Desktop Virtualisation Success

Creating a business-lead IT transformation rather than an IT-lead business transformation was behind the NSW Ombudman's office success with desktop virtualisation

The NSW Ombudsman is an independent organisation whose job is to make sure that the government agencies they watch over fulfil their functions properly and improve their service delivery to the public. They are independent of government and accountable are to the public through the NSW Parliament. As such security and reliability are core requirements for their IT systems.

The entire organisation has about 40 staff with a small IT team. As they work across a number of areas of government they had accumulated seven different database systems - something that Anita Whittaker, the Director Corporate for the NSW Ombudsman saw as a priority. In addition, the network and other systems were unreliable and the staff was unable to improve service levels. Fortunately, as Whittaker explained, there was some turnover of staff and new team members brought a renewed vigour to service delivery. The new team also embraced and embarked on a move towards virtualisation.

"We decided to implement a virtualised environment. We ended up choosing vmWare View" said Whittaker. The project started with a server replacement program and then moved to a desktop replacement program. "We had a lot of discussions as to whether we should move to desktop virtualisation or not. Following the success of the server virtualisation project we were keen to proceed. But whereas servers are behind the scenes and somewhat hidden, desktops and desktop applications are in the view of staff so we needed to be a lot more cautious about how we wanted to proceed".

Because of compressed timelines, the decision was taken to replacing the existing desktop fleet with similar devices. However, this didn't stop Whittaker and her team from moving ahead so a desktop virtualisation trial was born. Whittaker explains that there were several motivations for moving towards virtualisation.

"Firstly, there's cost. But there were a range of other reasons. There was better management and control of desktops, security and management policies, remote access and easier migration to Windows 7 and beyond". Of those, the key feature that got users onside was remote access. The Ombudsman's office is subject to very strict privacy rules that make it an offence for security to be breached. However, that requirement for security needed to be managed against a need for reliable external access for staff that were in remote areas carrying work functions.

"VMware View delivers a network model that remote access but still provide the level of security required" said Whittaker.

Whittaker took the project to the organisation's security committee and was able to make a case for remote access that didn't compromise the security obligations of the business. With that bridge crossed, virtualisation of the desktops environment could proceed. However, Whittaker realised that her team wasn't resourced for adequately. She engaged virtualisation specialists The project team worked with the business to establish a pilot group for the desktop virtualisation project selecting both likely supporters of the change as well as skeptics. Although this was a risk it ensured that Whittaker's team had a realistic view of the pilot team's issues and some unlikely advocates once things moved beyond the pilot stage.

The pilot stage ran for about a month. In addition to regular communication, the IT team automatically referred all support issues, whether or not they directly related to the pilot to VCPro so that thorough analysis could be made and all pilot issue were addressed immediately.

Although the pilot was a success, it wasn't all smooth sailing. As part of the Whittaker identified an application she used that had been missed during the identification of use cases. One other issue with printing was found to be a user error. As the entire organisation is quite small, about 20% of the business was involved in the pilot and it lasted for about four weeks.

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