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Who said anything about green?

Desktop virtualisation gets you part way there anyway

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Green and sustainability initiatives might be interesting discussion points for some, but really only matter to most companies when they deliver tangible benefits to the business.

Being green for green’s sake is unlikely to get sign-off at budget commitment time unless the organisation can see some form of material benefit, usually cost saving.

One area that is often talked about in the context of green is desktop virtualisation. But is it just a one-trick pony, or does it have something else to offer that genuinely matters to more than just a handful of businesses?

The thing about desktop virtualisation is that it can deliver very effectively against a green agenda, but, properly implemented and managed, it can also bring a lot of benefits to a business, which ultimately translate into cost savings and a more efficiently managed estate. Such profound business benefits are likely to attract the attention which, when intertwined with the green/sustainability arguments, can make a solid case, whether companies are genuinely trying to go green or not.

First and foremost is the fact that desktop virtualisation could allow businesses to run a thin client at the desktop, which uses considerably less energy than its traditional fat client counterpart. When you consider how quickly the cost of running tens, hundreds or even thousands of PCs across the company for several hours per day can ramp up, then things can start to make sense from a financial perspective. But beyond this, the green 'fallout’ around reduced power consumption is clear. The caveat to this, of course, is that the central systems supporting the thin clients have been well configured and are running efficiently.

Thin clients have a much greater life expectancy - six to seven years is typical, compared to three to four years for traditional desktops – which means that the costs associated with replacing and configuring machines are lower. And precisely because they are thin clients, they are much easier to redeploy around the business. Moreover, because they are much smaller and with fewer parts, they cost less to make, ship, and dispose of – all good news for sustainability proponents. This isn't just green for green's sake, though, as these are costs that, in the real world will be passed on from the supplier to the business.

Managing the estate can also become much easier, as remote support opens up easily under this model, meaning that IT no longer needs to trek from desk to desk to carry out PC maintenance in response to every help desk call.

For a small company with relatively few PCs and working from a single site, this might not seem such a big deal, as handling PC-related problems might only involve a trip by IT to the next floor, or to the other side of the building. However, when a PC fix involves a 250 mile round trip to another site, for example, costs – in the form of time out of the business and travel – and inefficiencies quickly begin to stack up, never mind the potential for lost user productivity.

It is important to remember that thin client solutions are not appropriate for a wide range of business activities. Fortunately there is an expanding portfolio of desktop virtualisation options available to allow a much broader subset of users to be supported using various approaches. The thin client model of desktop virtualisation might seem to some like a magic bullet of sorts, but our research tells us that, although companies are more likely to consider it going forward, it still has some way to go. One of the reasons for this is that it doesn’t appear to deliver cost benefits in the way that it should – and in fact, can seem to increase costs; often this is because the bigger picture isn’t taken into account. Desktop virtualisation will require an initial, and not insignificant, outlay including buying additional servers and storage, which will register on IT’s budgets. It will also require IT’s time to make sure things are running correctly.

But initial outlay to one side, surely, it will save money because of reduced power? If we come back to the power saving angle, while desktop virtualisation will genuinely deliver cost savings here, it will tend to come under a general facilities management budget that is handled outside of the remit of, and therefore not attributed to, IT. But while the costs for running the desktops will decrease, the associated server costs and the running of the data room, which do fall under IT’s banner, will increase. This is a challenge of internal communication that IT needs to address.

A final thread relates to management costs. In a scenario based around desktop virtualisation, the management burden should decrease, as discussed. But this doesn’t necessarily translate into visible cost savings; the IT team still runs with the same headcount, but in a virtualised environment, time that would have been spent managing fat clients is deployed elsewhere – something that is not immediately visible to the business.

For businesses to get over these hurdles in terms of justifying desktop virtualisation requires them to step back and look at the bigger company picture, in terms of what contributes where. This in itself will take some time, as some costs and savings will not be immediately apparent. But if this is achieved, then some very tangible benefits can be achieved. The added bonus is that they get to boost their green credentials, without even trying. ®

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