Will desktop virtualisation be the final nail in the computer room coffin?

by Frank 1. January 2012 13:00

For years those of us with computer rooms and racks of servers and switches have struggled to keep everything up to date and running. The complexities inherent in what should be a simple task are often huge road blocks to progress. For those who haven’t had to suffer I recommend upgrading from Exchange 2003 to Exchange 2007.

In today’s overly complex IT world even experts have to call in experts and I have not met anyone who is on top of every issue. I have a saying, “if it feels too complex and looks too complex then it is too complex.”  Somewhere down the track we have taken a wrong turn. We have continued on a path that is getting steeper and steeper and eventually we will have to stop and say, “What am I doing here?” Just understanding and managing the multiple layers of security is a mind-bogglingly difficult task made even more incomprehensible with all the rapid fire service packs and upgrades that only seem to make the problem more and more complex.

The task of managing a company’s IT resources is just way too hard. It is at least ten times harder than it should be and needs to be. It also costs way more money than it should. It is a major restriction on progress and mobility. “We can’t do that because we would have to upgrade the network.” “We can’t move to a new, lower cost office because the cost of downtime and moving the computer room make it just too hard and too expensive.”

Is it just me or do other CEOs find it outright annoying that the part of our company that is just supposed to provide IT services is now dictating what we can do or not do? How did we let this happen? Why is the tail now wagging the dog?

I think we now have a viable solution with the availability of proven technologies in data centres and virtualisation. You can sell your servers and rent servers at the data centre or you can rent rack space at a data centre and move your servers. Even better, you can move to a new generation of virtualised servers and ‘thin’ desktops supported by new generations of software from organisations like VMware and ‘cut-over’ your company’s IT infrastructure from in-house compute room to off-site managed facilities and services to minimize risk and downtime.

For a fully transportable and mobile solution I would also move from my in house PABX to a new generation VoIP phone system. It would also be smart to replace in-house desktops with the new generation of ‘thin’ desktops that can be centrally managed far easier than traditional ‘fat’ desktop computers like the Dell OptiPlex range.

You will still need a way to connect to the data centre so you will have at least one broadband connection to your office and a switch or wireless network to support your staff. But this is a fraction of what you require with an in-house IT system and computer room. For example, you don’t need expensive air-conditioning and fire systems and very expensive redundant power supplies. Depending upon the topology of your offices you may get away with wireless or you may need to cable but again at a fraction of the cost of equipping and managing a fully-fledged computer room.

What about disaster recovery? What about the critical requirement to keep running your business even if your building burns down? A note to IT managers, “backups are not a disaster recovery plan.” Every CEO has to ask the question, “How would we run our business if the building burns down?”

If you have moved all your servers to a professional and certified data centre, virtualised your desktops and moved to a VoIP phone system then you can continue to run your business even if your building burns down. Your staff can connect securely via your VPN from their home networks or even from Starbucks. You could also have equipped all key staff with broadband modems for just such an emergency so all they have to do is plug the modem into the USB port of their home computer or laptop and connect.

I am excited about the possibilities of this approach because like many CEOs I am tired of having to solve the ongoing problems of an in-house IT setup. I am tired of my in-house IT dictating what I can do and not do. I am tired of the tail wagging the dog. I am ready to change and I have already begun speaking to my friends at Dell about virtualising my whole IT operation in 2012.

What’s next? Well, once I have virtualised, moved my IT resources off-site and switched to the latest VoIP phone system  I can probably do away with a great deal of the office space I now occupy. There is no reason that most of the work my staff do couldn’t be done from home. I can rent meeting rooms and training rooms when I need them and maybe even maintain a small serviced office for my sales force in the city. Managers and their staff can meet once a week in a serviced office and we can communicate ‘visually’ using Skype or Facetime or any number of similar services. It just takes some thought and a little reorganization and some new policies and procedures but it is eminently doable.

Yes there is a cost of moving to the new virtualised environment but there are also significant cost savings to offset those costs. I am working on a plan and budget at the moment and I will let you all know how it works out in a future blog. We will get there in 2012 and I am looking forward to an interesting journey.

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