Numerous Federal, NSW and Queensland government agencies have already virtualised their desktop environments, or are intending to move to virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), an Intermedium survey has shown.
Potential use of desktop virtualisation is included in the Federal Department of Finance’s whole-of-government Common Operating Environment (COE) discussion paper and in the NSW and Queensland whole-of-government ICT strategies.
However, the varied approaches to VDI, including the scope of implementation and decisions about insourcing or outsourcing the hosting of virtual infrastructure underscore the agency-specific nature of desktop virtualisation.
“The form of virtualisation best suited to the agency will be dependent on factors such as the infrastructure available and the network bandwidth,” according to the COE discussion paper.
The Federal Department of Health was one of the earliest to implement VDI, with the rollout of virtual desktop completed in July 2012, according to a spokesperson from the Department.
Health is using a model where its “current infrastructure service provider hosts and maintains the virtual desktop infrastructure”, said the spokesperson. The Department outlined a number of benefits that it anticipates through this model:
- Cost savings in comparison with an equivalent PC solution;
- Improved performance for most applications and services, particularly in State and Territory Offices and for remote access clients;
- Greater mobility and ‘hot desking’ capabilities;
- Improved business continuity capabilities; and
- The increased ability to respond to Machinery of Government (MoG) changes or urgent requirements for additional capacity.
In contrast to Health, most other Federal agencies who responded to the survey are using in-house VDI.
The Department of Human Services (DHS), which began a limited virtualisation of desktop environments for developers across “DHS master programs” in July 2013, told Intermediumthat “the Department’s VDI is managed entirely in-house due to the sensitivity of the data we hold and the existing capabilities of our highly skilled internal workforce”.
DHS’s Child Support program was the first to be transitioned to VDI, and the wider virtualisation is “expected to be complete by the end of 2013”, according to the DHS spokesperson.
“The two main benefits to the organisation [of desktop virtualisation] are increasing the security of the desktop environment and centralised management,” said the spokesperson.
“Virus management can be carried out in-house in a central location.”
Central housing of software and applications also removes the need for constant hardware updates on individual desktops, according to the spokesperson.
The Department of Defence (Defence) anticipates similar benefits from its Next Generation Desktop project, which includes “virtualisation of a significant percentage of Defence’s desktop environment”, according to a Department spokesperson.
The Next Generation Desktop project commenced in 2012. Its total cost to date is estimated to be around $60 million, with an expected completion date in August 2014.
A pilot implementation of VDI commenced in 2012, with “key anticipated benefits [relating] to improved security and management, reduced desktop infrastructure and reduced costs”. This includes a reduction in the server rooms needed to support Defence’s desktop ICT infrastructure, which also relates to the Department’s ongoing data centre reform program to consolidate the number of Defence facilities from over 200 to fewer than 10.
Defence has opted for in-house hosting of its virtual desktop infrastructure.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) is also utilising VDI “to support aspects of our operations domestically and globally”, according to a spokesperson for the Department. As with Defence and DHS, its VDI is hosted in-house.
In addition, both the Federal Department of Finance and the Attorney-General’s Department have indicated their interest in undertaking desktop virtualisation in the future.
“We are considering this option…as priorities allow,” said a spokesperson from Finance. “Other higher priorities have taken precedence.”
The Attorney-General’s Department has begun assessing VDI options in the context of being “focussed on deploying ICT solutions that are aligned with our business requirements”, according to a spokesperson for the Department. “We are currently reviewing our desktop deployment strategy and assessing options including virtualisation.”
The NSW Department of Finance and Services (DFS) has introduced VDI in the Office of State Revenue (OSR), but its use is limited to OSR regional centres.
“Objectives were to provide contemporary workplace services to staff in six regional locations that would deliver improved performance, aid workforce mobility, simplify operational support and result in lower costs to operate,” a spokesperson for DFS told Intermedium. “These benefits are being realised.”
Although the infrastructure is currently hosted internally in OSR, there are plans to migrate VDI services to one of the whole-of-NSW-Government data centres in the future.
The benefits of VDI are included in the NSW Government ICT Strategy 2012, which states that “taking advantage of virtualisation, sourcing as a service and cloud technologies will improve the Government’s ICT infrastructure platforms to provide more agile, better and more efficient services”, so Finance’s success with VDI could set a precedent for wider deployment of virtual technology both within DFS and in NSW Government agencies generally.
The NSW ICT Strategy Implementation Update 2013-14 sets out the aim of developing virtualisation guidelines for data centres by the end of 2013.
“The ICT Procurement and Technical Standards Working Group will consider the current business applications common to agencies as they migrate into the government data centres. This will provide the opportunity to identify the most efficient and competitive range of whole of government applications,” says the Update.
In contrast to Finance’s experience, the NSW Ministry of Health currently has no plans to shift to a VDI environment.
A spokesperson for HealthShare, the primary provider of support services to NSW Health, told Intermedium that “HealthShare NSW does not currently use desktop virtualisation and there are no plans to change that.
In contrast to NSW Health, the Queensland Department of Health has indicated its intentions to approach the market for outsourced desktop virtualisation services in early-2014.
“There are plans to develop a virtual desktop solution which will be acquired as a managed service, rather than developed and managed internal to Queensland Health in line with the Queensland Government ICT strategy,” said a spokesperson for the Department.
An Invitation to Offer (ITO), expected to be released in the first quarter of 2014, will be for a wider Health managed services arrangement that will include virtual desktop, according to the spokesperson. An early market engagement process has already begun to inform the upcoming ITO.
The Department of Transport and Main Roads (TMR) is also in the process of adopting a VDI solution.
“TMR is in the process of undertaking a six-month pilot to define the business benefits and savings for implementing desktop virtualisation”, a spokesperson for TMR told Intermedium.
“TMR does not currently use external hosting [but] before implementing a final solution, TMR will investigate a range of hosting options under the Queensland Government’s contestability model.”
The Queensland Department of Education, Training and Employment (DETE) has also opted for an internally managed VDI solution that has been in production for four years, the Department’s Assistant Director-General, Corporate Services David O’Hagan told Intermedium.
“DETE currently has a 300 seat virtual desktop environment within its corporate network.
“This implementation was primarily developed to support remote workers and to provide agility of work units in the event of a disaster recovery scenario.”
These expected benefits have been realised during the floods and cyclones of recent years, during which “DETE was able to continue to deliver services despite many staff being unable to access their physical office locations”, said O’Hagan.
“The Department’s ICT Service Centre was rapidly relocated during the 2011 floods and utilised the VDI remotely for business continuity.”
The decision to internally manage the Department’s VDI technology is primarily linked to operational factors, according to O’Hagan.
“DETE does not currently utilise externally hosted VDI. Bandwidth limitations and options to remote Queensland Education sites further lessen the feasibility of externally hosted managed VDI services.
“DETE will continually assess and evaluate the environment for VDI opportunities and solutions for the future.”
The Queensland Government ICT Strategy 2013-17 identifies the benefits of desktop virtualisation as including “greater flexibility, and…reduced cost to government”. From December 2013, agencies are expected to begin the process of accessing options to purchase commodity ICT, including desktops “from the market as-a-service thereby reducing the ongoing need for departments to manage commodity ICT in house”.
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