Case study: How DER Deutsches Reisebüro GmbH & Co OHG won two VMworld Europe User awards

Best desktop virtualisation project winner of the VMworld Europe User Awards 2014, DER Deutsches Reisebüro, shares why it won

Being recognised for your smart approach to virtualisation is great, but winning two awards is even better. That is exactly the case for Sascha Karbginski, team lead for IT operations and support at German travel business DER Deutsches Reisebüro GmbH & Co OHG (DER).

The organisation has run its virtual desktops on VMware View since 2010 and was declared the winner in the best home office/remote office project category at the VMworld Europe User Awards in 2012. Two years later, Karbginski and his colleagues struck gold again, this time for their virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) project and a rapid migration to Microsoft’s Windows 7 operating platform.

“It’s a great feeling to win again – and my boss feels good, too,” says Karbginski. “The awards provide a great feeling for our IT department. We want to talk about the benefits that technology can bring to the business, and these awards offer proof of our abilities.”

DER has about 560 branch offices located all over Germany. Each office, says Karbginski, is a typical travel agency, where in-house experts offer flights, hotels, event tickets, cruises and all-inclusive tours to customers.

Within the sales process, the firm’s travel experts use small flash videos or pictures of the destination or event to help bring the product to life. Each branch office, therefore, runs a mix of office applications and lighter multimedia content. Karbginski and his team manage the decentralised use of IT from the head office.

Virtualisation delivers ongoing business benefits

“When we first started with virtualisation, the approach helped us improve support and cut recovery times from days to hours,” he says. “As we’ve pushed on with virtualisation, the strategy has allowed us to innovate without affecting normal business activities. The technology means we can bring resources together and automate IT deployments.”

During business hours, it is crucial that DER’s IT systems run without affecting the provision of services to customers. The branch offices are connected to a central datacentre via an asymmetric virtual private network line that runs at between 2Mbit and 16Mbit, depending on the number of desktops being used at any one time.

Karbginski says the recently completed Windows 7 migration has been both effective and cost-efficient. His small IT team – just two administrators and one developer – manages the entire virtual infrastructure that encompasses as many as 2,300 desktops. Three support specialists, who helped manage any queries from the firm’s in-house travel experts before, during and after migration, join these higher-level managers.

The organisation spent a month preparing the two master images for VDI, so the Microsoft Windows 7 roll-out would meet accepted best practices and outlined business needs. A subsequent four-week beta period with selected users helped Karbginski and his team to hone their approach.

At the same time, the IT department started to plan its Windows 7 roll-out strategy. Karbginski says the team spent many hours focused on a number of key areas, including scripting, automating internal processes and coding a bespoke front-end application for DER’s Windows 7 migration. The end result brought all scripts and database information together and helped the firm to reduce error rate during system implementation.

Migrating to Windows 7 quickly and without business disruption

For the roll-out itself, Karbginski says the key goal was to complete the migration as soon as possible, while minimising the potential impact to the business. The complete roll-out was finished in just six weeks.

“All the desktops had been virtualised during our earlier work, but we only had a short time frame to migrate to Windows 7,” says Karbginski. “Virtualisation allowed us to move quickly and to make changes outside of business hours. When our colleagues left the office in the evening, we were able to make changes after work. They were then able to return the next morning and their ability to work was unaffected.”

The small IT team at DER completed between 80 and 90 installations in a four-hour timeframe every day during the roll-out. To ensure targets were met, Karbginski temporarily extended his internal resources and used three students to help complete the transition using the firm’s bespoke migration tool.

Karbginski and his team completed a full backup of machine user data, including profile information, business application data, printer options and other personal settings. The backup was recovered on the new Windows 7 desktop, meaning workers around the business did not have to transfer any information, and a new system – with their preferred data and settings – was ready and waiting when they came into work.

“We can manage everything from the central IT department at head office,” he says. “Our support team is there to help the users if required, but virtualisation has allowed our small IT staff to often concentrate on new operational activities, which is another business benefit.”

Financial benefits and future virtualisation plans

Choosing virtualisation for the implementation of Windows 7 has also brought great cost benefits. Karbginski estimates that upgrading without virtualisation would have cost the business as much as €880,000, in terms of hardware investment and service provision. Going virtual has, in short, saved the business a large amount of cash.

“The financial benefit is great,” says Karbginski. “Without virtualisation it would have cost a lot more money to update the hardware and migrate the software. Our staff would also have had to experience downtime during business hours, which would have been a considerable cost to the organisation in terms of service.”

Karbginski is far from finished when it comes to his plans for virtualisation. He says DER has been investigating VMware’s next-generation image management technology, Mirage, to help push the benefits of desktop virtualisation to the firm’s laptop users. Mirage, he says, will allow the business to reach out to mobile users and to upgrade software remotely.

It will be just the latest stage in Karbginski’s innovative use of virtualisation across the organisation. “Winning awards is great for the team,” he says. “We relied on a limited amount of preparatory work and we still implemented virtualisation in the right way. We’ve combined new technology with internal processes and produced great results for the business.”

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