Dunedin Casino drives virtualisation to the desktop

Success on servers led to desktop rollout

A conversation over a few pints of beer was the stimulus for Dunedin’s casino to virtualise its desktops. The exercise was successful and is being closely looked at by casinos in other parts of the world.

IT manager Bertie Enochs was celebrating with consultant Neil Cresswell following the completion of a project to virtualise the casino’s servers, when Cresswell also mentioned the possibilities for virtualising the desktops.

It stuck in Enochs’ mind to the extent that when it came time in 2008 to refresh the casino’s Dell desktops, he decided to undertake a virtualisation trial.

“When we first looked at virtualising the servers, we found it gave us business continuity capabilities at a reasonable price,” he says. “We had started with a storage area network, but that was quite expensive so we began to look at alternatives.”

Enochs hired Dunedin consultancy Standby Consulting, which specialises in business continuity. “They had a couple of people with 30-years’ experience in disaster recovery. They do a lot of jobs for IBM in the Middle East.

“Standby approached a number of companies about virtualisation. We had heard a lot about Neil Cresswell, who worked for IBM, and his design was the best when we issued a request for proposal.”

Enochs insisted on Cresswell leading the server virtualisation project, which was won by IBM.

He says Cresswell subsequently took up the technical director’s role at Auckland-based virtualisation and storage company ViFX. “So we moved to ViFX.”

He was working on budgets in January 2008 and recalled the conversation about virtualising the desktops. At that time, Dell was the preferred desktop supplier.

“Obviously this was new, but we felt that Microsoft Service Pack 1 for Vista was due soon, so we evaluated Vista. All Microsoft products work better on SP1.

ViFX looked at three layers: infrastructure, desktops and applications.

Enochs says people should virtualise servers first, based on infrastructure.

“It was totally new, making it run in a desktop environment. It took us three months to get it all working, largely because of our specialised casino software and hardware, such as printers.

“It was also about online streaming multimedia for a casino. When it comes to thin client, the first thing that is affected is multimedia.”

Using VMWare’s virtual desktop infrastructure technology, ViFX created a matrix that matches each user with their specific individual desktop configurations. The thin client terminal selected was the Wyse V10L, which supports rich multimedia and USB devices.

Physically, the casino runs five servers. A cluster of two servers handles 12 virtual servers; two of the other servers each run 20 terminals; the fifth server sits off-site, replicating seven of the critical servers.

Each terminal has access to 2GB of RAM, as of right, but depending on demand across each group of desktops, 3GB may be available. Enochs says that in terms of dynamic availability it all happens seamlessly.

“The benefits have been quite significant to our investment,” he says. “In terms of the virtual desktops, where the Dells were on a three-year refresh cycle, the Wyse terminals have a life of five years, which can be extended. VMWare’s VDI structure means savings of probably $75,000 over six years.

“We’d recommend desktop virtualisation to other businesses, with some pre-conditions. You need the infrastructure in place – you need a SAN and fibre optic switches.”

Enochs says there have been no problems since the virtualised desktops went live last August. “It’s been a nice journey,” he says.

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