Making Desktop Virtualization Pay

Once-doubtful users can easily be swayed to VDI's myriad benefits, if the technology is presented to them the right way.

(This article is the second in a series on desktop virtualization; click here to read the first one. Full disclosure: This is a vendor-contributed article.)

Desktop virtualization is a powerful technology that, with the right solution, has the potential to deliver a virtual desktop to any user, on any device. More than just VDI, a complete desktop virtualization solution can provide organizations with the flexibility to mix and match delivery scenarios -- whether a server-based virtual desktop delivered to a large set of users or a complete personalized Windows desktop to individual or "power" users, or various scenarios in between -- all orchestrated from a centrally managed solution. But many are still unsure whether it's time to implement a desktop virtualization strategy

You've seen the white papers and slide decks promising benefits from business agility to IT modernization. Now it's time to find out what you really want to know: what kind of ROI can desktop virtualization deliver, and when? While the answers will be different for each organization, the common use cases explored in this article should give you a starting point for defining a desktop virtualization implementation that delivers both near-term ROI and a long-term win for your enterprise. In an economic climate where every dollar counts, companies want a clear picture of their own potential for savings, and the likelihood of near-term ROI, before they commit funds to the additional servers and storage needed for desktop virtualization.

To take advantage of the full benefits of desktop virtualization, a thorough analysis of the enterprise's needs and use cases is essential. This will help the enterprise identify whether, where, and how desktop virtualization can serve the broadest set of users.

Ironically, the broad range of benefits cited for desktop virtualization can make it all the more difficult to nail down the actual savings available in a given company. It's hard enough to benchmark a single area of ROI, much less all of them at once. Instead of trying to boil the ocean, it's best to focus on one or two areas where you know there's an opportunity in your organization, and where management is fully prepared to support the strategy. The following scenarios are examples of desktop virtualization projects that can offer a clear path to near-term ROI.

  • Rapid business scalability -- getting a new workforce up and running quickly, as in fast-growing or changing industries.
  • Acquisition/joint venture integration -- combining user environments quickly and at the lowest possible cost.
  • Windows 7 upgrade -- achieving a fast, cost-effective rollout without having to replace existing endpoints.
  • Disaster recovery/data loss mitigation -- mitigating the risk inherent in a decentralized environment, and reducing the costs and downtime associated with backup and recovery processes.
  • Distributed workforce -- supporting users in remote locations with non-standard connectivity without having to invest in wholesale LAN/WAN upgrades.
  • Field workers -- enabling complete desktop productivity from a car or other field location, eliminating the need for police, salespeople, or other mobile personnel to return to headquarters.
  • Electronic records -- outfitting and supporting first-time users with endpoints in the context of already-costly electronic records initiatives.
  • Help desk efficiency -- supporting a large number of users with minimal IT resources.

In general, we have seen upwards of a 50 percent savings in desktop and application administration costs. In 6-12 months, most scenarios can achieve a ROI of more than 100 percent. Below, we explore the business drivers, implementation, and more specific ROI for each use case.

Rapid business scalability
Organizations in fast-growing, constantly changing environments need to be able to provision and support new workers quickly, efficiently and cost-effectively. Desktop virtualization makes it possible to serve an ever-changing employee or student population, and equip these users with lower-cost thin clients instead of full-featured PCs, or re-use legacy endpoints that would otherwise be insufficient to run the latest operating systems and applications.

Serving more than 7,600 students across seven campuses, Campbell Union High School District first explored desktop virtualization as a way to help bring down skyrocketing hardware and IT management costs. The district's IT team serves the computing needs of all students, as well as 650 employees and faculty members. In addition to personal PCs for staff members and student laptops in each classroom, each campus also provides multiple computer labs for instruction and student use. Desktop virtualization dramatically simplifies the provisioning, maintenance and refresh process, allowing IT to manage all desktops from a central location allowing Campbell Union School District to save $250,000 a year in replacement costs..

Acquisition/joint venture integration
To combine and standardize disparate IT environments quickly and cost-effectively, newly formed or merged enterprises need a way to provide common tools across the combined user base quickly -- without having to purchase and provision thousands of new PCs.

Desktop virtualization offers two key cost advantages in this situation. First, as a centralized provisioning mechanism, it makes it possible to outfit any number of users in any number of locations from a single point of administration, and requires only one image each of the operating system and applications to be installed and maintained, conserving IT work hours. And secondly, the ability to standardize virtualized desktops independently of the hardware through which they're accessed eliminates the need to invest in new equipment. Instead of buying 10,000 PCs in the first year, for example, IT need only create and host 10,000 virtual machines -- a much less costly proposition.

Mutual of Omaha used this strategy during a period of rapid business evolution to integrate the infrastructures of a number of acquired banks. Desktop virtualization enabled the company to maintain peak customer service during the transition, which was completed faster and more easily than would otherwise have been possible. The bottom line: $800,000 in IT savings in the first year alone.

Windows 7 upgrade
The move to Windows 7 presents several challenges: it can take many months to load the system onto thousands of individual endpoints as organizations spend the time and resources to test, integrate and install the new OS. Many user PCs will need to be upgraded or replaced to support new requirements for memory and processing power. And of course, once migration occurs, the team will then be managing the inevitable patches.

Desktop virtualization is an obvious strategy to overcome these challenges. Instead of working through hundreds or thousands of individual PCs, IT simply installs a single image in the datacenter, then leverages that across the organization. Patches and updates benefit similarly from the single, centralized image, like that employed by XenDesktop. And because the operating system runs in the datacenter rather than on the endpoint, there is no need to upgrade user hardware; the same machine used to run Vista, or even Windows XP, will be more than adequate. By our cost estimates, using a centralized desktop virtualization solution to migrate users to Windows 7 can save organizations up to 40 percent of costs associated with migration. And simplifying on-going desktop management and updates can lower the total cost of ownership by about 50 percent.

Disaster Recovery/Data Loss Mitigation
Today's increasingly virtualized and distributed workforces -- encompassing telecommuters, remote users, branch offices, contractors and outsourcing providers -- make data protection and archiving far more complex and difficult to manage. The financial impact can be considerable, including an increased IT burden for ongoing backup and recovery processes, lost productivity due to downtime and slow data recovery, and the extra licenses needed to outfit the offsite recovery center.

In a virtualized environment, because all user data is hosted in the datacenter, data protection becomes fully centralized, simple, and efficient. Backup windows are shorter and data recovery is much faster, whether for a single document or an entire volume, minimizing downtime and maintaining user productivity. If the company loses a building, the existing licenses can be transferred seamlessly to the recovery center, eliminating the need to pay for extra licenses.

For University of Texas Medical Branch, Hurricane Ike in September 2008 was the catalyst for UTMB to adopt desktop virtualization. While offices were closed in the wake of the hurricane, PC users still needed access to a complete Windows desktop experience, regardless of where they were working. Combined with deploying thin clients to replace PCs, UTMB was able to reduce the hardware and administrative costs while maintaining business continuity.

Distributed workforce
Companies with branches and users in many locations need a way to provide a consistent experience and standard functionality across the organization, even when network capacity varies greatly from place to place. Centralized maintenance is also crucial to avoid the need for dedicated IT resources in every location.

As discussed earlier, a comprehensive desktop virtualization solution easily solves the centralized maintenance part of the picture. Providing a consistent experience through any type of connectivity is more challenging -- especially for users of multimedia and other bandwidth-intensive applications -- but essential to avoid the need for a costly LAN/WAN upgrade. In this kind of scenario, it's important to make effective use of network and display optimizations and performance boosting technologies such as Citrix HDX, which makes it possible to deliver high performance even in low bandwidth or high latency WAN connections.

One Citrix customer, a Canadian oil exploration and production company, has extensive operations in remote areas. Getting users up and running means laying fiber across frozen tundra -- and once it's in place, the last thing the company wants to hear is that it has to be upgraded or replaced. These remote and difficult operating environments and the high costs associated with repairs or upgrades leave these networks bandwidth constrained. "New, better, faster" doesn't always happen in frozen tundra. Citrix HDX technology has enabled the company to deliver a better user experience through its existing network -- and save millions in capital and operating costs.

Field workers
Salespeople, police officers and other field workers often have to trek back to the office to log into internal applications. Even those equipped with laptops waste time dealing with lost data, crashed applications, and other headaches. In either case, lost individual productivity means that the organization needs a larger workforce to get the same amount of work done.

Desktop virtualization enables IT to provide consistent application access from any mobile device. Standardized applications and centralized maintenance eliminate most first-level support issues. As a result, users enjoy uninterrupted productivity no matter where they are.

This is borne out by the experience of Leicestershire Constabulary, which provides police services to the people of Leicester, Leicestershire, and Rutland in the UK, an area of more than 965 square miles and a population of nearly one million. Equipped with virtualized ToughBooks over 3G networks inside 300 patrol cars, the force's officers can access up to 70 internal IT systems while on patrol. With no need for officers to spend hours of overtime at the station catching up on paperwork, Leicestershire Constabulary has achieved efficiency savings of 30 percent. By keeping its officers in the field, the force has enhanced public confidence while avoiding the expense of additional hires.

Electronic patient records
Driven by regulations such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) as well as the need to improve care and efficiency, the healthcare industry is moving quickly to implement electronic health records. Many of the personnel who will be entering and accessing these records, such as nurses and residents, are not traditional PC-based workers; as a result, healthcare organizations will now have to vastly increase the number of endpoints in the organization, as well as supporting far more users. These costs are above and beyond the investment in the electronic records environment itself.

The effectiveness of desktop virtualization in this scenario has been demonstrated by Emory Healthcare, which needed to keep pace with its own rapid growth while making electronic records available wherever its patients are located. Emory's complete virtualized architecture, including desktops as well as servers, has reduced hardware costs, power consumption, and overhead. A single IT staffer now oversees maintenance for 350 virtualized user desktops without having to leave his desk. As users move throughout and among Emory's facilities, they can access the same familiar desktop experience through any device, improving productivity and reducing support requirements.

Help desk efficiency
High support costs are bad news for any organization, but for some, they can even mean forfeiting the entire value of existing investments. For example, some school systems are provided with government funds to buy computers, but not to deploy and maintain them; as a result, they gather dust, unused.

The District School Board of Collier County serves more than 40,000 students along Florida's Southwest coast through more than 50 schools. Although the school board was able to provide 20,000 computers for its students' use, supporting these endpoints in a traditional desktop architecture would have required hiring an estimated 20 to 40 additional personnel. Instead, the board now uses desktop virtualization to provision 20,000 desktops. Applications and desktops are now delivered 80 percent faster -- and IT support costs have been reduced by at least 50 percent per workstation.

Another option made possible by desktop virtualization: a "Bring-Your-Own-Computer" program in which each employee is given a stipend to purchase and maintain their own endpoint. The one-time cost of the stipend is more than offset by the fact that both the asset and its maintenance come off the books. Especially suitable for younger workers with more of an attachment to their personal environment, BYOC can also pay off in terms of higher productivity and job satisfaction.

The Citrix BYOC initiative, which was implemented in September 2008, provides a stipend of $2,100 per employee enrolled in the program. As a result of the BYOC program, Citrix is able to save almost 20 percent on the total cost of ownership of a laptop with the elimination of desktop management, administration, procurement and asset management costs. Of course, this does not include the intangible benefits of improved employee satisfaction, flexibility and productivity.

Another Option for Immediate Cost Savings: Desktop Streaming
Quite a bit of our discussion has been around one delivery method of desktop virtualization -- centralized hosted virtual desktops or VDI. Delivering "streamed" desktops is another delivery method that can be advantageous to organizations that want to quickly roll out new desktops, taking advantage of centralized delivery but are unprepared to invest in the required infrastructure for VDI. Although the operating system is now executing locally on the desktop rather than in the datacenter, the company can still realize the full efficiencies of a centralized environment. Over time, users receiving a streamed desktop can be transitioned to a hosted virtual desktop or one of the many other delivery methods as the organization deploys a more comprehensive desktop virtualization solution; this mixed environment allows the company to achieve optimal savings within its available infrastructure.

This is the approach taken by the District School Board of Collier County, which now streams more than 10,000 desktops alongside 2,400 fully virtualized HP mobile thin clients, both using Citrix XenDesktop.

Whether motivated primarily by cost savings, business needs, or IT strategy, desktop virtualization will play an increasing role in organizations of all kinds. By focusing initially on use cases that yield significant near-term ROI and utilizing a desktop virtualization solution that can deliver the best desktop to every user, IT can quickly demonstrate its value to management while laying the groundwork for mainstream adoption across the organization.


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