After catastrophic earthquakes in Christchurch toppled its New Zealand office, law firm Duncan Cotterill decided to implement desktop virtualization to provide stronger disaster resilience
Roger Sillars, the firm’s operations manager and the firm's CIO at the time, told the CeBIT enterprise mobility conference that he watched 2011’s magnitude 6.3 earthquake level Duncan Cotterill’s 17-story head office.
The earthquake destroyed the building as well as employees’ homes and vehicles, he said. “It took three minutes.”
In five weeks, the company had all 120 staff in a new building with brand new desks and computers. “Our IT systems handled it. We were prepared to some degree.”
However, after reviewing the earthquake's aftermath, the company determined that it could have done better and decided to do an IT upgrade, Sillars said.
A key part of the upgrade was deploying desktop virtualization using Citrix XenDesktop. The system allows staff to access their work computers on any computer they like, he said.
Duncan Cotterill has gone 100 per cent VDI, which has greatly enhanced productivity and the law firm’s ability to cope with disaster, he said.
“We’re taking exactly the same as what the users had on their desks – Windows 7 and all the standard applications they use – and we stick that on a server and [send] it back to the users.”
That approach provides better resilience; even if the user’s computer is destroyed, they can quickly get up and running from where they left off on another device, he said.
From a productivity perspective, employees like being able to leave the office for travel and pick up from exactly where they left off once they get to their destination, Sillars said.
The law firm provides desktop computers in the office and is currently rolling out Microsoft Surface tablets to replace workers’ laptops for travel. The Windows 8 tablets were chosen for their small size and weight, Sillars said.
For disaster recovery, the law firm has replicated the image it uses to create the virtual desktops at a recovery site located on the north island of New Zealand, Sillars said.
If everything is lost, “we literally power everything back up, and within ten minutes, people can start logging back in again,” he said.
“Within an hour, we can have all systems operating at full capacity.”
The law firm has already had to employ the disaster recovery process twice this year for two minor incidents, he said.
The first event happened when a Windows update caused a database server problem, he said. Sillars confessed that the second outage happened when he pressed “the wrong button.”
In each circumstance, Duncan Cotterill quickly restored services, he said.
Sillars said he feels the company has learned much from its experience after the earthquake.
“We’ve been there. We’ve done that. And I hope we never have to do it again.”