AUT pilots virtual desktop solution

Desktop pilot could be expanded to students in the next 12 months

Auckland University of Technology is currently piloting a VMware virtual desktop solution for use with its administrative staff, with a view to expanding the project to the broader student population in the next 12 months.

“Moving to desktop virtualisation is an opportunity for us to save money that can be used to fund other virtualisation initiatives,” says Calum MacLeod, IT strategy and architecture manager at AUT.

By virtualising the office administration environment and eliminating leasing fees for office computers, he expects to save around $400,000 a year over three years.

There is a significant up-front cost involving investment in infrastructure and software licences. But looking at a return on investment in 12 to 15 months – if AUT goes full out and virtualises 1000 desktops this year – MacLeod had no difficulty convincing senior management this was the way to go.

AUT, which uses IBM blades, has not yet decided whether to recycle existing computers or purchase thin clients to run the environment on, but the newest release of VMware View takes some of the pressure off – the consolidation ratio is much higher than before, says MacLeod.

“When we initially started looking at this project, the consolidation ratio was 20 to one. It’s now sitting at 100 to one and I’ve heard rumours of a ratio of 1000 to one. That reduces the hardware cost quite significantly,” he says.

The consolidation ratio is dependent on the type of applications that are running. But even at a ratio of 50 desktops to one machine, AUT is looking at an estimated investment of $500,000 over three years, which is cheaper than leasing computers, he says.

Besides saving money, objectives for the desktop virtualisation project include increasing the flexibility of classroom computers and improving efficiency for students. In the virtualised environment, students will be able to access any application on any computer in the university, says MacLeod. Roll out to the university’s 24,000 students over three campuses is planned to start later this year.

Other benefits of going down the virtualised path include better security – administration files previously stored on a local hard drive will now be stored on the network – and increased efficiency, according to MacLeod. One person will now be able to manage up to 1000 computers, which drastically reduces demand on desktop support staff. The move also brings new career development opportunities for tech staff.

“Some of them are really keen to develop in the virtualisation area,” says MacLeod.

That might be a really smart move – according to www.readwriteweb.com, people with virtualisation skills are in big demand in 2010.

MacLeod has himself been using VMware View 4 beta with the new communications protocol PC-over-IP (PCoIP) as his primary desktop for the past month.

“On a daily basis I use a range of productivity applications as well as media, including Flash. Quite simply, PCoIP functionality with View 4 retains my old desktop features with no noticeable difference to a physical PC.”

MacLeod says AUT has trialled Terminal Server solutions in the past, but graphics performance ruled it out as a solution for some users and students. But based on the performance and enhancements of VMware View 4, he is now happy to go ahead and expand the pilot to the student population.

Further down the track, MacLeod is looking at using virtualisation for other things, such as internet kiosks in the library.

He says the team has got over the initial excitement over the project. “Now it’s down to hard work,” he says.

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