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Should IT departments tackle desktop virtualisation on their own?

A helping hand?

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Desktop virtualisation So, you’ve made the business case for your desktop virtualisation project and you have the budget to do it. The next question is whether you need outside help, either from product vendors or consultancies. How do you decide?

No two organisations are created equal, and neither are IT departments. An organisation’s individual character, combined with the parameters of its desktop virtualisation project, will determine which elements, if any, require extra expertise.

The size of the organisation, the size of the IT department and the maturity of that department all have a part to play, says Andy Soanes, platform practice lead at IT consulting firm Glasshouse Technologies.

Soanes describes an “operational plate”, comprised of processes for IT management and technology complementing those processes. On the technology side, he asks: “In the case of virtual desktops, are you going to be making use of things like streaming applications?”

Other technology areas include server consolidation, virtual machine, storage, and network bandwidth and latency.

Although IT departments may be accustomed to keeping the engines running, they don’t always have the technical skills to make the improvements necessary for desktop virtualisation. For example, says David Cowan, head of consulting services at IT consultancy Plan-Net, you might need to adapt your network to provide a level of latency for virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) traffic that it doesn’t currently offer. “At an early stage of the project, you need to identify the bottlenecks and stopgaps,” he says.

Similarly, an organisation used to desktop PCs might need assistance with thin-client implementation, says Ranjit Atwal, research director at Gartner. And true VDI is likely to put a level of strain on your storage that could cripple the end-user experience, especially if you have to scale up a pilot project to hundreds of users.

Even when virtualisation has been successfully implemented, a common mistake companies make is to carry on doing things in the same way as before, warns Soanes. “They miss the cost-saving opportunities that new technologies can offer,” he says.

Cowan cites the example of support, which no longer needs to go desk-side to fix any problems. “If you’re using thin clients, then do you need IT to deploy a replacement device? Why not use facilities for that?” he says. “Virtualisation has a wide-ranging effect on the organisation, and that’s why it has to be so carefully planned. Do we do it as a technology project or as a wider, service-oriented project?”

The emphasis on service is an important part of the desktop virtualisation process and the implementation team’s ability to engage users is crucial, warns Atwal. “Many desktop virtualisation projects have looked at this from a data centre perspective and not the end-user experience,” he says.

Do you truly understand what your users do with their desktops? Are you able to talk to them or do you need a third party to act as a bridge?

To get the most out of virtualisation, the implementation team should be having detailed conversations across the company, from groups of users through to finance and facilities. This is a competence is that some IT departments lack.

“Whether you bring in external expertise is to do with return on investment over the long run," Atwal says. "IT organisations are technical, but they often don’t have the business skills to measure against business goals.”

Some forward-thinking IT departments have already formed strategic partnerships with businesses that specialise in information delivery. They also have the option of bringing in contractors with a background in desktop virtualisation.

Can the IT department do it all? It’s a tall order. Perhaps unsurprisingly, most consulting firms recommend that you at least call them in for an initial chat. Sceptical IT managers might view that as no more than a sales ploy, and they could be right.

On the other hand, a department facing a wide-ranging desktop virtualisation project has a large collection of the proverbial “unknown unknowns” to deal with. Turning to a third party to help you identify these could be worth it, even if you decide to go it alone afterwards. ®

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