Terra Firma goes with private cloud for virtual desktops

A network bottleneck prompts Australian consultancy Terra Firma to shift its virtual desktop servers back in-house.

Two years ago, Australian business consultancy Terra Firma was growing fast. Managing a large fleet of laptops used in the field by its consultants, business analysts, and project managers was becoming increasingly difficult.

Remote access had to be facilitated, but managing software licenses and getting value from them was a particular challenge.

The costs were becoming unsustainable. Often staff were on contract for short periods but they all needed access to applications and data to do their work.

"We had to look at our Microsoft licensing, whether to use Microsoft 365, buy licenses and other options," says Terra Firma's IT manager, Ashley Watt.

For instance, every laptop had to have a licence for MS Project and diagramming application Visio. But some users would use Project extensively while hardly touching Visio.

Watt engaged Cloud Solutions Group (CSG) which suggested virtualising the applications using Citrix and using Microsoft's Services Provider License Agreement (SPLA) to ensure that applications were only paid for as they were used.

Initially the new Citrix virtual desktops were served from Ninefold's infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) platform in Sydney.

However, most of the data users needed was still in at Terra Firma's Melbourne headquarters, and there was a network bottleneck in the form of a 100Mbit/s pipe.

Those performance issues led Terra Firma to bring the servers back in-house earlier this year, still managed by CSG, effectively adopting a private cloud model.

"Having the servers on-site has really helped," Watt said. "The bottleneck was relieved."

Citrix's virtualised desktops posed an initial learning curve for users, Watt says, but they quickly came to appreciate the access they delivered, especially around the persistence of sessions. When users logged off in the office and logged back in elsewhere, the session they left was there waiting for them.

Desktop-as-a-service allows Terra Firma to scale desktop and application resources up and down as required. Staff and contractors can access all of their application and data anywhere in Australia using a mobile device via an internal Google Search appliance.

Watt says the technology saves on maintenance costs while allowing the people who are serving clients and earning money to do so as efficiently as possible.

Take-up by users has been good and the project is a success, Watt says.

"In saying that, if anything better came along, we are not averse to change. But we are happy."