Changing desktop delivery

Whoever wins the general election this year, the theme of government over the coming months and years will be one of spending cuts and deficit reduction. The 2010 budget, set to be unveiled at the end of March, will provide a blueprint for Labour’s answer to the debt crisis. Should they lose power later in the year, the Conservatives are expected to be even more ruthless in wielding the axe on the public sector.
    
The spiralling budgets of government initiatives have been a theme in the press, but they are not alone in challenging the perception of public sector IT. Stories of data loss, laptops left on trains, disks going missing as well as stressed and unhappy staff, all devalue the efforts of government to modernise IT and plan for the future.
    
It is crucial, therefore, that policy is dedicated to deliver solutions that can enact savings, enhance the security of sensitive data and raise efficiency in departments that may have suffered from redundancies, through solutions such as desktop virtualisation.
    
2010 is likely to be the inflection point for desktop virtualisation, changing the way desktops are delivered to the end user. It has been estimated that desktop hardware and software acquisition expenditure typically accounts for only 20-30 per cent of the total cost of a device, while the remaining 70-80 per cent consists of ongoing IT management. Desktop virtualisation removes the need to repeat numerous, maintenance tasks to ensure all desktops within an organisation are up to date with the latest patches, updates and upgrades.

Tightening the purse strings
An annual report by the Society of IT Management (Socitm), which represents public sector IT managers, recently showed that the financial resources available to local authorities’ IT teams are forecast to fall by 11 per cent in 2009-10, with cuts of 20 per cent in capital spending, 16 per cent in departmental spending and eight per cent in central IT spending.
    
It is therefore vital any savings that can be made through the implementation of technology are realised. The cost savings available to the public sector with desktop virtualisation are impressive. The Department of Work and Pensions, has recently committed itself to the solution. Based on technology from Citrix, this implementation with DWP is the single biggest desktop project in the UK, spanning the DWP’s 140,000 desktop computers based across 1,000 locations – a huge validation of desktop virtualisation technology.
    
Organisations can reap significant savings from virtually delivering and managing desktops centrally. In practice, it can enable businesses to realise significant savings in IT support and hardware costs, benefit from higher availability and productivity, as well as reduced electricity consumption, which will bring carbon footprint levels down significantly.
    
These potential savings serve to highlight an important point on the future of government IT. Back in 2008 it was announced that all of Whitehall’s computer systems would be wholly carbon neutral by 2020 by utilising various green IT strategies including the ability to deliver Windows desktops as a service to any user, anywhere and on any device. This plan included a pledge to make the energy consumption of government IT carbon neutral by 2012.
    
As the recession tightened its grip on the minds and wallets of both the public and government, the push for carbon neutrality, in the home, workplace and in government has been silently disregarded and pushed aside. It has been replaced by an overriding concern for austerity and thrift. However, desktop virtualisation offers cost and carbon savings hand in hand. Thus, a wider adoption of the technology is paramount to the enacting the promise of carbon neutrality throughout the entire lifecycle of government computing by 2020.

Pressure on resources

The recession has not only created a squeeze on public sector staffing levels across many departments, but has also increased the public’s need for basic services. As unemployment figures have spiked, the need for social security, careers advice and governmental support has increased sharply. The two factors of a decrease in staff and an increase in demand, led to Socitm to describe public sector IT as ‘stretched to breaking point’ in a recent report.
    
Although the report cited the financial constraints placed on IT departments as the most pressing concern for managers, the shortage of staffing is expected to increase in the coming months, creating further pressure across public services.
    
Implementing desktop virtualisation can mean considerable benefits for users, from greater flexibility to enhanced productivity and more responsive IT support. If you go about it the right way, you can deliver an experience that’s not only just as good as a physical desktop, but even better, with users feeling upgraded, not downgraded. This helps to ease the pressure on government departments and help to ensure that the demand for services can be met.

Where to start
The first step of a successful desktop virtualisation initiative is to make sure that users can still do everything they’ve always done at least as well as before, and that the transition proceeds as smoothly and seamlessly as possible. It’s a good idea to begin with simple processes that allow you to get comfortable with the basics of desktop virtualisation before moving on to more challenging areas. Front line staff and operational roles like HR and customer service are a good starting point, with relatively standard, text-based productivity applications and predictable tasks. Latency and bandwidth do not affect performance, and such users are unlikely to need more advanced applications or configurations.
    
As more applications move to the web, employees who do much of their work online could also benefit from desktop virtualisation. Browser bookmarks, saved passwords, history, cookies and other configurations can easily follow users wherever they log in, regardless of device.

Safeguarding data security
The advance of technology has not made life any easier for the cause of government IT security. In the past, private sector IT departments were primarily responsible for their company’s data security. It was a model driven from the bottom up – they were the ones who worried about devices, users, accounts and passwords. If a system got hacked and data was stolen, IT took care of it and only very rarely did this get escalated to the business.
    
IT’s security-centric culture is changing. Now, the key drivers for an organisation’s security are determined at board and executive level. The same can be said of government IT security, which has become a major issue for central government, as red faces in the cabinet over high profile data loss cases have led to policy being dictated from the centre. Today’s security landscape demands governance, risk management and compliance.
    
The problem becomes obvious when looking at where our data lives today – it’s everywhere. Staff store and maintain data in numerous formats. Printed or electronic copies in the office, in cars, in homes, on mobile devices; it is not easy for a government department to rein all of this in.
    
Data distribution becomes a concern when related to the changing culture in government workplaces. People increasingly expect to be able to use mobile devices like smart phones and if their employer won’t give it to them, they buy such convenience devices anyway. The risks are obvious: all of the user’s email and associated documents are on a mobile device that could be easily stolen, leaving open access to items that you would have had to infiltrate government buildings to get to just a few years ago.
    
Virtualisation eliminates the need for users to take data home on a laptop or copy it. Regardless of where they are or what type of device they have, they can access the same desktop, as well as applications, and data. We’re even getting into a situation where users could be issued a USB key that automatically authenticates them on the system and brings up the appropriate web resources. It’s there as soon as the user enters their credentials and they don’t even have to remember the website to go to any more. This makes things easier and more straightforward for the user. It gives them a lot of computing capability, while taking away the need to think about the organisation’s security policy and access scenarios.
    
Major Role
The concept of virtualisation – abstracting computer resources from physical ties and centralising an instance of the software in the data centre – now applies to a range of technologies including servers, applications, and desktops. Companies such as Citrix have made it possible for enterprises to choose how, and to what degree, they virtualise their servers, desktops or applications, or their entire IT infrastructure.
    
If government departments are to achieve cost savings, carbon neutrality and data security, then desktop virtualisation has a major role to play.

Patrick Irwin is product marketing manager at Citrix UK, Ireland and South Africa

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