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3/24/2008
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Cincinnati Bell Adopts Virtual Desktops And Thin Clients

The company finds that desktop virtualization is a better alternative to upgrading hundreds of PCs running Windows 2000.

Cincinnati Bell is an eager candidate to adopt desktop virtualization. That's because it's finding that what's good for Cincinnati Bell internally is also a potential new service for its phone service customers.

The southwestern Ohio company is in the first phase of its desktop virtualization rollout based on VMware Infrastructure 3 and Sun Microsystems Virtual Desktop Infrastructure. With about 3,300 computer-using white-collar employees, it will convert one-fourth of them to virtual machines in the initial effort.

"Over the next two quarters, we'll convert 750 users to [Sun Ray] thin clients, primarily call center, help desk, and service desk employees," said Jeff Harvey, senior business consultant at Cincinnati Bell and project leader. In addition, many system administrators in the data center and network operations center staff also will convert to thin clients with virtualized desktops. And some sales staff will go from laptops to Sun's laptop-like thin client machine.

Asked what prompted the move, Harvey says the users are on Windows 2000 PCs and the company is approaching "the end of life support for Windows 2000. Most of it is running on leased assets. We have no choice" but to move to something else. Moving to thin clients is a less-expensive alternative to upgrading hundreds of PCs.

"Different departments have different needs. Why give them all a 9-Gb desktop?" he said, referring to power users' appetite for 10-Gb network access capabilities.

In addition, he won't have to rip out all of his Windows 2000 infrastructure. "Most of Cincinnati Bell has moved to Windows XP," he said, but he won't need to force all users to upgrade to XP. About eight users will remain on either Windows 2000 or Windows 2003, running an aging version of Lotus Notes. Six will run Windows XP Professional rather than the standard XP desktop, and two software quality-assurance testers will take virtual machines running Vista, so that the company can be assured the new software it is producing will work under a future Vista upgrade, he adds. The host hardware on which the virtual machine is located is likely to be running Windows XP, and someday, Vista, he adds.

VMware offers its own virtual desktop infrastructure, as does startup Kidaro, recently purchased by Microsoft, and other vendors. Cincinnati Bell turned to Sun because Sun VDI is designed to work on top of VMware Infrastructure 3, which Cincinnati Bell already had installed. In addition, it offers a choice of end-user interfaces.

Sun VDI translates the Windows Remote Desktop Protocol into different user presentations, including Linux, Solaris for x86, Macintosh, various Windows versions, and the Sun Ray thin client. VMware generates the virtual machines on a central server, but Sun's Desktop Connector sits between the VMware pool and end users. Desktop Connector, part of the recently announced Sun VDI 2.0, manages the end-user connections to them and policies to govern the connections.

"At 8:03 a.m., it may be necessary to spin up 800 desktops," said Harvey, and Desktop Connector will draw from 12 "golden images" to give each end user the right virtual machine. Upgrading 800 users consists of updating the 12 golden images and letting each user receive the updated virtual machine, an administrative cost saving, he said.

Desktop Connector can take Microsoft's terminal services protocol, Remote Desktop Protocol, and translate it into the various end-user interfaces.

As Cincinnati Bell has gained experience in using virtual desktops, it's started offering customers the option of receiving desktop virtual machines, managed by Cincinnati Bell.

"Over the last three quarters of our fiscal year, we acquired a few customers," notes Harvey, saying they were large ones.

But for now, he's looking to roll out additional phases of desktop virtualization that include Windows desktops to regular PC and laptop users, as well as more thin client users. Cincinnati Bell will try to leave as much choice as possible in the hands of end users on what they prefer, though Harvey concedes, with thin clients, "their low cost is a factor," and "Sun has got a great thin client solution."

Sun makes VDI 2.0 available at a rate of $149 per concurrent user.

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