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For 2010, virtual desktops can squeeze more life out of old systems

One IT director's 2009 lessons learned are the benefits of virtual desktops, from cost savings to efficiency and user mobility.

Server virtualization was just the beginning in terms of cost savings and efficiencies gained in the data center. The next phase in 2010 calls for virtual desktops and more.

IT leaders are now looking at their storage systems, applications and desktops to see what else can be virtualized. And they are establishing self-service programs for provisioning and investing in virtual machine management tools to gain additional efficiencies.

Hundreds of desktops in Mississippi's Rankin County are getting a virtual makeover that will let Billy Rials, director of IT for the county, send a software update to all desktops -- just once.

And as a result, old servers and desktops have found new life under the county's virtualization program. "We've retrofitted many PCs that were ready for the crusher as Citrix terminals," Rials said.

It wasn't an easy sell at first, convincing users that they would have the same experience -- personal settings and all --,on terminals that are fed applications and settings from a virtual server.

Rials' advice is to take it slow. Start out by deploying a few virtual printers, virtual applications and virtual desktops. Once Rials and his team were able to show users that they received the same quality of service on virtual devices as physical ones, users started to queue up to be next.

"They thought it was cool that they could move around the office and use any machine or work from home," Rials said "Once they saw what they could do, they were on board -- but don't underestimate how important it is to get user acceptance."

In the end, the desktop virtualization effort meant Rials could do more with the IT staff on hand and use fewer servers. That was particularly useful because the county had run out of room in its data center and had no money to expand.

But there is a cautionary note associated with virtual desktops in terms of the potential costs for licensing, network bandwidth and storage.

Virtualization in the data center is clearly the way to go when you're on a budget. It saves you from having to throw equipment away and employees are more efficient.

Billy Rials, director of IT, Rankin County, Mississippi

Desktop licensing costs can range from $150 to $250 per user and there is often a one-time fee of $2,000 to $5,000 for the application studio or administration console needed to design, repackage and virtualize applications. Then there is an application virtualization licensing fee of about $150 per virtualized application, said Ty Schwab, CEO and founder of Blackhawk Technology Consulting LLC in Eugene. Ore.

Then there are infrastructure considerations such as network, bandwidth and storage optimization. "Some vendors are claiming you only need 30 kilobits of bandwidth per virtual desktop, but in reality you will need at least 100 kilobits of bandwidth per user to handle loads and spikes," said Chris Wolf, an analyst at Burton Group Inc. in Midvale, Utah.

And storage costs in relation to a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) implementation may be massive. On a traditional desktop, buying a local disk may cost $80 per terabyte, but in a VDI environment using a storage area network, a gigabyte -- never mind terabyte -- will cost you $10 a pop because a SAN has a lot of other components, like a high-end disk array and cables.

Rials was also able to introduce disaster recovery for the county's 911 and other emergency systems as he sought to keep the IT budget in check by virtualizing just about everything in the data center.

"Virtualization in the data center is clearly the way to go when you're on a budget," he said. "It saves you from having to throw equipment away, and employees are more efficient."

Let us know what you think about the story; email Christina Torode, Senior News Writer.

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