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Making desktop virt an easier pill to swallow

Building the business case

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How can IT managers sell the benefits of desktop virtualisation to the rest of the company, especially if it may not deliver savings in the short term?

Part of the trick in selling desktop virtualisation to the broader organisation is to remember the word “business” in “business case”. Talking the business’s language and mapping the benefits of desktop virtualisation to business needs can help make it an easier pill to swallow - especially if initial capex is painful, and cost savings might take longer to achieve.

Aad Deckers, chief marketing officer at MTI, a European IT reseller, says that the business itself should define the drivers, even though it may not know what the solution is. “The business side comes up with the challenges," he says. It will then ask what the possibilities are from a technology perspective. “I don’t think the business side says – 'we need virtual desktops'."

Different types of organisation will have different drivers. David Angwin, European marketing director for thin client vendor Wyse, says that the drivers in an educational institution might be different to that in a retail outfit, for example.

Five thousand students, half of whom want to hack the network, and the other half of whom want to pollute desktops with some grotty file sharing software, leave administrators with a unique challenge: “How do we get more computers in front of students without making the support situation even worse?”

More generally, business agility, security, and cost reduction are the biggest drivers, according to a survey conducted by research firm Vanson Bourne on behalf of Molten Technologies. The firm spoke to 100 senior UK IT decision makers, each with at least 1,000 staff.

Agility can include not only flexible working through remote desktop access, but also potentially speedier upgrades, which can minimise disruption to the business. “To build the platform for VDI for thousands of people is a serious investment, but the ROI kicks in further down the line," says Matt Mould, VDI practice consultant at EMC Consulting.

Easier transition

He cites future upgrades from Windows 7 to the next version of Windows as an example. “It will happen. And when you have VDI in place, moving operating systems or moving the business applications becomes not less of a headache as such, but an easier transition.”

Building an effective business case can involve some serious innovation by a committed IT department. Mac Chivers is the ICT service manager for the South Worcestershire ICT shared service (SW2), a joint venture between Malvern, Worcester and Wychavon county councils to increase service levels.

What started as a project to showcase new technologies for business managers ended up producing a unified communication system based on Microsoft and Mitel platforms, Chivers converted an empty room into what he charmingly called the Business Technology Suite.

”It was really just the demonstration room," he says, explaining that he managed to persuade a few vendors to help him showcase products there. “We equipped the room with a variety of technologies to demonstrate flexible desktop working, and we used it with the staff to get them to come in and explore the technologies."

When Chivers ran across some desktop virtualisation technology that showed promise, the demonstration room was a great place to show it to business managers. “I happened to be at a workshop in London and they mentioned a stateless client system there,” he said.

“I came back, did some more investigation, added it to the business technology suite, and we satisfied ourselves that there was great potential there.€" He began implementing thin clients on the desktop, with Terminal Server 2008 at the back end.

"The ROI kicks in further down the line"

The smart CIO will align desktop virtualisation as closely as possible with an organisation’s strategic practice. In Chivers’ case, the business case for desktop virtualisation tied in well with the broader goal of the three councils’ shared service initiative.

"The three districts are linked together with WANs, and staff from any of the councils can take their smart card from one thin client device to any other desktop and have it work," he says. “That means we save on moves and changes. So even the property strategy can change."

Chivers was able to press home the business case for desktop virtualisation for users by providing alternatives to those with special needs. Staff using sophisticated client-side graphics were given Virtual PC implementations, rather than remotely hosted desktops, to keep them happy, he explains.

However, they were the exception rather than the rule. It is clearly important to give business managers and their users some alternatives, rather than imposing one form of desktop virtualisation for all. ®

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