As desktop virtualisation gains traction locally, companies not only save on hardware and maintenance costs, but flexible working opportunities mean less travel and a reduced carbon footprint.
This is according to Cary de Sousa, corporate account manager at Citrix Systems SA, who says desktop virtualisation is the next step in a transition that began with server consolidation. “In a South African context, a lot of companies are looking at refreshing their server hardware, and part of that is consolidation, driven by the advent of server virtualisation.
He adds a big driver lately has been cost savings, which virtualisation has made a reality. “Through server consolidation and a reduction in hardware, the amount of electricity and carbon emissions produced has seen a drastic reduction.”
De Sousa points out that server virtualisation and consolidation was probably the first wave. “The interesting space where this is going is the shift to desktop virtualisation. If you look at the number of desktops versus the amount of servers, there's obviously a huge difference, so organisations are looking at ways to cut down around the desktop in terms of power and energy costs.”
He says companies traditionally locked into a four- or five-year desktop refresh cycle are now considering bringing in thin client devices, instead of going the traditional PC route. “The main reason behind this is cost management, and from a power consumption perspective, you're probably looking at a 50% reduction on a standard PC.”
Desktop virtualisation is also enabling people to work effectively outside the office. “Because you're now managing the desktop in the data centre and no longer looking at the desktop as a physical device on the desk, you're breaking that association and allowing things like flexible working.”
De Sousa explains that by centralising everything, the device workers use to gain access becomes immaterial. “You can have someone at home accessing the desktop via their iPad, or laptop, or home PC. The point is, because they don't have to travel to the office, they save on petrol and can do what they need to do.”
He says the 'fishbowl mentality' of 'If I can't see you, you're not doing what you have to' is falling away. “Lots of companies recognise the fact that you don't have to be in an office to be working. Statistics show people who work from home are usually about 20% more productive.
“By not spending hours in traffic every day, you're killing the planet less because you're not using as much petrol and emitting carbon, you're not wasting hours running to meetings, and as a result you're actually more productive, with the work-life balance evening out.”
He adds the advent of desktop virtualisation means people can be anywhere and do what they need to. “These days, if you have a link to the Internet, you can log on to the system and access your desktop in the data centre. That's pretty much the reality, and the desktop-as-a-service mentality is starting to gain awareness within a lot of companies in SA.”
According to De Sousa, a growing trend is actual virtualisation on the device. He points to the 'Bring your own computer' programme rolled out at Citrix last year, where employees were given an allowance to buy their own machine, with certain conditions regarding specifications and warranty.
“You give people the device and allow them to do everything they want on it, download whichever applications and operating system they want. But, you then also install a virtualisation layer on it with the corporate operating system that is totally secure and locked up. Although the system is running on that machine, it will always back up to a copy in the data centre.”
Earlier this month, Citrix released XenClient, a client-side virtualisation product which allows centrally managed virtual desktops to run directly on corporate laptops and PCs, even when they are disconnected from the network.
“There's going to be a proliferation of more devices and people will be able to connect to their resources in a safe place regardless of where they are,” says De Sousa. “We're moving away from the mentality that a desktop is a piece of tin with a hard drive, chipset, and a motherboard that sits on desk, to something you access as a service.”
According to De Sousa, what's holding some local companies back is the fact that it's new, with many organisations very set around desktop management and going through a cycle. “A lot of companies running on legacy systems are at the stage where they have to re-evaluate their infrastructure and we see lots of them looking at desktop virtualisation.
“It can reduce the costs of desktop management by 20% to 30% and you're saving electricity and cutting down on IT staff needed to manage desktops and users. The only thing holding us back in SA is our adoption rate compared to global trends, but I think this will change in the next six to 12 months.
“A lot of people are testing things out, but when local companies have that 'a-ha' moment where they realise this is here to stay, the adoption rate will be pretty rapid.”
He notes it's become part of corporate citizenship to reduce one's carbon footprint and electricity consumption, with pressures to cut costs leading to an automatic move towards green IT. “A lot of organisations did a cost-cutting exercise first, and as a result, they're managing to tick off that box. By virtue of what they're doing to try and work smarter and utilise resources better, they're actually achieving some of their green IT initiatives.”
De Sousa predicts IT infrastructure management will become far more streamlined in future. “Many organisations spend a lot of money maintaining their desktop infrastructure, so when you take away the dependency on the device and turn the desktop into a service, companies will meet a range of goals, including reducing their carbon footprint, cutting electricity, and streamlining the work force.
“I think we'll get to that point in SA where productivity doesn't mean sitting in an office. It's about looking at what outputs we're generating by making people happier in what they do, spending less time coming to the office, and being able to achieve more with a better work-life balance.”