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From Plan into Practice

By Jennifer Zaino  |  Posted 05-23-2007 Print

Virtualization drives users to abstraction—literally—but some might say it drives them to distraction, which makes it critical for IT to streamline the computing experience.

Russell Investment Group, a global investment firm with $2.4 trillion in U.S. assets, is switching gears in its quest to deliver applications to users as a service, says Greg Nelson, senior technology consultant in the company's Technology Consulting Services architecture group, whose office reports to the CIO. By year's end, Russell will have nearly completed its switchover from a centralized Terminal Services-based delivery model to using Microsoft's application virtualization and streaming platform as the primary software delivery method to some 2,500 desktops in 13 offices worldwide.

Russell had originally turned to server-based computing to deliver consistent service at lower cost and anywhere computing to a staff that is 90 percent knowledge workers. But one problem with centralized computing is that the delays that sometimes occur during normal business processes become magnified when users aren't isolated from each other's behavior. Yet, it became clear that many of the efficiencies Russell sought could be found in the server-based computing environment, which employed Microsoft's Softgrid application virtualization tool. "Everything users like about the desktop—snappy, good video performance, audio, etc.—is provided, and at the same cost model and cost savings we've gotten when we've done centralized computing," Nelson says.

In combination with streaming technology, Russell relies on a self-service model that lets authorized users pick applications off a list for immediate availability, seemingly increasing IT's responsiveness to business needs.

Still, some kinks linger. For instance, Microsoft Office is part of the base operating system image, so virtualized applications can tie into it—currently, though, there's no way for one virtualized application to link to another.

Other organizations are working out user connections to desktops hosted in the data center. The logic to dynamically map users to virtual machines and images—or broker connections—hasn't been perfected with the virtual desktop infrastructure yet. "That brokering logic today needs customizing to make it work, with some manual intervention," says Gartner's Gammage.

Collier County Public Schools in Naples, Fla., is moving to a virtualized model—22,000 thin clients and VMware ESX Server on 508 HP blade servers. The district started with a direct connect model but no connection broker, just hard-coding the IP address in the thin client to connect with a virtual machine image. "Now we think it's a better approach to develop a connection broker and Web portal," says school district technology director Tom Petry, "so users' desktops will be wherever the users are." The school district worked with VMware's consulting group on the connection broker project, and is now finishing quality assurance testing. But Petry says he was disappointed by delays along the way.

Despite obstacles, however, this is the time for companies to start integrating virtualization into their plans. "The road map has to be designed to support change," Gammage says. Client computing isn't just about buying PCs for users any more. It's about evolving your infrastructure to meet users' changing requirements.

Ask Your Help Desk:
How long does it take from the time a user requests an application until it is delivered to the desktop?

Tell Your Enterprise Architect:
Design the roadmap to accommodate changing user needs.


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