Jim Russell, vice president of public sector, Symantec/Photo courtesy of Symantec Jim Russell, vice president of public sector, Symantec Photo courtesy of Symantec

Photo: Jim Russell, vice president of public sector, Symantec/Photo courtesy of Symantec

As budgets tighten and public-sector agencies face increased scrutiny due to spending, virtualization is transforming the endpoint and data center by increasing utilization rates, reducing energy consumption and driving down costs.

As a result, many public-sector agencies are moving outside their comfort zones to explore virtualization as a viable alternative. The goal of virtualization and other emerging technologies is centered on doing more with less - a promise that is hard to ignore in these economic times. The following are benefits government agencies can expect when implementing virtualization:

1. Increasing Cost Efficiency

Server and endpoint virtualization offers government agencies a streamlined, automated and cost-effective way to deploy and support both computing resources and users, while also meeting regulatory requirements for privacy and reporting.

A recent study by MeriTalk, a federally focused, online IT network, found that virtualization could bring $13.3 billion in savings, including $1 billion from the U.S. Army, $880 million from the U.S. Department of Justice and $592 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In addition, Andi Mann, research director at Enterprise Management Associates, noted that 90 percent of enterprises report real and measurable return on investment (ROI) from virtualization in general. This translates into renewed opportunity for agencies to leverage virtualization as a cost-saving measure.

However, simply saying virtualization helps users be more productive and reduces IT management costs doesn't mean it actually does. Below are some examples of how virtualization technology can help businesses save money today:

  • Optimizing license management: Tracking license compliance and reharvesting unused licenses can be a significant drain on IT resources, and allowing unused licenses to sit idle can be even costlier. Endpoint virtualization, in addition to providing all the benefits of virtualization, can also give IT the ability to centrally manage and dynamically track licenses and ensure license compliance.
  • Reducing user downtime related to application conflicts: Because virtualized applications are isolated both from other applications and the underlying operating system, the need for predeployment testing is eliminated, and the processes associated with application deployment, version changes and updates are significantly accelerated. All of this equates to improved application maintenance, reduced supporting costs and also increased user productivity due to less downtime waiting for IT to update applications and solve conflicts.
  • Lowering user downtime due to application recovery: Occasionally an application crashes despite being isolated from the rest of the system due to an outside cause. For example, a Web browser that encounters an issue while being used to do research online. With endpoint virtualization, that Web browser can be virtualized so that the problem that application encounters will not affect the rest of the system. Additionally the program can simply be reset and returned to the normal operating state without having to be reloaded. This can even be done by the end-user, allowing instant self-remediation.

2. Mitigating Vulnerabilities Through Better Security

The ability to telework assists government agencies in becoming more efficient. According to a December 2008 government study on telework, most federal agencies' telework programs have either expanded or held steady since 2006.

However, this same ability can pose security challenges. As agencies across the government are directed to keep their communications transparent, they must find a way to keep the information secure.

Agencies are finding that a well managed workspace is a secure workspace. Technology such as virtualization helps IT departments in the public sector set up solid endpoint controls. Leaving security to users can be dangerous so having controls in place to secure agency information is essential.

However, protection solely on the endpoint is comparable to one hand clapping. We must protect the information and sensitive data that resides on servers as well as endpoints. Data loss protection (DLP) technology can help protect sensitive information from leaving an agency's or organization's enterprise.

3. Improving Agility

Virtualization helps workers in government agencies become more agile by providing the ability to telework from any location. With streaming technology, government employees can access their applications anywhere, anytime, on-demand. That access drives agility and is a direct contributor to an agency's top line. This approach, which requires only a single connection and efficiently utilizes server and connection resources, ensures that users obtain consistently reliable access to an agency's applications and data.

IT can also ensure consistent user experiences regardless of what device is being used. Follow-me capabilities tie workspaces to users instead of devices. This enables IT to efficiently deliver tailored workspaces to all of its users.

4. Using IT Hours More Efficiently

For teleworkers, it is essential that they have easy desktop access and management capabilities. In the past, managing this access was tedious and time consuming. Now, many government agencies have eliminated much of the manual work associated with application management by deploying virtualization technologies, saving thousands of technician hours each year.

An aspect of virtualization that has saved IT hours as well as help agencies stay in line with their budget initiatives is central management. Central management lets government IT professionals service users and devices while minimizing desk-side visits. For example, centralizing control and enablement of single sign-on, automatic password rollover and self-service password maintenance options help IT resolve password issues more quickly and easily.

Centralization also enables IT to quickly resolve any locked desktop issues that may arise. IT can instantly terminate the user's session, and the user can then simply re-authenticate. In addition, location awareness capabilities ensure that documents will always print on a printer close to the workstation, avoiding help desk inquiries and increasing user productivity.

In addition to centralization, storage management is another avenue for saving agencies time and money. There are many benefits to storage virtualization which can help government agencies to:

  • reduce data center complexity and improve IT productivity by managing multiple physical resources as fewer virtual resources;
  • meet rapidly changing demands by dynamically adjusting storage resources across the information infrastructure;
  • increase the efficiency of storage by letting files be stored wherever there is room rather than have some drives go underutilized;
  • guarantee anywhere access for disaster recovery applications;
  • spend less time managing storage devices since some chores can be centralized; and
  • provide one view into the data center.

5. Simplifying IT Initiatives

Virtualization, both at the endpoint and in the data center, can simplify the workspace and server environments while allowing government agencies to focus on strategic initiatives and information assurance. By streamlining daily tasks, less time will be spent managing endpoint and storage devices, and more time can be spent addressing agency needs.

Many enterprises are well known for having complex, heterogeneous IT environments, and government agencies are no exception. There is tremendous opportunity for agencies to simplify and benefit from virtualization.

In tough economic times, efficiency is essential. Virtualized environments will free IT resources from the many challenges that plague traditional desktop environments and allow more productivity and better ROI from your existing IT investment. Virtualization also has a positive impact on an agency's IT budget. By using virtualization, government agencies can make a sizable dent in escalating IT costs while improving server manageability as well as transparency and security.

By decoupling the user experience from the underlying computing environment, virtualization can help organizations reduce costs. This separation makes it easier for IT to manage and troubleshoot problems. It also lets users be more productive by removing the tether binding them to one device. In addition, when problems occur, virtualization reduces the time it takes to get users back online and functioning.

Jim Russell  |  Contributing Writer
Jim Russell is vice president of public sector for Symantec, responsible for providing leadership and customer satisfaction to federal, state, local government and educational institutions. Prior to joining Symantec, he served as IBM's business unit executive overseeing IBM's software solutions to the federal government. Russell has also worked for Tivoli, Informix and Legent/Computer Associates.