Treasury looks to Nutanix's VDI environment for workplace mobility

The Department of Treasury has signed a contract with Nutanix to install a virtual desktop infrastructure environment that will house core applications such as the Budget Management System.

The Department of Treasury has signed a contract with Nutanix, valued at approximately AU$2 million, to shift into a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) environment as a part of a move to replace its ageing fleet of 1,300 PCs that have reached end of life after five years.

Speaking to ZDNet, Ricardo Alberto, Treasury chief technology officer, said the department has been spending the last three months, following the proof of concept stage, replacing individual desktops in the agency, and part of that has been installing a Nutanix-based VDI environment. So far, the agency has managed to replace approximately 850 PCs.

The environment was designed and installed by Canberra IT services provider Qirx, which won the tender for the project.

According to Alberto, the Nutanix-based VDI environment has been created to act as a centralised datacentre environment featuring storage, computer, and memory, much like what would be expected to be found in any local desk-based PC environment.

"Basically everyone's desktop is now running in that environment. The hardware that supports the environment is the Nutanix hardware and that provides that hyper-converged platform, which integrates all three components into a box that is very scalable," he said

"If I need more desktops, I can bolt another Nutanix node on, and essentially I can add it to the cluster and I don't have to do much more. The whole cluster recognises there's another node and all the additional resources are now available across the fleet."

Alberto added that by moving into the VDI environment, the IT department is no longer required to deal with traditional architectural issues, for example, when new servers or storage area networks are installed.

At the same time, the treasury department has also installed a VMware-based software layer to allow users access to the VDI environment.

Alberto said by doing this, it avoids the need to have certain applications delivered on specific desktops, which previously forced staff to move between terminals to complete tasks. At the same time, mobile employees were previously inhibited as they could only connect to a limited number or "cut down versions" of applications while on the road, Alberto said.

Now with the virtual desktop environment, Alberto said it enables workplace flexibility and the ability for staff to work remotely.

"People aren't tied to their desks as much as they have traditionally. People do move around; the Treasury consults with others industries and financial institutions so there is a lot more mobility, and improving that mobility was one of our key drivers," he said.

"The other aspect was we wanted to be device independent because there are so many people. Everyone has a device today, and people like using what they're use to using. If you like a Mac or a Surface Pro, and it's very difficult to support all of them, so the strategy has been let's provide a solution that is platform independent, and people can have whatever they want and don't have to carry additional devices just to access Treasury."

However, Ricardo admitted moving the "couple of hundred" applications, including the Treasury's core Budget Management System, and other critical economic and tax modelling applications to ensure the compatibility with the new environment has been a challenge.

"The applications certainly have been the hardest part of it," he said.

"We have gone through and converted every application to run in this virtual environment to make sure we engage with business areas to test and make sure we haven't lost any functionality in doing that conversion. That has certainly been a much more lengthy process than we would have liked, but I guess having done that we're seeing the benefits of that."

He added the other benefits the Treasury has seen since beginning to move the applications has been the ability to roll out patches, in particular security patches, without having to physically visit every machine. Additionally, Alberto said that if a rollout does happen to go wrong, the Treasury can now roll back to the previous version.

With the project due for completion by the end of February 2016, Ricardo said the next phase will be finalising the replacement of its PC fleet, and making final decisions on whether to keep or replace certain applications that are incompatible with the new environment.