Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Germany's Largest Travel Agency Starts a Virtual Journey to Get Branch Office IT Under Control

Transcript of a sponsored podcast discussion from VMworld 2011 in Copenhagen on how DER Deutsches Reisebüro virtualized 2,300 desktops to centralize administration.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes/iPod. Download the transcript. Sponsor: VMware.

Dana Gardner: Hello, and welcome to a special BriefingsDirect podcast series coming to you from the VMworld 2011 Conference in Copenhagen. We're here in the week of October 17 to explore the latest in cloud computing and virtualization infrastructure developments.

I'm Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions, and I’ll be your host throughout this series of VMware-sponsored BriefingsDirect discussions. [Disclosure: VMware is a sponsor of BriefingsDirect podcasts.]

Our next case study focuses on how Germany’s largest travel agency has remade their PC landscape across 580 branch offices using virtual desktops. We’ll learn how Germany’s DER Deutsches Reisebüro redefined the desktops delivery vision and successfully implemented 2,300 Windows XP desktops as a service.

Here to tell us what this major VDI deployment did in terms of business, technical, and financial payoffs is Sascha Karbginski, Systems Engineer at DER Deutsches Reisebüro, based in Frankfurt. Welcome to the show, Sascha.

Sascha Karbginski: Hi, Dana.

Gardner: Why were virtual desktops such an important direction for you? Why did it make sense for your organization?

Karbginski: In our organization, we’re talking about 580 travel agencies all over the country, all over Germany, with 2,300 physical desktops, which were not in our control. We had life cycles out there of about 4 or 5 years. We had old PCs with no client backups.

The biggest reason is that recovery times at our workplace were 24 hours between hardware change and bringing back all the software configuration, etc. Desktop virtualization was a chance to get the desktops into our data center, to get the security, and to get the controls.

Gardner: So this seemed to be a solution that’s solved many problems for you at once.

Karbginski: Yes. That’s right.

Gardner: All right. Tell me a little bit about DER, the organization. I believe you’re a part of the REWE Group and you’re the number one travel business in Germany. Tell us a little bit about your organization before we go further into why desktop virtualization is good for you.

Karbginski: DER in Germany is the number one in travel agencies. As I said, we're talking about 580 branches. We’re operating as a leisure travel agency with our branches, Atlasreisen and DER, and also, in the business travel sector with FCm Travel Solutions.

IT-intensive business

Gardner: This is a very IT-intensive business now. Everything in travel is done though networked applications and cloud and software-as-a-service (SaaS) services. So a very intensive IT activity in each of these branches.

Karbginski: That’s right. Without the reservation systems, we can’t do any flight bookings or reservations or check hotel availability. So without IT, we can do nothing.

Gardner: And tell me about the problem you needed to solve in a bit more detail. You had four generations of PCs. You couldn’t control them. It took a lot of time to recover if there was a failure, and there was a lot of different software that you had to support.

Karbginski: Yes. We had no domain integration no control and we had those crashes, for example. All the data would be gone. We had no backups out there. And we changed the desktops about every four or five years. For example, when the reservation system needed more memory, we had to buy the memory, service providers were going out there, and everything was done during business hours.

Gardner: Okay. So this would have been a big toll on your helpdesk and for your support. With all of these people in these travel bureau locations calling you, it sounds like it was a very big problem.

There were some challenges during the rollout. The bandwidth was a big thing.



To what degree have you fully virtualized all of these desktops? Do you have a 100-percent deployment or you face deployment across these different organizations and these different agencies?

Karbginski: We have nearly about 100 percent virtualization now. We have only two or three offices, which are coming up next. We have some problem with the service provider for the VPN connection. So it's about 99 percent virtualization.

Gardner: That's pretty impressive. What were some of the issues that you encountered in order to enable this? Were there network infrastructure or bandwidth issues? What were some of the things that you had to do in order to enable this to work properly?

Karbginski: There were some challenges during the rollout. The bandwidth was a big thing. Our service provider had to work very hard for us, because we needed more bandwidth out there. The path we had our offices was 1 or 2-Mbit links to the headquarters data center. With desktop virtualization, we need a little bit more, depending on the number of the workplaces and we needed better quality of the lines.

So bandwidth was one thing. We also had the network infrastructure. We found some 10-Mbit half-duplex switches. So we had to change it. And we also had some hardware problems. We had a special multi-card board for payment to read out passports or to read out credit card information. They were very old and connected with PS/2.

A lot of problems

So there were a lot of problems, and we fixed them all. We changed the switches. Our service provider for Internet VPN connection brought us more quality. And we changed the keyboards. We don’t need this old stuff anymore.

Gardner: And so, a bit of a hurdle overcome, but what have been some of the payoffs? How has this worked out in terms of productivity, energy savings, lowering costs, and even business benefits?

Karbginski: Saving was our big thing in planning this project. The desktops have been running out there now about one year, and we know that we have up to 80 percent energy saving, just from changing the hardware out there. We’re running the Wyse P20 Zero Client instead of physical PC hardware.

Gardner: How about on the server side; are there energy benefits there?

Karbginski: We needed more energy for the server side in the data center, but if you look at it, we have 60 up to 70 percent energy savings overall. I think it’s really great.

Gardner: That’s very good. So what else comes in terms of productivity? Is there a storage or a security benefit by having that central control?

The data is under our control in the data center, and important company information is not left in an office out there.



Karbginski: As far as security, we've blocked the USB sticks now out there. So the data is under our control in the data center, and important company information is not left in an office out there. Security is a big thing.

Gardner: And how about revisiting your helpdesk and support? Because you have a more standardized desktop infrastructure now, you can do your upgrades much more easily and centrally and you can support people based on an access right directly to the server infrastructure. What’s been the story in terms of productivity and support in helpdesk?

Karbginski: In the past, the updates came during the business hours. Now, we can do all software updates at nights or at the weekends or if the office is closed. So helpdesk cost is reduced about 50 percent.

Gardner: Wow. That adds up.

Karbginski: Yeah, that’s really great.

Gardner: How big a team did it take to implement the virtualized desktop infrastructure activity for you? Was this a big expenditure in terms of people and time to get this going?

Few personnel

Karbginski: We built up the whole infrastructure -- I think it was in 9 or 10 months without the planning -- with a team of three persons, three administrators.

Gardner: Wow.

Karbginski: And now we're managing, planning, deploying, and updating it. I really think it's not a good idea to do with just three people, but it works.

Gardner: And you’ve been the first travel organization in Germany to do this, but I understand that others are following into your footsteps.

Karbginski: I've heard from some other companies that are interested in a solution like this. We were the first one in Germany, and many people told us that it wouldn't work, but we showed it works.

Gardner: And you're a finalist for the TechTarget VMware Best Award because of the way in which you’ve done this, how fast you’ve done it, and to the complete degree that you’ve done it. So I hope that you do well and win that.

We built up the whole infrastructure with a team of three persons, three administrators.



Karbginski: I received an email that we are one of the finalists, and it would be a great thing.

Gardner: Tell me now that we understand the scope and breadth of what you’ve done, a little about some of the hurdles that you’ve had to overcome. The fact that you're doing this with three people is very impressive. What does the implementation consist of? What is it you’ve got in place in terms of product that has become your de-facto industry stack for VDI?

Karbginski: I can also talk about some problems we had with this, because with the network component, for example, we have another team for it.

Gardner: I was actually wondering what products are in place? What actual technology have you chosen that then enabled you to move in this direction so well? Software, hardware, the whole stack, what is the data center stack or set of components that enables your VDI?

Karbginski: We're using Dell servers with two sockets, quad-core, 144-gigabyte RAM. We're also using EMC Clariion SAN with 25 terabytes. Network infrastructure is Cisco, based on 10 GB Nexus data center switches. At the beginning the project, we had View 4.0 and we upgraded it last month to 4.6.

The people side

Gardner: What were some of the challenges in terms of working this through the people side of the process? We've talked about process, we've talked technology, but was there a learning curve or an education process for getting other people in your IT department as well as the users to adjust to this?

Karbginski: There were some unknown challenges or some new challenges we had during the rollout. For example, the network team. The most important thing was understanding of virtualization. It's an enterprise environment now, and if someone, for example, restarts the firewall in the data center, the desktops in our offices were disconnected.

It's really important to inform the other departments and also your own help desk.

Gardner: So there are a lot of different implications across the more traditional or physical environment. How about users? Have they been more satisfied? Is there something about a virtual desktop, perhaps the speed at which it boots up, or the ability to get new updates and security issues resolved? How have the end users themselves reacted?

Karbginski: The first thing that the end users told us was that the selling platform from Amadeus, the reservation system, runs much faster now. This was the first thing most of the end users told us, and that’s a good thing.

The next is that the desktop follows the user. If the user works in one office now and next week in another office, he gets the same desktop. If the user is at the headquarters, he can use the same desktop, same outlook, and same configuration. So desktop follows the user now. This works really great.

The desktop follows the user. If the user works in one office now and next week in another office, he gets the same desktop.



Gardner: Looking to the future, are you going to be doing this following-the-user capability to more devices, perhaps mobile devices or at home PCs? Is there the ability to take advantage of other endpoints, perhaps those even owned by the end users themselves and still deliver securely the applications and data that you need?

Karbginski: We plan to implement the security gateway with PCoIP support for home office users or mobile users who can access their same company desktop with all their data on it from nearly every computer in the world to bring the user more flexibility.

Gardner: So I should think that would be yet another payoff on the investments that you’ve made is that you will now be able to take the full experience out to more people and more places, but for relatively very little money to do that.

Karbginski: The number of desktops is still the same, because the user gets the same desktop. We don’t need for one user two or three desktops.

Gardner: Right, but they're able to get the information on more devices, more screens as they say, but without you having to buy and manage each of those screens. How about advice for others? If you were advising someone on what to learn from your experience as they now move toward desktop virtualization, any thoughts about what you would recommend for them?

Inform other departments

Karbginski: The most important thing is to get in touch with the other departments and inform them about the thing you're doing. Also, inform the user help desk directly at the beginning of the project. So take time to inform them what desktop virtualization means and which processes will change, because we know most of our colleagues had a wrong understanding of virtualization.

Gardner: How was it wrong? What was their misunderstanding do you think?

Karbginski: They think that with virtualization, everything will change and we'll need other support servers, and it's just a new thing and nobody needs it. If you inform them what you're doing that nothing will be changed for them, because all support processes are the same as before, they will accept it and understand the benefits for the company and for the user.

The most important thing is to get in touch with the other departments and inform them about the thing you're doing.



Gardner: We’ve been talking about how DER Deutsches Reisebüro has been remaking their PC landscape across 500 in 80 branch officers. They're part of Germany’s largest travel agency and they’ve been deploying desktop virtualization successfully, but very broadly up to 100 percent across their environment. So it's very impressive. I’d like to thank our guest, Sascha Karbginski, Systems Engineer there at DER Deutsches Reisebüro. Thank you so much, Sascha.

Karbginski: Thank you, Dana.

Gardner: And thanks to our audience for joining this special podcast coming to you from the VMworld 2011 Conference in Copenhagen. I'm Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions, your host throughout this series of VMware-sponsored BriefingsDirect discussion. Thanks again for listening, and come back next time.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes/iPod. Download the transcript. Sponsor: VMware.

Transcript of a sponsored podcast discussion from VMworld 2011 in Copenhagen on how DER Deutsches Reisebüro virtualized 2,300 desktops to centralize administration. Copyright Interarbor Solutions, LLC, 2005-2011. All rights reserved.

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