Moving towards a virtualised desktop environment. Is SA ready?

Client virtualisation is high on the agenda of many enterprises.

April 22, 2012

By Andre Schwan – End User Computing Specialist at T-Systems in South Africa

  •  Usability and improved management features
  •  Significant costs savings
  •  SA a slow adopter

Client virtualisation is high on the agenda of many enterprises. According to a survey by consultants Centracon, nearly half of all 309 organisations polled believe that virtualisation is more efficient and economical than traditional desktop structures.

Furthermore, they are even more interested in virtual desktops’ promise of greater flexibility and lower management and administrative overheads. These systems can be managed or expanded with little effort.

From a the total cost of ownership (TCO) perspective, the Fraunhofer Institute for Environmental, Safety and Energy Technology’s “PC vs. Thin Client” study says that, in some environments, virtual desktops can even lower the TCO by more than 40 percent compared to a managed desktop.

Another important benefit – and a key one – is virtual desktops’ user-friendly and usability features. Everything is preconfigured – no more tampering with individual laptops or desktops – so it allows for easy access to e-mails, contacts, appointments, installed applications and company data.

When considering the above, where does South Africa stand and are local organisations as eager to move to a virtualised desktop environment?

The main and obvious benefits

In order to contextualise both our local scenario and argue a case for virtual desktops, we need to drill down to some of the most pertinent benefits.

Virtualised desktop environments could offer substantial support cost savings. However, this will depend on where it is deployed. For example, benefits are greater in a branch/distributed type scenario as opposed to a campus environment.

Quite obviously, as support is provided virtually in addition to the ability to make changes from a central location, i.e. the data centre, it can be implemented easily, mitigating unnecessary travel and onsite support expenditure. This is where geographically dispersed scenarios stand more to gain.

A second important benefit is security. The IT department becomes more agile and can make changes immediately without waiting for propagation to occur, thereby safeguarding the organisation’s important information assets. Changes can be implemented in the data centre and deployed to the devices connected to the virtual desktop environment. This approach creates opportunities to increase logical security in terms of data protection and privacy protection which will become an important consideration for companies adhering to King III.

In environments where device theft is high, users often experience the frustration of loss of critical data, which in turn impacts the organisations that they work for with loss of productivity and increased risk through the loss of intellectual property. Virtualised environments can limit these consequences significantly.

Moreover, with the proliferation of mobility and Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), it is important that the IT department protects the company against external threats while also integrating the devices in a safe and controlled manner. ‘Thin’ technologies, including Virtual Desktops and Web-based solutions provide mechanisms that can facilitate the introduction of these devices into the company landscape and workflow while addressing some of the biggest concerns that arise from it.

Virtual desktops also improve infrastructure availability as one desktop or thin client device can simply be swapped out by someone at the office and replaced with a new one. It is really as simple as plugging in a new one and gaining access to your virtual profile. This also means that shared or loaned devices are a viable possibility.

Lastly, it gives way to a standardised environment that can be centrally managed and administered.

The SA Scenario

The above are only few of the important benefits of virtual desktops and demonstrate benefits from support, deployment, reliability and management perspectives.

From an adoption perspective, however, there is definitely a significant difference between the local Southern African scenario and those of our European and US counterparts. Whilst SA companies are starting to consider desktop virtualisation on a high level, there are quite a lot of barriers to entry to consider from a local perspective.

For example, our telecommunication/data network costs remain prohibitively high, particularly when virtual desktops run in distributed environments. That said, there is no reason why companies cannot start in a campus environment and deploy virtual desktops to branch offices in a staged, slightly more conservative approach.

In some cases applications also have to go through re-development in order to be deployed in a virtual environment. This obviously has cost implications – but if companies are already going through an application modernisation exercise, the logical step would be to move over to virtual desktops where these applications are ready to run.

Bespoke applications are difficult to integrate whereas newer applications virtualise with relative ease.

Balancing costs of the infrastructure, application changes and network infrastructure is a delicate process. It is our belief that cost savings will in time be less of a consideration and issues such as security, data privacy and a changing social environment will start to apply increasing pressure on business.

Another barrier is end user maturity. In South Africa users are generally reluctant to have all their applications and data managed, controlled and upgraded by the IT department. Organisational Change Management therefore plays a critical role in order to obtain buy-in from users when moving over to a virtual desktop environment.

It is prudent to ensure that a proper programme is developed and implemented. This should include training for end users, the IT department and outsourced partners that might be involved with infrastructure support. In addition the programme should be integrated with other modernisation programmes running in an environment that ensures ease of realisation and sharing costs.

At T-Systems we are currently running a number of development programs and Proof of Concepts in order to demonstrate the benefits of virtual desktops. Our view is that adoption is imminent, particularly in light of mobility that will result in escalating support costs as more devices are added to the IT infrastructure.

With virtual desktops companies can significantly reduce costs allowing for an agile environment that is easier to manage, support and secure.