Virtualisation gets real as deployments increase

Queen Margaret University and the Co-operative Group are diving deeper into the virtual world
Written by Tim Ferguson, Contributor on

Queen Margaret University and the Co-operative Group are diving deeper into the virtual world

Virtualisation is becoming an established part of business IT as more organisations invest in the technology, and those already running virtual environments increase their use of it with new projects.

Virtualisation technology – which involves running a number of virtual servers or machines on a single physical server or the delivery of operating systems or applications to users from a datacentre - can offer benefits to CIOs including flexibility and cost savings.

Analyst Gartner estimates that four out of five enterprises now have at least one virtualisation project up and running: virtualisation is a key component of cloud computing, which is also driving uptake.

Gartner also calculates that just 25 per cent of all server workloads globally will be running on a virtual machine by the end of the year, as until now many organisations have only really dabbled in the technology. But there is evidence that increasing confidence in virtualisation and its benefits is fuelling further investment in the technology.

silicon.com spoke to customers at Citrix's recent Synergy customer conference in Berlin to find out how they are extending their usage of virtualisation to become more flexible and sustainable in the way they operate.

Queen Margaret University
Fraser Muir, director of information services and learning resource centre for Queen Margaret University explained how the institution has increasingly turned to virtualisation technology as it moves to a new campus in Edinburgh.

The university bills its new campus – which consolidated three separate campuses in 2007 – as the most sustainable in the UK and virtualisation technology played a key part in this effort.

Although the university has been using Citrix technology since 2004 this was only to deliver virtual applications using the Presentation Server software, now known as XenApp. Back then, there were relatively few players in the virtualisation market and Muir said it was "a no brainer for us to go with Citrix".

In 2005 Queen Margaret's started to use XenApp to move the university's desktop estate to thin clients. Around 95 per cent of all PCs have now been replaced with thin clients and the remaining PCs were those used for specialist or bespoke purposes by certain departments.

Using Citrix XenApp, a stripped down version of Windows XP is delivered as an application to Wyse thin clients so the users can barely tell the difference between the application version and the full operating system.

Muir added that thin clients generally last between six and eight years compared to three to four years for traditional PCs, meaning thin clients are the more sustainable option.

Thin clients also reduce heat output which means that the campus buildings could use natural ventilation rather than air conditioning to keep them cool. This has led to...

...around £1m of savings compared to the air conditioning that would have been required if traditional PCs were used. In addition, the reduction in the amount of electricity required to power the thin clients has also led to £50,000 to £60,000 annual savings in terms of energy bills.

The university also started to use Citrix Access Gateway technology in 2007 to allow more than 5,000 students and 500 staff, including those based abroad, to connect to the university network remotely.

The process of virtualising the university's servers started in 2007 using Citrix XenServer. The server estate was completely virtualised by the time the new campus was opened. The original aim was to have 12 virtual machines on every physical server – that figure is now 20 virtual machines per server.

Muir said the biggest challenge was getting users to understand the benefits of the technology, meaning the university's IT team engaged in an education effort to make sure people understood the benefits: "The technology is really easy but the people are hard," he said.

Muir is now planning a desktop virtualisation project in which the full operating system is delivered to thin clients from the datacentre. This will be to cover the PCs that weren't covered by the XenApp work and require a full operating system to provide the service needed.

Although Muir has generally been pleased with the Citrix technology he has one reservation, related to the needs of higher education institutions. "They could make licences cheaper," he said.

The Co-operative Group
Like Queen Margaret University the Co-operative Group was a mature Citrix environment before commencing its most recent virtualisation project.

Speaking to silicon.com, Dave Murrell, head of servers, storage and desktop services for the Co-operative group, said the organisation had been using XenApp for some time in many of its 13 divisions.

The Co-operative Group will use virtualisation technology more extensively in its new headquarters in Manchester

The Co-operative Group will use virtualisation technology more extensively in its new headquarters in Manchester (above)
Image credit: The Co-operative Group

Following the completion of the integration of the Somerfield supermarket chain into its business in late 2009, the group decided it wanted to use the IT resource that was freed up to pursue a desktop virtualisation programme using Citrix XenDesktop.

The IT team started to pilot the technology on Wyse and HP clients but was then informed about plans to move to a new headquarters in 2013. This provided a new driver for the desktop virtualisation programme as there would be 2,100 hot desks and 1,400 fixed desks in the new building.

Murrell told silicon.com the move to desktop virtualisation should save the organisation around £1.5m per year largely because it will stop employees buying and installing software that they don't end up using. By keeping the software in the datacentre, the addition of new software will be better controlled by the IT team.

Murrell's team aims to have completed the roll out of XenDesktop 12 months before the move into the new office and is on track to have around 1,000 users in eight departments using the tech by the end of the year.

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