Embarq Goes Virtual, Carefully

A growing number of organizations are expected to launch desktop virtualization initiatives as a way to cut costs and better manage their computing environment. But moving to this new platform involves substantial change for end users, and IT executives who forge ahead without considering that invite trouble.

When communications service provider Embarq Corp. decided to delve into desktop virtualization and thin computing devices as part of a program to refresh 3,000 desktop PCs, company executives made certain that end users were prepared for the move, that the company had adequate support in place, and that user experience was a key consideration.

To that end, one of the biggest planning considerations was which areas to target with thin computing first, says Byron Clymer, vice president of infrastructure services at Embarq.

“People will revolt when you tell them you are taking their desktop away, so you have to be smart about your deployment strategy,” Clymer says. “First we did a pilot internally within IT then targeted some groups we felt were early adopters for the technology to demonstrate how easy it was to use, and had them help us be the champions for the platform.”

Planning also called for ensuring that support staff were prepared to help users. “The way a problem is solved or a change implemented with this technology is vastly different than with a standalone desktop, so we had to ensure our help desk was ready to take calls on the platform,” Clymer says. The help desk at Embarq is part of IT so it was involved in the pilot program. “We also had to ensure our desktop technicians were trained on how to manage the desktops in a virtual environment,” he says.

Embarq has kept management of the virtual servers separate from management of the virtual desktops. “System administrators should not be setting up desktops, and desktop technicians should not be managing servers,” Clymer says. “If you try to combine them you will end up with a poor user experience.”

Embarq is allowing many of its employees to work from home more often, so an important factor with the refresh technology was that it enable people to telecommute. “The platform we are engineering gives us the flexibility to send a thin computing device home with our employees or use their personal computing [device],” Clymer says. “Virtualization provides a secure way for them to do that.”

IT executives also wanted to give users a more reliable computing environment. “We have all received that fateful call from someone telling us their hard drive crashed and they needed that important file retrieved from backup,” Clymer says. “We can’t back up all of the desktops in our [non-virtualized] environment; the network bandwidth, plus the impact on the desktop itself doesn’t make it practical. But in this [virtualized] environment we can offer that service since all the data is centralized.”

The move to desktop virtualization and thin computing fits well with Embarq’s overall business goals, including cutting costs. “We will save money in both expense and capital by moving forward with this technology,” Clymer says. “Our company also is enabling its workforce to do more work from home.”

Improved security is another corporate goal the initiative is helping to meet. “Having the desktops reside in the data center removes a lot of security issues because the data never leaves our premises,” Clymer says. “This platform goes further than we could have gone in terms of locking down the end-point devices. We are engineering this to lock down every port on the thin client device so we can control what data leaves the devices via USB or print.”

Finally, the deployment of virtualization and thin computing is helping Embarq to meet its green IT objectives. “We are an environmentally conscious company, and reducing our overall carbon footprint is a plus for us,” Clymer says. The thin computing platform the company is implementing has better utilization than a traditional desktop.

“The desktop sits idle at times. The thin computing platform will leverage its computing power across multiple virtual desktops so we get better utilization,” Clymer says. Also, server technologies that run the virtual desktops are much more efficient than desktops and they are becoming more efficient with every new release. “We expect to reduce our desktop power utilization by 40%,” he says.

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