Hornsby Council rolls out virtual desktops

Council taps converged infrastructure for VDI

Cameron McNaught, technical services officer, Hornsby Shire Council, and Craig Munns, ICT manager, Hornsby Shire Council.

Cameron McNaught, technical services officer, Hornsby Shire Council, and Craig Munns, ICT manager, Hornsby Shire Council.

Hornsby Shire Council in northern Sydney is in the pilot phase of a rollout of virtual desktop infrastructure. The rollout, which is due to be completed by the end of June, will involve shifting the council's employees from Windows XP to virtual Windows 7 desktops delivered via Nutanix converged infrastructure.

The council currently has a fleet of around 450 desktop PCs and 100 laptops. The plan is run VMWare's View VDI client on the devices, said Craig Munns, the head of IT for the council.

The PCs and laptops are currently under a four-year lease which expires in August, and Munns said the council intends to purchase the devices outright.

Munns said that his team considered purchasing ultrathin clients for the virtual desktop rollout but the price point was not appealing.

"We couldn't justify going to a view environment plus buying newer PCs to host the view environment," Munns said.

The current VDI pilot involves about 50 users.

"There are quite a few different drivers" for the shift to VDI, Munns said. These include the need to shift from Windows XP, an attempt to reducing support costs, and the potential to more easily support mobile devices.

"Obviously there's always been the 'doing more with less', particularly in the government space," the IT manager said.

"I'm always looking to find ways to reduce costs internally from the support side of things, so there was some opportunity there."

"We are also being asked to be a bit more flexible around how we provide IT to this organisation, especially around mobility," Munns said.

"We're starting, like everyone else, to go down that track and do more in the field with our outdoor staff being able to access their desktops from in the field, fill out forms, [and] access our backend systems."

"We thought, we better look at what's possible," Munns said.

The council does not currently have a BYOD scheme, but Munns expects it will eventually head down that path. Mobility is important, however, and increasingly council employees are not using laptops outside of their offices. Instead, council-owned iPads and Android devices are becoming more popular.

The IT team is rolling out around 30 Lenovo ThinkPad 10 tablets for the council's building inspectors. The inspectors have to perform field work on a daily basis, Munns said.

The tablets are based on Windows 8, but will have the View client installed on them so that when inspectors need to access corporate applications they do so through a Windows 7 virtual desktop.

Forty three NSW councils and VMWare signed a licensing agreement in September last year that will save councils around $3 million in software costs over two years. Munns said that through the deal Hornsby Council had access to View licences.

The IT manager said that his team considered three options for the shift to virtual desktops: VDI with a standard server/switch/SAN setup, VDI and an appliance, or just maintain fat clients and do a new SOE deployment. A View-based proof of concept indicated that VDI would work for the council both from a technical and a financial point of view.

Munns said that the council considered using a traditional SAN-based setup but after discussions with other councils it went with converged infrastructure from Nutanix.

He said the price point, ease of deployment, and form factor of the vendor's appliances, which combine both storage and compute in the same chassis, were what tipped him over the edge.

"We felt that was the right fit, and pushed forward," Munns said.

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