In a bid to reduce excessive IT support costs for PCs, Deluxe recognized the need to adopt a more advanced client operating system such as thin client computing. Deluxe determined that a full refresh of its traditional PCs would be too expensive, and thin-client devices running an embedded operating system did not offer the performance that the company needed. To address these challenges, Deluxe became an early adopter of Windows Thin PC—a version of Windows 7 that helps repurpose PCs as thin clients and requires less disk space and locked down to prevent user changes. Deluxe began deploying it on both older PCs and newly purchased customized thin PCs from Intel. Now, Deluxe has streamlined IT tasks, reducing PC setup time from hours to minutes, and taken advantage of higher performance and reliability to extend the PC lifecycle.
Deluxe is best known to the public as a printer of checks, but the company provides a variety of services, including logo design, payroll, web design and hosting, and business networking, to help small businesses grow. Deluxe also offers fraud prevention and customer loyalty and retention programs to help banks build lasting customer relationships.
To provide these services, Deluxe employees rely on 6,500 desktop and portable computers. However, in recent years, the aging PCs and thin clients used to access the Citrix Presentation Server 4.5–based environment at Deluxe were not meeting the company’s needs. Some PCs suffered from long startup times, slow performance, high power consumption, and excessive system failures. “We had startup times of about 20 minutes on older PCs that ran a lot of applications,” explains Scott Valeri, Manager for Enterprise Desktop and Mobile Architecture and Engineering at Deluxe. “These PCs also had a high failure rate. This hindered employee productivity—especially at our call centers—and placed a heavy support burden on the IT department.”
||We’re helping employees do their jobs better by giving them access to their virtual desktop [regardless of where they’re working]…. Based on what we’ve seen so far, Windows Thin PC is a godsend.
Manager for Enterprise Desktop and
Mobile Architecture and Engineering, Deluxe
Replacing all the problematic computers with new PCs would have been too costly, so the company considered using more dedicated thin-client workstations running an embedded version of Windows, particularly in its call centers, but this posed challenges too. “We looked at a variety of thin-client devices, and the inexpensive models didn’t offer the performance, flexibility, or features we were looking for,” says Valeri. He also notes that Deluxe wanted to get the most value from existing PCs that did not require replacement.
Also, Valeri believed that any solution should take into account advances in operating systems that make virtual desktops more efficient. This includes technologies that enhance end user experience by making intelligent decisions about whether to process multimedia content at the server or the client endpoint, depending on the capabilities of the client device. And the solution should interoperate well with the rest of the IT environment, including PCs without virtualized desktops.
Specifically, Deluxe wanted to optimize the desktop environment to meet the needs of four categories (or tiers) of employees. Tier 1 is the Offline User and includes mobile professionals with portable computers. Tier 2 is the Mega User and includes employees who need a rich desktop that can’t be virtualized because they have special applications, hardware, or performance requirements. Tier 3 is the Power User and includes employees who need to manage their own desktops but have no other requirements that would prevent those desktops from being virtualized. Tier 4 is the Standard User, working in a shared desktop environment—more than one employee working on the same computer in shifts, including call centers and plant operations.
To support all categories of users, Valeri says, “We needed a cost-effective endpoint client solution that would offer a long lifespan, provide users with the best possible experience and performance, and be easy for IT to support.”
To address these challenges, Deluxe developed what it calls the Dynamic Desktop Infrastructure (DDI) initiative to support its four tiers of users (see Figure 1). This initiative includes robust capabilities for desktops delivered using both Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) and Session Virtualization. Deluxe is taking the VDI-based approach for Tier 3 users and the session-based approach for Tier 4 by taking advantage of Remote Desktop Services (RDS) technology in the Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 operating system. RDS technology, which is available as part of Windows Serer 2008 R2 SP1, gives organizations the flexibility to deliver both Session-based and VDI-based desktops using a common infrastructure. Additionally Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 also includes the robust Hyper-V virtualization platform, which helps deliver tremendous desktop density, as well as RemoteFX technology that virtualizes graphic cards on the server to deliver the best remote desktop experience for users. Deluxe uses Microsoft Application Virtualization technology (App-V, part of the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack) to virtualize custom applications for the desktop environments, as well as to stream applications to the RDS servers. As part of the DDI initiative, Deluxe Corporation intends to virtualize 65 to 75 percent of all applications.
For the client operating environment, Deluxe became an early adopter of the Windows Thin PC operating system when it was introduced in early 2011. Windows Thin PC is a Software Assurance benefit that provides a locked down, smaller footprint version of the Windows 7 operating system, which Deluxe can use to repurpose its PCs as thin clients. Deluxe is now transitioning to Windows Thin PC in part because it offers strengthened security, easier deployment, and much tighter interoperability with Windows Server than the Windows XP operating system does. Valeri says, “Windows Thin PC is a strategic tool within our desktop deployment model and is the next natural step in our thin client computing strategy, as we evaluate ways of providing a rich Windows experience from both fixed and mobile thin PCs.”
||Using write filters in Windows Thin PC makes IT support a lot easier. In the event of a serious error or performance issue ... simply restarting the PC will likely solve the problem.
Manager for Enterprise Desktop and Mobile Architecture and Engineering, Deluxe
Features in Windows Thin PC that particularly interest Deluxe include a reduced footprint compared with Windows 7 and write filters that permit users and applications to write only to specific disk files or none at all (disk writes are redirected to a virtual disk that is discarded upon system restart). The company will take advantage of out-of-the-box support for RemoteFX to deliver a richer graphics experience, including 3-D and multimedia content, and will use AppLocker technology to block unauthorized applications.
For hardware, Deluxe had already begun working with Intel to build 2,000 inexpensive customized thin PCs. These PCs use the Intel D510MO desktop board with the Atom D510 CPU and have a hard drive, all in a compact, VESA-mounted case. The thin PCs complement existing Dell PCs in the company’s Tier 3 and 4 categories; Deluxe hopes to repurpose several hundred for use as thin PCs. The server environment includes 16 HP ProLiant DL585 computers.
With an immediate need to replace hardware, Deluxe found that it could use the Intel Atom-based thin PC hardware—which it had developed with Intel as part of its DDI initiative—to run the Windows XP operating system and business applications. Deluxe discovered that as applications are moved to the RDS environment, this thin PC hardware can easily be reimaged with Windows Thin PC as the users are migrated to the T4 RDS environment.
Additional solution components include Quest vWorkspace and Citrix XenApp to deliver virtual desktops and Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager 2007 R3 for automated distribution of Windows Thin PC and other software. By using System Center Configuration Manager, Deluxe is able to take advantage of existing investments in technology and process for Windows Thin PC, lowering total cost of ownership for the overall environment. The company’s application packaging environment—the central pipeline through which all newly developed applications or application updates get into production—is fully virtualized using Hyper-V technology (part of Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1) to host the desktops used for installing and testing the applications in the data center. The company also is currently in the process of virtualizing applications using App-V technology. “Our goal is to virtualize 70 percent of the 2,500 applications that survive the application rationalization process across all four tiers of users,” says Valeri. Thirty applications have been virtualized so far.
In June 2011, Deluxe deployed Windows Thin PC to a few test users, and intends to deploy to 250 users by September 2011. By the end of 2011, Deluxe expects nearly 1,000 PCs to be running Windows Thin PC. In the following couple of years, the company plans to transition all PCs in the Tier 3 and 4 environments (more than 70 percent, or nearly 4,750) to Windows Thin PC. Plans are also underway to upgrade Tier 1 and 2 users to Windows 7 Enterprise in 2012.
By deploying Windows Thin PC as part of a broad strategy to update its virtual desktop environment, Deluxe is streamlining IT processes, saving time and labor, and maximizing system performance and uptime, which improves employee productivity. Deluxe is also preserving its IT investments by extending the useful life of both old and new PCs.
Efficient IT Operations, Lower Costs
With write filters, Deluxe is able to return the operating system to a pristine state when employees’ shifts change. “Using write filters in Windows Thin PC makes IT support a lot easier,” says Valeri. “In the event of a serious error or performance issue caused by users accidentally changing configuration settings, simply restarting the PC will likely solve the problem.” This benefit helps strengthen security too. “The troubleshooting required after a computer becomes infected with malicious software is very burdensome,” he says. ”Of course, we’ll still be running antivirus software, but if an infection does get through, being able to just restart the PC to bring it back to its original state will save a lot of time.”
|Foundations and structures of the Dynamic Desktop Infrastructure.|
Valeri adds, “With Windows Thin PC, we’re reducing the operating system’s attack surface, which in turn reduces overall support requirements.”
Deluxe is also using built-in support for System Center Configuration Manager and the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit to simplify management and deployment of Windows Thin PC images, which saves time. “We can use System Center Configuration Manager to push out a Windows Thin PC image, its relevant updates, multimedia applications, and other applications and support tools in about 15 minutes versus about six hours of manual babysitting to set up a PC previously. And this single process will work across multiple manufacturers and models. This is a huge win for IT.”
These timesaving benefits translate into labor savings as well. “By moving to the Windows Thin PC environment with its reduced support requirements, we’ve been able to do more with our existing IT staff, all while we’re getting richer capabilities and a better user experience,” Valeri says.
High System Performance and Employee Productivity
Deluxe takes advantage of the tight interoperability between Windows Thin PC and Windows Server to optimize computational load and system performance. Says Valeri, “Using Windows Thin PC, we have an up-to-date robust client on one end of the connection that is capable of working with our existing as well as future investments in remote desktop protocols. RemoteFX support is a key for us, and the ability of Windows Thin PC to support other vendor protocols is an added bonus. This optimizes system performance and improves the user experience, which translates into higher employee productivity and less frustration.” The system’s reliability also contributes to higher productivity, as employees file fewer trouble tickets and spend less time waiting for resolution.
As a specific example of putting the improved multimedia performance to good use, Valeri cites online training. “Historically, running a rich presentation layer on virtualized desktops with thin clients has been problematic. Now, we’ll be able to deliver a great training experience using modern multimedia tools to get employees up and running on new tasks more quickly.”
||We can use System Center Configuration Manager to push out a Windows Thin PC image ... in about 15 minutes versus about six hours of manual babysitting to set up a PC previously.
Manager for Enterprise Desktop and Mobile Architecture and Engineering, Deluxe
Additionally, Deluxe expects that the mobility support included with Windows Thin PC will help the company to boost productivity. By providing employees with an existing portable PC equipped with wireless connectivity or a new Mobile Thin PC Atom-based computer, staff will be able to access their virtual desktops wirelessly while working from any company location that supports Wi-Fi, or by using cellular data connection devices.
Cost-Effective IT Investment Protection, Longer PC Lifecycle
In addition to controlling future IT labor costs, Deluxe is using Windows Thin PC as part of a strategy to minimize future hardware costs by taking better advantage of the PCs it already owns. It realizes further savings by avoiding the need for additional Virtual Desktop Access (VDA) licensing for VDI because these PCs retain their existing Software Assurance coverage.
First, Deluxe saved U.S.$500,000 in acquisition costs by choosing its Intel Atom-based thin PC hardware solution over traditional PCs or comparable higher-end thin-client workstations. The company saves another $100,000 annually in electricity, with each device consuming only 18 watts. Valeri says, “We’re matching up Windows Thin PC with older PCs that are capable of running it, which maximizes the value of those PCs by giving them an advanced, high-performance operating system. Also, we’re maximizing the value of our new Intel Atom-based PCs by reducing support costs while still giving users a rich experience. We believe that we’ll be able to get six to seven years of good, well-performing life out of these latter units.” For other new PCs that the company purchases, besides the custom Atom-based models, Valeri expects that using Windows Thin PC will extend their productive life by at least two years.
Looking at how his company’s Dynamic Desktop Infrastructure initiative is playing out, Valeri concludes, “We’re moving from a machine-centric management and distribution methodology to a person-centric methodology. We’re helping employees do their jobs better by giving them access to their virtual desktops whether they’re in their office, the conference room, or another facility. The Microsoft software that now drives our environment—including Windows Server 2008 and Remote Desktop Services, System Center Configuration Manager, and especially Windows Thin PC—along with Quest vWorkspace is making that vision a reality. Based on what we’ve seen so far, Windows Thin PC is a godsend.”
Windows Thin PC
Windows Thin PC enables customers to repurpose existing PCs as thin clients by providing a smaller footprint, locked down version of Windows 7. This provides organizations with significant benefits:
• Reduced end-point costs for VDI
• Excellent thin client experience
• Enterprise-ready platform
Organizations can improve security and compliance on their repurposed PCs by using write filters to prevent data from being written to disk. Additionally, Windows Thin PC ensures a rich remote desktop experience through RemoteFX, enabling delivery of high fidelity multimedia content from centralized desktops. Organizations can take advantage of existing management strategy and tools such as Microsoft System Center solutions to centrally manage Windows Thin PC, including accelerated role-based deployment of applications, security patches, updates, and data.
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