York Region explores virtualization of key apps

York Region will offer each of its 17 business departments the opportunity to switch from desktops to thin clients using virtualization technology to run key applications.

Following a successful pilot project in March, the Ontario municipality’s council has given the go-ahead to implement

a terminal service environment based on Citrix software. Instead of installing applications locally, however, the government will use SoftGrid software from Softricity to turn them into “”virtual”” services that can be centrally managed, configured and deployed in an on-demand fashion. Softricity, based in Boston, released SoftGrid Enterprise Edition on Monday.

Virtualization is a growing area of interest in software, at both the storage and the operating system layer. At the application level, the technology promises to essentially reallocate IT resources without permanently altering the OS with each install. The virtual environment becomes a sort of “”buffer zone”” between the OS and the application, writing to the zone instead of the OS.

Vito Palmeri, York’s IT project manager, said he sought out Softricity when early attempts to implement terminal services with applications like PeopleSoft Financials hit a wall. The application was written for only one “”instance”” (one user getting access at a time), creating conflicts with Citrix.

“”We couldn’t get it to work,”” he said. “”It’s looking for a lot of local drives, and with thin client devices there aren’t any local drives. We had to find a way to make the application believe they were there.””

SoftGrid allowed PeopleSoft to run first on a regular client and then a thin client using Citrix, Palmeri said. The subsequent pilot project involved 50 staff members to gauge performance. Departments will be given thin clients as an option, he said, but a survey of the users involved in the pilot indicated a 90 per cent acceptance rate.

“”It was really high,”” he said. “”We believe now that there’s about 50 per cent of the staff at the region that can use a thin client device as a replacement for their desktop.””

If that 50 per cent opt for thin clients, it will represent about 1,100 users, Palmeri added, and will require a four-year implementation based on the organization’s refresh cycle.

Public sector users are interested in thin clients and terminal services because they allow the flexibility of accessing applications from home, Palmeri said. There are also some disaster recovery benefits, he said. “”We can have the applications all virtualized sitting on a server, he said. “”If a disaster does happen, we can push the applications to whoever needs them, and we know that they’re the right version, the latest version.””

Softricity is hoping to position SoftGrid Enterprise Edition as an enabler to these kind of environments, according to David Greschler, the company’s co-founder and vice-president of marketing. The version launched Monday has increased scaleability to support more than 1,000 concurrent connections on a single-processor SoftGrid Virtual Application Server.

“”As you start running multiple apps (in a traditional desktop environment), they write over each other and break each other,”” he said. “”Any time you want to roll out a new app, you need to do regression testing to make sure nothing’s going to break. Rolling out a patch causes problems, too.””

Greschler said Softricity has at least one financial institution seriously thinking about using SoftGrid Enterprise Edition, while a hospital software provider will be reselling the product. “”It will really speed up the way they get apps out to people,”” he said.

York has 140 applications that could be virtualized in a terminal service environment, Palmeri said.

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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