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Virtualization Creates Win-Win for County Budget, Library Patrons

The Orange County, Calif., Community Resources' cross-department virtualization upgrade has saved the city time and money.

by / July 21, 2015

When it came time for Orange County (OC), Calif., Community Resources to implement a cross-department virtualization upgrade at the same time as a PC refresh for its 33-branch library system, IT Director Clyde Gamboa created a solution that offered the best of both worlds for its 25-person IT team.

Instead of purchasing 850 public access desktops and an additional 400 internal staff PCs, the IT staff repurposed the machines as thin clients and delivered virtual desktops and applications via Citrix XenDesktop. Concurrently the IT team — who works across four different county departments — integrated infrastructure to support existing virtual services for all four agencies, eliminating a separate upgrade.

“When the public libraries were coming up on the refresh cycle and our virtual environment was coming up for a host upgrade, I thought these two projects can come together,” Gamboa said. “I thought we shouldn’t buy $1 million worth of PCs and instead do something more high tech.”

Formerly, OC Public Libraries would refresh all machines at one time across 33 branches every four to five years, which cost about $1.2 million. And the mass of PCs created a drain on the IT team’s capital and human resources.

“Staff would have to go out to the branches to re-image the machines over and over again,” Gamboa said. “That’s a lot of logistics and traveling.”

For the virtualized desktops and applications, the IT team developed three system images: one for public Internet machines, one for database search machines and one for internal staff systems. When an update is necessary — for example, a new version of an application — the staff retrieves the corresponding image, makes the upgrades, and uploads it back to the servers. When the machines reboot, each desktop upgrades across all 33 locations.

“When we just have to patch one image,” Gamboa said, “it’s just a huge amount of labor savings moving forward.”

Some patrons would conduct personal business on the machines, unaware that Internet history, private passwords and personal data could be saved and at risk. Launching a brand new, virtual desktop image for every user session reduces the risk of patrons inadvertently saving compromising data on public access machines.

“The service is quicker and better, and there are less headaches for the local staff,” Gamboa said. “The library staff does not have to be mini PC technicians. There’s almost no IT presence at the local branch — it’s all at the data center.”

The initial concern for virtualization was the number of niche library applications utilized on the machines, many of which are not enterprise applications. Following a design consultation, OC Community Resource implemented a proof-of-concept demonstration and a pilot project at a medium-sized branch.

“As we marched through the applications, we had a solution for all of them,” Gamboa said. “And the branch was pretty happy with the pilot. The initial changeover brought some performance gains to them.”

Additionally the Community Resources IT team saved $660,000 in PC purchases, as well as $125,000 via FlexPod, a networking and storage solution that supports its existing virtual services.

“Payback was less than a year because of not buying the new hardware, and reusing our current machines and turning them into thin clients,” Gamboa said. “The return on investment was really simple: We had about $1.2 million budgeted and we spent about $340,000 in cost.”

Now the IT team is working on virtualizing staff machines.

“When we’re working with staff, they think that their PC is different from everyone else,” Gamboa said. “But we’ve learned through this technology that we can lay down a shared desktop for everyone.”

The IT team is using DesktopNow, a user profile management solution from AppSense that allows personalization of the staff's virtual desktops.

“It really has enabled more infrastructure consolidation and more administrative overhead reduction,” Gamboa said. “It was a keystone project for us, and we’ll start leveraging it more and more.”

Jessica Renee Napier Contributing Writer

Jessica Renee Napier is a California-based writer who began her journalism career in public broadcasting. She teaches yoga, enjoys traveling and likes to stay up on all things tech.

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