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Amerisure ditches its PCs, goes all virtual

Amerisure insurance company replaced every physical PC and laptop with thin client alternatives

By , Network World
April 02, 2010 02:27 PM ET

Network World - Jack Wilson is a happy man, and he owes it all to desktop virtualization.

As the enterprise architect at Amerisure, an insurance company in Farmington Hills, Mich., Wilson spearheaded a project to replace every physical PC and laptop with thin client alternatives to reduce cost and increase efficiency. After more than three decades in IT, Wilson says virtualizing desktops was the best move he ever made.

"I've had a lot of good ideas, but none of them worked out as well as I thought," Wilson says. "What I did in desktop virtualization was the one thing in 30-plus years that exceeded my expectations."

As Windows 7 gains steam, VDI set to rise

Wilson started overhauling his desktop infrastructure four years ago, long before the current wave of hype around the technology began. Unlike most early virtual desktop initiatives, Amerisure virtualized throughout the company, replacing all employee machines, rather than just targeting a few departments or remote sites.

"We completely virtualized all of our desktops," Wilson says. "We don't have any PCs in the company. Every other company I've talked to has approached it from a tactical basis. I have found no other company that decided to do it strategically."

Wilson's experience with virtualization almost sounds too good to be true. Desktop virtualization, in fact, is the subject of considerable debate in the industry, with questions surrounding ROI claims from vendors, the performance of virtualized client devices, limitations in offline access, and the impact on storage. (See related story: "5 virtual desktop pitfalls")

But desktop virtualization has undoubtedly helped some businesses save money while gaining other benefits, and Amerisure is one of them. At its heart, the Amerisure project uses a technology that wasn't even described as desktop virtualization four years ago, that being Citrix's Presentation Server, which delivers applications from the data center to users.

Since Wilson began using the Presentation Server, it has been rebranded as XenApp, and is now included as part of Citrix's XenDesktop virtual desktop software.

XenApp is similar to the virtual desktop infrastructure (VD) model, as both deliver desktops and applications from servers in the data center to employees on thin clients and PCs.

But Wilson says he prefers the XenApp model, sometimes known as application virtualization, over VDI because XenApp requires less storage and runs with Windows Terminal Services, which is less expensive than having to buy full Windows operating system licenses for each user. XenApp also allowed consolidation onto fewer physical servers than a VDI model, he says.

With the emergence of various technologies that change the way OS images and apps are delivered to users, and allow desktops to be accessed from multiple devices, the definitions of different types of desktop and application virtualization are shifting.

"I'm of the opinion that we're going to remove the word 'virtual' from desktops altogether," says Burton Group analyst Chris Wolf. "Some form of virtualization is going to be implied in the delivery. We'll get to a point where you don't say the desktop is virtualized -- it's just implied."

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