Creating a low maintenance, full featured branch office using Desktop and Server Virtualisation

Comvision were asked to create a cost effective solution that would meet the following organisational needs;

  • Setup a branch office for 9 staff in a geographically isolated location
  • Provide remote staff with secure access to the same data and programs that are in use at head office, including databases and Email systems
  • Ensure that all data is included in the backups at head office
  • Require little to no onsite maintenance once the initial setup was complete while still being able to provide staff with general IT assistance

Comvision assessed these business requirements and it was quickly determined that the solution called for a Virtualised Desktop environment that would give the remote staff access to the same data and programs used by those staff at head office.

A Virtualised Desktop environment moves the operating system, software and processing load away from higher cost, higher maintenance desktop systems to a centralised Server, with the user connecting to this desktop via a low cost, low maintenance, low power ‘Thin Client’. The Thin Client acts purely to make the connection and provide input and output through the traditional mouse, keyboard and monitor etc.

The centralised Server would be located at the head office with the branch office staff connecting to this over a secure Virtual Private Network (VPN) connection. As they would be directly accessing data from the head office location and with no actual data being stored at the branch office this would ensure that all critical data would remain at the head office and be included in the backup and Disaster Recovery routines already in place.

As the branch office users would be connecting the same system that the head office users were, general assistance, troubleshooting and maintenance could be carried out in exactly the same manner as if they were located in the head office. As the Thin Clients are zero moving part machines with simple configurations, a dedicated replacement unit was stored at the branch office and could be easily connected by any staff member with no reconfiguration required to immediately return to work in the event of a failed unit.

Using the IT Asset Register that Comvision had developed for the organisation, they were able to identify that an additional 9 desktop systems at the head office were due for replacement immediately, with a further 20 due for retirement within the next 24 months. A Return on Investment (ROI) report was made by Comvision and it was found that the immediate replacement of the 9 desktop systems with Thin Clients and migrating future replacement to the same Virtualised Desktop environment would provide substantial savings on the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) through both capital replacement and ongoing maintenance costs.

Comvision configured a Dell Enterprise grade Server with VMWare’s vSphereTM to act as a host for the Virtualised Desktop system. Microsoft’s Remote Desktop Services (RDS) was employed to provide the Virtualised Desktop’s to the end users. An additional benefit of this installation was that the existing primary Server, which was nearing the end of its lifecycle could be Virtualised and migrated to this new hardware, saving further capital replacement costs.

The organisations software was installed and tested on the new Server and the configuration of user’s settings was changed to allow them to freely inter-operate on both the new Virtualised Desktop environment and the existing desktop PC systems.

The VPN link between the two offices was configured, providing a secure, encrypted channel of communication. To assist with the speed and end-user experience at the branch office a high speed Midband Ethernet connection was installed at the head office, providing data transfer speeds between the two sites of up to 20 times faster than that of a standard ADSL2+ connection. This additionally improved the generally teleworking capability of the organisation as management and staff were now able to work far more effectively from offsite due to the increased data transfer speeds.

At the conclusion of this project Comvision had provided a solution that met all of the organisations initial requirements and had additionally identified how the original scope and purpose of the project could be expanded to pro-actively improve the IT network through simplified centralised Virtualised Desktop management and deliver dramatic savings in capital expenditure over the next 5 years.

Comvision achieved the following outcomes from the project;

  • Setup of the full branch office with secure access to all software and data available at head office
  • Ensured that all data remained at head office and was included in the existing backup procedures
  • Provided a model that required little to no onsite maintenance but still allowed staff to receive IT assistance when required
  • Provided a platform that would easily support future business growth including additional branch offices and require far lower capital investment to setup
  • Simplified end-user and desktop management through a centralised Virtualised Desktop environment
  • Allowed for greater staff flexibility through the increased efficiently and effectiveness of Teleworking
  • Lowered the cost of future Server replacement through Server Virtualisation
  • Delivered a long term business IT strategy that would dramatically lower the TCO of desktop systems through extended lifecycles and lower capital investment, saving the organisation tens of thousands of dollars over the coming years