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Desktop Virtualization in Denton, Texas, Saves Money, Gives Employees Mobility

Patrol officers can file reports from the field via remote desktop; city replaces desktop PCs with cube-shaped devices.

Four years ago, when Paul Desjardins became systems architect for Denton, Texas, computing demands were rising but the city's ability to handle 100-plus physical servers was reaching a breaking point. The city -- a college town 40 miles northwest of Dallas with a population of roughly 120,000 -- also had about 1,200 employees working on different makes of laptop or desktop computers.

"We were reaching capacity with our cooling and rack space, and network connectivity," said Desjardins, who went on to adopt VMWare ESX, a server virtualization product. The city now runs 125 virtual servers on just nine physical servers.

Coinciding with the server virtualization project was a push from the Denton City Council to reduce spending, including IT expenses, Desjardins said.

"We've been able to sustain ourselves as a government fairly well without a loss of revenue or dip into savings very much because of efforts from the City Council to reduce spending," he said. "So now that we're feeling the same financial weight that others have already started to feel, that's been a driving force to see in what other areas we could create a cost savings."

Virtualization Alternatives

Faced about a year ago with a PC refresh for the city's police department, Desjardins began eyeing virtual alternatives. On the heels of the successful server virtualization, the city IT director suggested desktop virtualization as an efficient, money-saving remedy -- using Pano Logic products in the pilot project.

Denton's IT staff replaced nearly 60 employees' PCs with a small, cube-shaped technology called the Pano Device. By pushing a button on the device, a user's keyboard, mouse and monitor connect back to his or her virtual desktop that's hosted on the server, a Pano Logic spokesperson said. Because it's a "zero client" device, it has no memory, central processing unit, operating system, drivers, software or moving parts.

As well, patrol officers' in-vehicle laptops -- which require mobility, security and durability -- also needed replacing. The city decided to use Pano Remote -- a secure USB drive with software that allows users to access their virtual desktop from any network-connected Windows computer.

Instead of replacing the officers' laptops, Desjardins stripped them to solely run Pano Remote, allowing them to securely connect to their virtual desktop, which is hosted on VMware servers in the data center.

Before the pilot project, patrol officers using in-vehicle laptops couldn't access documents hosted on the server, which were necessary to complete reports and other paperwork, Desjardins said. They would instead draft documents in the field and replicate them in the report back at the station -- often creating more overtime and expenses.

Virtualization is especially helpful for school resource officers working in the field, Desjardins said, as their laptops previously couldn't access the city's network. Aside from the money savings, which is a big factor, employee productivity also increased.

"There are so many situations where they can use the desktop and the remote connectivity that we think improves their productivity significantly," Desjardins said. "It's just really versatile. Our employees who have used the Pano Remote have never had anything negative to say about it; they love it."

The money savings are significant, Desjardins said, as the Pano technology costs about two-thirds what the city would pay for new desktop computers. "When you stop to think about it, it adds up," he said.

Looking Ahead

Hoping to deploy more Pano Logic virtual desktops and remote devices, Desjardins wants to have about 100 employees on them by the end of the year, with plans to expand the rollout further in 2011. With more than 40 city facilities in Denton across about 62 square miles, having the technology to work from a mobile device is essential.


Karen is a former staff writer for Government Technology magazine.