With an annual technology spend of £1.5bn, the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) wanted to move 55,000 of its users to a virtual desktop platform to change the way its employees work and cut costs. Mark Diamond, CIO at RBS, shares his lessons learnt in building a business case for virtual desktops and "tying down" suppliers
RBS and Fujitsu signed a deal worth £240m in October 2010 to move 55,000 RBS users onto a new desktop transformation platform.
RBS had a legacy desktop environment with upgrades driven by the end of support of Windows XP. The bank's business case for desktop virtualisation was aimed at reducing costs and providing employees with the ability to work from home.
Speaking at Citrix's Synergy conference in Barcelona, Diamond says he spent 12 months building the business case for Citrix and Fujitsu. "It's complex and difficult to convince stakeholders that thin-client technology is good value when you've invested heavily in your legacy desktop estate," says Diamond.
"You have to articulate it into business 'speak'. The business doesn't care about tech jargon. The business does not understand technology. But it does understand that we need to change the way we work," he says.
Diamond says the annual cost for an employee seat in its London office is around €18,000. "If we can send half the employees to work from home for half the week we'll have some money to leverage."
In addition, he claims RBS gets 20-40% more out of staff in terms of productivity if they work from home.
RBS had 120,000 desktops it had invested in, with costs spread over five years. This meant re-using the desktops to complete the upgrade.
"Upgrading is a major problem as the asset is still on our books until it's written off. So we sweated the asset. If we re-used the existing desktop, the business case got more tangible," he says.
Legacy hardware was used as an entry point into Fujitsu's "desktop-as-a-service", Virtual Client Services (VCS), which is a hosted desktop virtualisation service that makes use of Citrix's XenApp as well as Microsoft, AppSense, ThinPrint and Changebase technologies.
The bank was concerned about blocking certain applications when users were working from home and data leakage. The project required a policy-based approach and its users' desktops across two datacentres in case one went down.
AppSense was used to control RBS's "blacklist" applications while ChangeBase was used to analyse which of RBS's application were ready to be virtualised. As a result, 95% of applications were virtualised.
Diamond says it's important to "nail down" service providers on costs through a "candid relationship".
"As we converted each desktop into a dumb terminal, we wanted to leverage the benefit of reduced support cost per unit. That was a challenge for Fujitsu. We wanted the equivalent of thin-client support for every fat client converted," he adds.
Fujitsu used a Juriba tool for Windows 7 migration planning and migrated RBS users from Microsoft Windows XP to hosted desktops (90%) and virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) (10%). Users now run Windows 7 on Microsoft's Server 2008 R2 64-bit RDS.
RBS also worked with Fujitsu to migrate 500 users a night, allowing users to "self-service" the migration and switch back to their old desktop if something went wrong.
Diamond says the project has taught him why IT projects often fail. "The reason for unsuccessful deployments is often due to following processes. Partner understanding of your internal governance is vital; you need to get a decent delivery team together and work with your partner to agree on joint objectives."
He adds that it's important to established the architecture and design framework at an early stage and review it regularly.
"Web applications need special attention too," he adds.
Diamond concludes that the company's plans to increase its offshored back-office functions in India will be helped by virtual desktops. "With the secure container model, we can offshore within regulations. Security will be less of a concern. Bring your own device will also be a real possibility," says Diamond.