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Private clouds, desktop virtualisation offer data security, flexibility and ROI

When moving to cloud computing, as with any major project, the key to success is preparatory work.

It would seem sensible to establish what "moving into the cloud" really means. Anecdotally, this generally means renting an organisation's (i.e., Amazon or Google) computing power as and when you need it, rather than buying your own outright. The "public" cloud can be a cost-effective method, and not just for smaller organisations. However, the reality of moving to a public cloud infrastructure is that there's potential for unforeseen costs and risks.

According to recent surveys among early adopters, quality-of-service and support issues feature highly. For example, how about billing procedures? Despite the pay-as-you-go dogma omnipresent in our consumer world, the reality of handling monthly invoices in a corporate world is slightly different. Anything more complex and unpredictable than a purchase order and invoice can often cause issues.

Another challenge might be bandwidth. Any remote working needs to have universal acceptance from your users -- in other words, their experience needs to be as good, if not better, than what they were previously getting.

Virtualisation of desktops and applications in particular could be the answer to many issues.

Rupert Collier, e-business product manager at COMPUTERLINKS,

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And finally there is the challenge of data protection. You need to think about where your data is stored and who has access to it. Also, thought needs to be given to how you would get your data back if your cloud service provider goes pop or decides, for whatever reason, to stop serving you. Do you have constant access to your data for compliance purposes?

The benefits of private clouds and virtual desktops
There is another way to combine the benefits of cloud computing with the security and flexibility of keeping things in-house in a "private" cloud. The advantages of virtualisation technologies in the data centre can be explored further for applications, desktops and even hardware clients.

In particular, virtualisation of desktops and applications could be the answer to many issues. You may know it as virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), but VDI is just one way to provide a virtual desktop. There are many types of users, and VDI doesn't suit all of them, so "desktop virtualisation" is a broader term that envelopes all the possible technologies. The breakthrough year for mass adoption of desktop virtualisation may well occur in 2010, and several large rollouts in the latter months of 2009 support this hypothesis.

Centralisation of IT resources has resounded well with IT management for decades. Ask any IT administrator where all the company's servers are and he should know. Ask him where all the company's data is and he probably doesn't. For this reason, taking applications off the endpoints and delivering them from a data centre (server-based computing) enables not only a fairly confident response to the question of your data's location, but also markedly more streamlined IT management. Single instances of applications to patch, update and manage; older and newer versions of the same application running happily alongside each other; version upgrades for all users in seconds rather than weeks -- all these things promised a nirvana-type environment for the application guys. Now we can do much the same for the desktop.

Think of a typical scenario in today's corporate IT world. An operating system is customarily tied to a hardware device. A set of applications is then deployed onto that OS. The user's settings, whether personal in terms of the background picture of their family or corporate in terms of their permission levels, are also tied to that device.

With desktop virtualisation, all these layers of IT are loosely coupled, independent of each other and capable of being delivered to users wherever they are, whatever devices they are using to connect with and from whichever network that connection is coming in. Your employee logs in to his device and is instantaneously delivered the same desktop environment, regardless of whether he's using his aptop in Land's End, his PC in Peterborough or his iPhone in Inverness.

This is achieved by establishing the connection scenario first and then assembling the individual component parts appropriately within the data centre. One user may require simplicity and standardisation. Another user may require higher performance and personalisation. And yet another may require a mixture of the two. However, one thing all users want is a high-definition experience, even with high-res graphics or webcams. Any sea-change in IT will succeed only if the users accept it and, for that, you need reliability, performance and stability.

A good desktop virtualisation solution should be part of a carefully thought-out, end-to-end strategy that allows this level of flexibility. It is no silver bullet and does require upfront investment, but it pays for itself incredibly quickly. You will need to build your own cloud effectively -- a back-end infrastructure capable of delivering -- but how much does it cost you to run things today? An honest cost comparison should provide a tangible return on investment in a relatively short time. Using desktop virtualisation and private clouds, you can increase data security, improve performance and flexibility (Windows 7 upgrade for 1,000 users in one weekend, anyone?) and provide real value for your organisation.

Rupert Collier is the e-business product manager at distributor COMPUTERLINKS and a contributor to SearchVirtualDataCentre.co.uk.

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This was first published in December 2009

 

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