VDI technology rollout at Sterlite Technologies reaps rich dividends

Sterlite Technologies deployed virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) technology, and was rewarded with cost and energy gains. Here’s how they went about it

If the mission of your company is to “connect every home on the planet”, you’d better make sure that your internal IT structure facilitates (rather than hinders) that impressive goal. Sterlite Technologies, which provides transmission solutions globally, had precisely this consideration in mind when it decided to deploy virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) technology at its new Aurangabad plant, while preserving and protecting the confidential data spread across it many computers.                  

Nitin Doshi, who heads the IT and business systems function at Sterlite Technologies, says, “Ranking fifth for integrated optical fiber plants and with a turnover of Rs 2,500 crore, we’re among the few manufacturers to have patents in our name. As a green IT initiative, we chose VDI technology to secure confidentiality and save energy in the new plant.”

After evaluating desktop and server virtualization products, VMware’s vSphere 4.10 was chosen over Citrix XenDesktop. Factors in favor of VMware were manageability, better fault tolerance, and high availability.

License advantages

VDI technology is beneficial for Sterlite, due to the comparatively higher cost of OEM licenses. “Licensing cost of a single desktop for Microsoft is around seven times the annual cost for Microsoft VDI licenses. OEM license provides no upgrade path, and it dies with the product lifecycle,” says Doshi.

Yearly VDI contracts ensure operating system upgrades with every new license, and there are also downgrade options for users. A single license key (instead of several for each desktop) makes paperwork easier. Sterlite Technologies has 50 VMware VDI-licensed users and 50 Microsoft VDI licenses for its 100 thin clients from Wyse Technology. Doshi credits the involvement of operations head Sanjit Bhatia in receiving management approval for deploying the relatively untested VDI technology.

Implementation challenges

Sterlite’s VDI technology deployment had its own challenges. “Creation of master images was a challenge. User data backup was another. We created a different drive for user data which will back up centrally from the SAN daily,” says Doshi.

User apprehension due to privacy loss posed impediments as well. “Awareness that data is stored in a remote server instead of their desktops, led to a fall in the percentage of private data stored on the devices,” explains Doshi. “Realization that someone is monitoring their data made them anxious.”

Under the hood

Sterlite Technologies opted for EMC CLARiiON AX4 storage with dual controller and fiber channel connectivity and a raw storage capacity of 5.5 TB. Sterlite preferred EMC, as it offers four FC channels per controller. Hot spare hard disks are reserved, and everything runs on RAID, thus eliminating any single point of failure in the VDI setup.

There’s cap on the storage of each thin client. In case a user’s resource utilization reaches 90% (the threshold), the administrator can allocate more resources. The VDI technology deployment is managed by a single executive who is alerted on problems or failures for immediate addressal.

Deploying both server and desktop virtualization proved cost effective. Sunil Baldua, CEO, Microlink Infrastructure Management Pvt. Ltd (technology and implementation partners for Sterlite Technologies) says, “If one server fails, it will switch to the next. If the hardware fails, the part is replaced for smooth functioning. We ensured a 1 Gbps bandwidth connection throughout the plant, with HP Procurve fiber switches to ensure high connectivity to the users.”

Networking allowed scalability up to 250 VDI users. VMware offers up to eight VDI users per processor per core; Sterlite preferred having just five, 30% lower than the total capacity.

SAP, internal applications written in Visual Basic, SAP Business Objects and Web-based textcourse.com are the programs running on the servers. According to Doshi, application installation is easy post the VDI technology rollout. “It’s performed directly in the central server and pushed out to the users. Being centralized, the applications were used from our old plants, with seamless connection to the new plant.”

Advantages of VDI technology

The total cost of networking, licenses, thin client, server and desktop virtualization came up to Rs 50 lakh. Sterlite estimates the breakeven for its VDI project to be achieved within two years.

The main advantages that Sterlite derived from its VDI technology implementation are:

  • Desktops can be created and deployed quickly.
  • Data is protected, controlled and managed centrally.
  • User data is protected even with an OS change, as it is stored separately from the OS.
  • Power consumption of a thin client is 7 watts, as opposed to 200 watts for a regular desktop.
  • Users can access their data on any thin client in the plant, using the allocated ID and password.
  • Booting time is reduced to approximately 20 seconds from two minutes, as the machine in the background is activated.

Depending on the success of its first VDI technology initiative, Sterlite Technologies plans multiple virtual environments at different locations. “We will setup DR for each site. If a desktop user in one site goes down, he can access his desktop on a second site,” concludes Doshi.

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