Forbes Marshall's journey towards desktop virtualization

Learn how Forbes Marshall is using desktop virtualization to centralize data management.

For an instrumentation company, its designs and blueprints are sacred. So it was important for Forbes Marshall Pvt Ltd to protect its proprietary designs and drawings that were spread across different PCs in the network. As a steam engineering and control instrumentation manufacturing company, the company with manufacturing facilities in Pune and Hyderabad found it imperative that it change the way it managed its data. The obvious way out was desktop virtualization.

As part of the initiative, Forbes Marshall's IT team first made a checklist of what is necessary when opting for desktop virtualization (in order to achieve a quick implementation). First came the number of desktops selected for virtualization. Next came the levels of security required in terms of data accessibility, since data is located at one central location. Third priority on this checklist comprised of the expected performance levels.

Deciding for desktop virtualization

According to Sharat Airani, Manager-IT, "Taking backup was a big problem. Controlling the data at one place was another. Designs were fully accessible (through CD, USB) and there was a danger that proprietary data could sneak out of the company. So we thought of putting it at a central location."

Airani and his team did not scout around too long and quickly decided on VMware. "VMware's earlier Version 3.5 suited us fine. The working pattern and straightforward mechanism of rolling it out made it simpler."

However, from the time of selection to installation, the company had to endure much. Airani says, "VMware 3.5 ESX requires certain sets of hardware platforms. The machines we chose for the trial were not listed on the VMware hardware list. Installation was not possible. So while we arranged it, the vendor was hesitant to give us a license to run them on a virtual machine."

The vendor's and its partners' concern was Forbes Marshall's decision to use the virtualization application on thin-clients as end-user machines to host desktops. Airani says, "People were unwilling to give us a license on operating pattern directly. One implementation partner came out to help us and we tested and tried the same for three weeks. End users certified the performance and their ability to use it." It was only after that the company decided on certified hardware platform from VMware.

The journey so far

The desktop virtualization went live in October 2008. About 10 desktops were virtually hosted on one server and about 25 servers run on virtual platform. Using thin-client, users access the desktops through RDP (Remote Desktop Protocol). The virtualization set-up is spread across two data centers in Pune. The company has Pune-based Sunfire Technology Group to attend to its services. The operating software is Windows XP.

Server virtualization was impromptu. VMware ESX runs on three different platforms. One is on a VDI bundle running on an IBM HS21 blade server with a quad core 2CPU of 2 GHz each with Xeon processor and 16 GB RAM. Another ESX enterprise version runs on IBM HS21 blade server with the same configuration. Apart from that, ESX enterprise runs on IBM HS22 blade server and 2.13 GHz with 20 GB RAM. The storage behind the set-up is IBM x3400 SAN with a fiber attached SAS enclosure. Currently, the server ratio is 12:1.

Security issues

A dreaded issue for network administrators is security, especially in desktop virtualized environment. Forbes Marshall has a network administrator 24/7 within and a well-established firewall.

The benefits cannot be overlooked. Earlier the company had 4-5 administrators round the clock. Now only 1-2 administrators manage the same infrastructure.

Going forward, Forbes Marshall plans to roll out desktop virtualization across engineering and design units. But Airani would like to do it a little differently. "We want to utilize it in a better manner in terms of performance. We need to test again the different level of authority that users have. We need to test on a different platform and then roll out accordingly."

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