Geometric virtualizes desktop environment

by Ashwani Mishra    Jan 09, 2012

IT company Geometric was facing multiple problems within its IT infrastructure. With its head offices in Mumbai, the specific areas of concern included security, productivity, and flexibility that affected equipment and management costs of the overall infrastructure.Prashanta Ghoshal

With the growth in numbers as well as complexity of applications, the company’s business needs were straining its distributed computing infrastructure.

The company, which employs more than 3900 people across ten global delivery locations in the US, Romania, India, and China, has offshore development centres for various client product companies. Individual user desktops had resident data supported by network attached storage (NAS) solutions from providers like Dell, IBM and NetApp. Engineers working on various projects like testing had to download data on their desktops. This data lacked segregation between the users and customer data.

“It was imperative that proper infrastructure segregation was maintained between groups working for different customers as well as our own internal data to ensure protection of Intellectual Property Rights of all parties,” says Prashanta Ghoshal, Director-ITES, Geometric.

This concern also prevented the company to allow its staff to work from home as it would have required data to be sent out of the premises.

The other challenge for Ghoshal was to rein in high costs that resulted from loss of engineering productivity and IT overheads. “Over 300 man hours in one year alone were spent on installing and uninstalling software on machines,” he says.

This was time lost due to the distributed nature of the computing infrastructure and the fact that all the updates could not be done centrally. Engineer downtime was estimated to be around four to five hours while machines were made ready, resulting in productivity loss.

Making the right choice

These business challenges led the IT team to look at a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) deployment. The new flexible infrastructure started with server virtualization capabilities from VMware and Microsoft. The company then built upon this with a desktop virtualization implementation using a combination of NetApp for storage, Cisco’s UCS network adapters, and Citrix Xen desktop.

“With VDI, the data would reside on central servers resolving data security concerns. At the same time, centralized installation and management meant significant reduction in IT administration time and cost, as well as downtime for users,” says Ghoshal.

For the storage component of the solution, Geometric chose NetApp as it offered flexibility, integration with virtualized environments, interface with the other components of the solution, and capability to support a full blown cloud infrastructure in the future.

In the first phase, 300 virtual desktops were deployed on hardware that was budgeted for 250 desktops. “The goal for the company is to eventually bring 600 desktops into this pool,” says Ghoshal.

Once the initial VDI deployment is done, Geometric plans to set up a comprehensive cloud infrastructure with Cisco’s UCS hardware, Citrix’s Xen, VMware and Microsoft’s Hyper V. The storage backbone for the future set up will be from NetApp, says the company.

Reaping benefits

The virtual machines belonging to different customers and business units can now be isolated in a secure manner within the same physical data storage preventing any possibility of data leakage.

“Centralization of data has allowed our employees to telecommute when necessary without fear of security breaches,” says Ghoshal.

Downtime has also significantly decreased. Total time lost due to crashes used to be around 136 hours initially. It now accounts for eight hour loss for the 250 desktops that are virtualized.

IT has also helped to save costs due to faster provisioning of new development and QA machines at an average of 70 new machines per month. There has been reduction in time for troubleshooting and reinstalling machines, which have crashed. The snapshot and restoration features offered by the storage solution have improved business continuity significantly. Increase in storage efficiency has reduced storage requirements by up to 40 percent.

“We were surprised when we checked the disk space recently. Only 40 percent of the disk space has been used, much lesser than anticipated although the same amount of data is being generated in the company as earlier,” says Ghoshal.

In case of VDI, the data can be stored in virtual drives or home directories on the same storage. This allows storage de-duplication capabilities to be exploited as many desktop users are actually storing the same files with minor variations.

Using 10GB Ethernet for the initial deployment with the final plan for Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) allowed Geometric to avoid deploying expensive Fiber Channel storage and components.