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The DISH On Virtual Desktop Cost Savings

The largest seller of DISH Network's TV service uses virtual machines to support hyper-growth and cut its help desk burden and power bill.

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As small and midsize businesses assess whether virtualization is the right move, they'd be smart to ask: Am I just following a trend or fulfilling legitimate business needs?

In other words, dig past the conventional wisdom on potential benefits to consider how it can--or can't--deliver quantifiable improvements to an organization. Take Infinity Sales Group, the largest independent dealer of DISH Network's satellite television service. Chuck Matulik, who recently joined Infinity as vice president of IT, outlined during an interview three key challenges the company faces from an infrastructure standpoint.

First, exponential growth: Infinity has gone from 80 employees in 2009 to 460 today. That's nearly a six-fold increase in people--and the technology they need to get their jobs done--in just two years. The second challenge relates to the first: limited IT resources that did not grow in concert with the business.

"The company had two dedicated desktop people who basically spent all day running around taking care of PC issues," Matulik said. "As [Infinity was] growing, they were like: Man, we don't want to do it like this going forward."

The third challenge is somewhat particular to Infinity's operations: the power bill. It can be huge at a call center, as in some other technology-intensive businesses.

Faced with the need to support rapid growth while keeping costs in check--a challenge that's no stranger to many SMBs--Infinity made the call to switch all of its employees, from the executive suite to the greenest phone rep, from traditional to virtual desktops. It deployed Pano Logic's zero clients along with VMware.

Matulik said that, in spite of the exponential growth in employees, desktop support now takes the equivalent of half a full-time employee's time to support 460 employees; that's down from two whole full-time staffers supporting 80 people a couple of years ago. For the math fans: That's a 75% drop in support time on the heels of a 575% increase in desks.

"That allowed us to keep the IT staff extremely thin," Matulik said. "We spend very little time doing desktop support."

Asked about the current makeup of his team, Matulik sounded almost sheepish: "Do I really have to tell you?" he said. It's a staff of three, plus Matulik. "How many 400-plus companies do you know of that have an entire IT staff of four people?"

By comparison, Matulik's previous employer was also a midsize call center: Its 600-some employees included an IT team of 40 people. Matulik credits virtualization as a critical factor enabling Infinity to run lean without sacrificing IT quality. In fact, one employee who'd previously done nothing but desktop support has evolved into the company's VMware expert, taking on more of systems administrator role in the process.

"He is completely redirected in a direction that is probably better for him, and better for the company as well," Matulik said.

On the power front, Pano's zero-client approach--which stresses minimal energy consumption--and Infinity's use of IP-based phones has kept the electric bill from spiraling out of control.

"We use very little power for a call center," Matulik said. He added that Infinity's power bill is smaller than that of his previous firm, primarily because of VDI. "Even if we were to double in size, our power consumption would be a fraction of what they would use."

Matulik didn't offer up specific numbers, but said power-related expenses are a key in quantifying the return on Infinity's VDI investment--which he noted was considerable. Matulik believes companies that don't dig deep enough when doing ROI analysis are more likely to stick with their traditional infrastructure because they leave money on the table.

"VDI is not free. It is a cost savings, but there is an investment that you have to make," he said. "There is an ROI that comes--it can come in terms of support, it can come in terms of power--but a lot of IT people don't work with facilities to calculate those savings."

InformationWeek Analytics has published a report on backing up VM disk files and building a resilient infrastructure that can tolerate hardware and software failures. After all, what's the point of constructing a virtualized infrastructure without a plan to keep systems up and running in case of a glitch--or outright disaster? Download the report now. (Free registration required.)

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