June 10, 2010 By Russell Nichols
In the biggest state in the U.S., IT officials at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) set out to shrink the $600,000 they spend per year on new desktops.
With more than 1,200 employees and nearly 40 field offices scattered across the state, the department aims to protect, maintain and improve the state's fish, game and aquatic plant resources. But the aging hardware stretched thin the department's budget and burdened its 13-person IT staff.
Rather than spend another year draining funds on new hardware, ADF&G chose to implement virtual desktops in order to deliver data, apps and processing to any device, anytime, anywhere across the state. Through virtualization, IT officials expect to extend the life of the department's hardware and repurpose $250,000 over the next few years from money that once went to hardware refreshes or to push other projects forward.
"In the rural areas of Alaska, we have sites connected with what I call 'third-world country' bandwidth," said Corey Kos, the department's infrastructure manager. "We needed a solution to keep us innovative and ease some of those bandwidth constraints."
To that effect, he said, virtualization provided a "catch-all" solution that eliminated the time it took to refresh hardware and the need for data encryption. To deliver virtualized desktops and applications on demand to employees statewide in disparate field offices, ADF&G deployed Citrix XenDesktop with FlexCast delivery technology and integrated app delivery with Citrix XenApp.
With virtualization, users can access virtual desktops and apps on a PC, Mac, laptop or a smartphone. IT staff can centrally manage desktops in Anchorage, Fairbanks or Kodiak from the main office in Juneau. Following the virtualized data centers and storage consolidation, this implementation marks the department's most recent effort to streamline services.
ADF&G also launched a pilot project allowing other state government departments to use its virtualization capabilities for on-demand access.
"We've built up the technology and service model," Kos said, "and there's such a need for state government agencies to save money, that instead of reinventing the wheel, we've extended our environment to make it something they could use."
As security remains a top priority in the digital age, the virtual desktop protects data because the technology keeps information centrally stored, rather than stored on the device, according to Dave Podwojski, director of government, education and health for the Citrix Public Sector.
"When you virtualize the desktop, nothing is on the device that you're using," Podwojski said. "Yes, you can break into my office and take my laptop, but what you've got is a device and that's it."
Compatible with biometric authentication such as iris scans and fingerprints, he added, the virtual desktop also comes with other security components to protect against malware.
Citrix has been in the business of virtualization for 21 years, but as an implementation, virtual desktops are relatively new, Podwojski said. But he acknowledges that some people might be skeptical, especially if their understanding of the virtual desktop comes from the early models. ADF&G is a prime example. Two years ago, the department encountered problems when it first leaped into virtual desktop computing.
"We found that it didn't scale as we had hoped," Kos said. "We started running into massive performance problems and didn't have the time to wait around for the system to mature."
The first virtual desktops, Podwojski said, were built around individual devices, requiring constant maintenance and a lot of storage. Now, he said, users simply set up a profile that gives them access to the data center, which contains one copy of the operating system and each app for the whole agency.
"Every device in the world is your office," he said, "as long as you have permission to use it."
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