Virtual DesktopNew York's Division of Housing and Community Renewal Goes Thin Client
By Barbara DePompa
The New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal (NYS DHCR) decided to "go thin client" about three years ago, implementing desktop virtualization primarily because the organization was unable to adequately manage and control desktop computers spread throughout seven (now five) separate borough offices located throughout the state.
Prior to migration, updates pushed to PCs were sporadic, as anti-virus and operating system updates simply couldn't be verified. Users had local administrator control over desktop systems and installed software on their own. There was also no control over licensing, said Duane Averill, assistant director of IT technical services for NYS DHCR.
Worst of all, virus attacks were prolific. More than 350 PCs were infected by a virus at once five years ago, and the effort required to re-clone every machine took six weeks. This became the catalyst for DHCR to seek some way to effectively lock down desktop computers. DHCR first put Cisco Security Agents on every PC, which proved a difficult rollout as the agents blocked everything and required the use of 'whitelisting' to allow users to run daily operational applications. Following ongoing problems with desktop configurations and the general lack of centralized control over desktop operations, DHCR decided to pilot Citrix's desktop virtualization solution, XEN App, replacing 60 PCs with thin clients. While undergoing that migration, the New York State governor's office signed a mandate dictating that state services must cut 15% of energy consumption by 2015. That prompted Averill to further justify the move to desktop virtualization, citing the following energy-related drivers:
• A University of Pennsylvania study found the approximate savings from implementing thin clients for a 1,000 computer network was $29,291 per year, or a 45% savings in energy costs. The total five year savings was $146,455.
• Traditional desktop PCs consume a maximum of 280 watts of power compared to most thin client devices, which consume approximately 30 watts of power in the same time frame, an energy savings of 90 percent.
• Thin clients boast a longer product lifespan than typical PCs, lasting five to seven years. Less heat is also produced using thin clients. And because they are lighter than PCs, these devices take less energy to ship.
Once implemented, Averill said, "The difference in support services was immediate, as we went from several help desk calls per day to virtually none."
The pilot was expanded to replace 350 aging PCs at the division's Jamaica Queens office. After analyzing the application programs in use, DHCR decided to consolidate applications as part of a division-wide effort to institute an enterprise architecture. This decision didn't fare well with some users who lost applications they were accustomed to using. Several others also expressed dissatisfaction about the loss of CD-ROM drives. That's when DHCR officials decided to allow individual users to write a business case for the use of such drives. In the end, no one was able to justify a 'permanent' requirement for the drives, and DHCR purchased a few external CD/DVD drives for loaner use only, Averill explained.
Because the DHCR has already invested in virtual servers and storage, removing tape subsystems and performing all backups using disk-based SANs, Averill's new goal is to consolidate the division's three current data centers down to one, with an offsite failover facility for continuity of operations/disaster recovery. This will likely create a dramatic reduction in energy costs. The consolidation plan calls for moving all servers and storage to the division's Albany location, which will speed processing and reduce energy costs, Averill explained. DHCR is also investigating broader use of Microsoft's Windows 7 along with Citrix's XEN Desktop for the users who require more robust functionality.
Based on the implementation of desktop virtualization, DHCR now has 50 or more users on a single server running the division's standard virtual applications. In addition to the benefits derived (see infobox), Averill sums up the advantages in this way. "Ultimately, we've found that users don't really need CD-ROM drives to do their jobs. Instead, what they need is the ability to do their jobs from any location, and that's what desktop virtualization brings."