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Photo: iStock

Doing away with traditional desktops at iGate

With virtual desktops, a desktop operating system is hosted within a virtual machine that runs on a centralized server

Almost two years ago, IT services firm iGate Ltd, now a part of French IT services firm Cap Gemini SA, thought of replacing traditional desktops with virtual desktops in a phased manner for all its more than 31,000 employees that are spread over the globe.

However, it had to ensure one important thing—that it provides the same, or even better, user experience compared with a physical desktop solution.

Each project in iGate has its own specifics. This requires standard desktops to be customized to cater to the needs of each project. Besides, it helps a mobile workforce with their own devices to access the desktop from anywhere.

“We had traditional desktops deployed for all our employees. Be it a call centre or any other application-related services, there was a dedicated desktop for each employee. With all the users having a standard configuration, we thought this was not the correct way of deploying resources. Hence, we decided to implement a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI)," said Deepu George, assistant vice-president of IT at iGate.

VDI is the practice of hosting a desktop operating system within a virtual machine that runs on a centralized server. Solution providers include companies such as VMware, Citrix and Microsoft Corp.

IGate evaluated multiple industry solutions, but “Citrix met all the requirements, be it adequate performance in high-latency environments, shared desktops and mobility, etc.," George said.

Once it decided to leverage the Citrix XenDesktop, iGate started rolling out the solution in a phased manner.

“We started implementing Citrix XenDesktop at the end of 2013, and it took us about 12 months to complete the first phase from end-to-end (testing and production). By the end of the first phase, we had migrated 3,000 users onto the new solution," recalled George.

These 3,000 users span across BPO (business process outsourcing), trainings, projects and shared services. The deployments are in Delhi (BPO), Mumbai (training), Bengaluru (internal users and shared services) and North America (project users). The Citrix XenDesktop has been deployed on a variety of different platforms, including those from Dell, Hitachi and Cisco. The thin clients (computer terminals that do not have a hard drive, but store the data on a server and access all applications from the latter) that employees use are primarily from HP and Dell.

One of the advantages for iGate was the shorter provisioning time. “Citrix XenDesktop hybrid cloud provisioning enables IT to dynamically provision desktop workloads from public (Internet), private (on-premise) and hybrid (mix of on-premise and Internet) clouds, leveraging the Citrix CloudPlatform, powered by Microsoft Hyper-V. This has impacted productivity in a positive way. Besides, we also don’t need to provide security patch-ups for individual desktops," George pointed out.

As the virtual desktops are centrally maintained in the data centre, the risk of data loss or intrusion when delivered to any device is also greatly reduced. Access remains secure while intellectual property and sensitive private information stays safe.

That does not mean introducing a virtual desktop environment is a smooth exercise. “People are used to seeing physical desktops. However, once we demonstrated all the features of the new solution, they gave us feedback that it was better than a traditional desktop," said Aravind Kumar, group manager (IT) at iGate.

XenDesktop enables instant mobilization of Windows apps, making them available on any device, anywhere. This cut transaction times of traditional client-server applications “by as much as 300%. Employees can work remotely, thereby getting the much-needed flexibility", he said.

“The additional benefits that have accrued for us include compliance, easier management and green IT (by using thin clients)," Kumar added.

However, while desktop virtualization is one of the best methods for ensuring security of data and compliance, companies find desktop virtualization more expensive than buying a desktop, according to Vishal Tripathi, a principal analyst at research firm Gartner Inc.

The reason, he explained, is that with desktop virtualization comes a suite of software and services necessary for virtualization that increases the overall expenses. It also demands a ramp-up in infrastructure like storage capability as well as enhanced network bandwidth.

“The other big issue is that it doesn’t have an offline access. In areas with poor connectivity, if you try to use your telecom network to log on to the server, it doesn’t translate into a good user experience, specially when all the user gets is an image to work on. Also a lot of applications are not meant for touchscreen, they require keyboard to work on. In those cases as well, it poses a challenge," said Tripathi.

Regardless, iGate and Citrix are working on rolling out the Citrix XenDesktop at the former’s new training centre in Pune. “We are looking at eventually having 8,000 users on XenDesktop. We have also just initiated discussions around business continuity using virtual desktops, and are also looking at leveraging Citrix NetScaler," George said.

This article is in association with CXOtoday.com, a property of Trivone.

Mint’s Moulishree Srivastava in New Delhi contributed to this story.

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