as off-premises computing. “As we get better at understand-
ing how to deploy these thinner clients, we can begin the move
to where the hosted environment might be somewhere other
than our data center,” he says.
However, Rainey says, for Ann Arbor and Washtenaw, which
have just under 2,000 desktops between them, virtualization
doesn’t save money. “You’re shifting the cost to the data center,
THE BIG FIVE
an input study projected significant annual increases in federal
government spending on these technologies in the next few years.
$370 million $1.2 billion 26.5%
$330 million $660 million
$800 million $1.4 billion
geospatial technology $860 million $1.4 billion
open-source software $290 million $430 million
SOURCE: INPUT, RESTON, VA.