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Ohio Department Of Developmental Disabilities Taking Control Of Virtual Desktops

May 02, 2011
by Beth Bacheldor

When it comes to IT, Ohio’s Department of Developmental Disabilities (DoDD) wants innovation. So when the agency’s IT manager went looking for a way to manage the new virtual desktop infrastructure, he looked for innovative solutions. “In our agency, we know we have to innovate. And one of the ways we work is we look for innovators in the industry,” says Kipp Bertke, IT manager for the Ohio DoDD, which oversees a system of support services for 80,000 people with developmental disabilities.

It was through that lens that Bertke and his team found Unidesk, a startup launched in June 2010 that provides management software for virtual desktops. The Unidesk virtual desktop management platform, combined with VMware View, is helping the Ohio DoDD personalize the desktops, deploy applications to them, and patch and manage them as needed.

The agency’s VDI is part of an overall initiative to create a private cloud that started with virtualizing nearly all—up to 98 percent—of its servers. “Our goal was to create a private cloud that was agile, in which we could turn up a server in a day or two as opposed to a week. It has been a huge success for us, particularly from an application development perspective,” Bertke says. The virtual servers don’t just support application development, however. They also support production apps, including SQL, email and more.

The VDI initiative began in earnest in March and will wrap up in June, with the goal of virtualizing about 1,500 desktops. The time was right to virtualize the desktops, notes Bertke, since many of the agency’s PCs are at the end of their five-year lifecycle.

The Unidesk solution will bolster the aim of the VDI, which is to provide desktop capabilities to users anytime, anywhere. Overall, the solution will help the Ohio DoDD reduce desktop operational costs by providing centralized management and security, and will enable agency employees greater mobility by being able to access their virtual desktops from anywhere. And even though the Unidesk solution allows for central control and management, users will still be able to personalize and customize their desktops, with specific settings for everything from Google toolbars to storage disk drive selections and printer setups.

That customization was particularly important to the Ohio DoDD because the agency wanted a solution to meet the needs of a variety of employees—counselors, nurses, safety consultants, business analysts, administrators, office staff, executives—all of whom access a variety of applications from their desktops, including speech recognition, medical software, security, language translation and user-installed applications. Kipke says there were other potential solutions that provided similar capabilities, but another particularly important aspect is that Unidesk is easy to use.

Tom Rose, chief marketing officer of Unidesk, says the challenge many organizations face as they move to virtualized desktops is that many still have multiple versions of Windows and a variety of different applications, and “every user wants to customize the desktop.” What Unidesk does, via its patent-pending Composite Virtualization technology, is componentize Windows into pieces or images: the Windows operating system; the applications; and the user personalization/customization.

The OS images are ideally clean versions of Microsoft Windows, but can include other applications. This layer can only be changed (provisioned, patched and updated) by the IT team, which Kipke says really helps to simplify patching and security, and to create a locked-down, standardized OS.

The next layer, which is also “read-only” and thus cannot be changed by anyone outside of IT, is for the approved applications, and can contain Microsoft Office, Adobe Acrobat, Firefox, McAfee VirusScan, Skype and other applications. Different application layers can be created for different user groups, and updates can be made across the board or to specific user groups/application layers.

Finally, the user personalization layer captures all profile, data and application customizations made by users. The personalization settings stay intact, even through major patches and upgrades to the underlying layers, Rose notes.

One of the key benefits of the Unidesk solution is the fact that because a single operating system image can be used regardless of the group’s application needs, the storage requirements for the VDI are reduced. And by reducing the number of point products that might be needed to manage a VDI—such as profile management, PC configuration software, storage and deduplication—costs and complexities are also reduced, Rose says. Unidesk’s VDI solution retails for less than $150 per desktop, compared with $300 to $400 per desktop, he adds.

The management and personalization capabilities Unidesk provides has made the Ohio DoDD’s move to VDI more than acceptable, even innovative. “Six months ago, maybe a year ago, desktop virtualization was too bleeding edge,” says Kipke. “Now, the timing is right.”

Ohio Department Of Developmental Disabilities Taking Control Of Virtual Desktops

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