Case Study

Desktop virtualization technology deployed at Geometric

Mitchelle R Jansen, Reporter

Geometric Ltd, a leading engineering services and solutions provider, has benefited considerably from desktop virtualization technology. The company provides expertise to

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multiple global industries such as automotive, heavy engineering, aerospace and defense, oil and gas, medical devices, and ISVs.

Need for virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI)

In order to enhance employee productivity and boost morale, Geometric wanted to provide flexible working hours, along with an option for employees to work from home, using consumer IT devices of their choice. However, the company realized that security issues had to be taken care of. “The moment you let somebody work from outside of your premises, by implication, your data also moves out of the premises,” explains Prashanta Ghoshal, Geometric’s director for IT solutions and services

In the conventional desktop model, data is copied to individual machines, creating additional exposure. Ghoshal was keen to protect those end points. Further, Geometric wanted to reduce the time the IT team spent on hardware installation, reinstallation and management. “We evaluated various solutions and realized that desktop virtualization technology could potentially address all these issues,” says Ghoshal.

Choosing the right technology

Initially Geometric evaluated three virtualization vendors: Citrix, VMware and Microsoft. The organization finally zeroed in on Citrix XenDesktop for its 300 VDI users. “We looked at the performance levels, consumed bandwidth, manageability, and the total cost of deploying desktop virtualization technology, Moreover, Microsoft themselves suggested that Citrix was a better fit for our requirements,” says Ghoshal.

VDI licensing model in use

According to Ghoshal, the Citrix VDI licensing is simpler than VMware, as VMware View needs to run on VMware hypervisor and the licensing is based on CPU cores. Citrix XenDesktop runs on Xen or any other hypervisor for virtualization. Citrix has various levels of licensing options. “Once you select your level of licensing, it’s all based on numbers, rather than complicated calculation of CPU cores,” says Ghoshal.

The software licensing with Citrix is perpetual with annual maintenance. Elaborating on licensing costs, Ghoshal says, “By our own experience there aren’t any significant benefits or savings that come out of licensing models in desktop virtualization technology. VDI is a relatively new technology, and there are grey areas in licensing, which the vendors interpret to their advantage. Very soon, other vendors like Microsoft will modify their licensing policies.”

Considering the type of customers Geometric serves, the company opted for the Windows platform, along with standard Linux versions. Geometrics’ in-house IT team conducted the evaluation for the desktop virtualization technology. NetApp and Citrix were the implementation partners for this initiative.

Behind the scenes

There were several infrastructural updates that had to be carried out, including investment in high-end servers, storage and data center performance enhancements. Geometric decided on NetApp based storage with mixed deployment of both SATA and Serial Attached SCSI (SAS) drives, as SATA was cost effective and SAS was high performance. The SATA and SAS drives operate on NAS over NFS (network file system) protocol, with raw capacity of around 50 TB.

Geometric opted for multiple blade servers with clustered systems, choosing Cisco UCS blade servers with 2CPU Quad core blades and 96 GB RAM each. “We realized that we need around 256 Kbps connectivity at the end point device to operate successfully,” adds Ghoshal.

Managing desktop virtualization technology

Geometric has two administrators from the IT team managing the desktop virtualization technology. Activities with zero value addition (such as moving machines to people’s desks) have been completely eliminated now. Ghoshal feels that DR at Geometrics has also improved.

VDI essentially uses a software image, which is easy to back up and port. Desktop virtualization technology allows for snapshots on specific dates. The organization takes physical backups on tapes and ships them to offsite locations. In case of a disaster at a location, the same snapshots can be booted up from any location on standard hardware with miniscule effort.

Deployment obstacles  

The desktop virtualization technology deployment posed a few challenges. There was a definite learning curve. From managing physical boxes earlier, the IT team now had to manage virtual machines, and the associated sprawls. Users too were a bit unsettled by the change. “Users are accustomed to having their machines sitting in their cubicle, and having their personal data stored in the computers,” says Ghoshal.

There were some minor technical issues too, with respect to antivirus software and booting. Explains Ghoshal: “We run antivirus scans in the night. When we run the scan together on all machines, it poses a problem, and similar is the case with patch management. Also, if many users boot the system together, it leads to a boot stop. So one needs to stagger it to ensure there’s no sudden load on the system.”

Other benefits

Geometric enjoys several ancillary benefits from the desktop virtualization technology implementation. Now that data is stored on a central server, security is enhanced as servers are located in a secured environment with centralized management. As Geometric is using high-end data storage, which supports much faster cloning, data across the network can be copied easily.

Geometric has tested desktop virtualization technology on the PC, Macintosh and iPad. The advantage of VDI is that one does not have to worry about the end-point device configuration, as the device simply has to support the Citrix software.

Taking it forward

The breakeven for the desktop virtualization technology project is two years for 250 desktops. According to Ghoshal, as the number of desktops increases, the breakeven span shortens. “For example, for 600 desktops, the ROI payback period is around one year.” In the future, Geometric hopes to adopt an internal cloud, so that desktops are served out of that grid.