In a period that has seen the revenue of the hotel industry take a hit due to the current economic climate, the question that was occupying every hotel management executives thoughts was, “what can we do to control costs?” Well, if they were to take a leaf out of the book of enterprises and their cost control measures, the IT department would be a very good place to start to optimize these costs.
This is what the folks at Oberoi Group hotels went about doing. While much attention is paid to those customer facing projects that hotels carry out, Oberoi focused their attention internally - on how they used IT within their organization.
The Oberoi Group’s legacy stretches back to 1934, the year in which it was founded. The Group has grown substantially since then and now operates 31 hotels - under the luxury ‘Oberoi’ and five-star ‘Trident’ brand – and has a global presence spread around six countries.
In their efforts at bringing in savings on the operational front, The IT dept. at Oberoi was looking for a solution to streamline their infrastructure, provide better manageability, increase their efficiency and provide for a better data protection mechanism.
This project was aimed at the hotels internal staff, right from the front desk personnel – who use apps such as the property management system used for checking in and checking out the hotels guests – to the back office personnel – who use generic apps like Excel, Word, PowerPoint etc – to the sales personnel.
It was the year 2009 and the Group was developing new properties in Gurgaon. In keeping with their intended objectives, the Corporate IT at The Oberoi Group set about considering whether setting up a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) was the correct strategy to follow.
Ashish Khanna, Assistant Vice President, Corporate IT, The Oberoi Group, spearheaded this project, with the intention of rolling out the new system for all desktop and laptop users. Khanna ran the POC for this VDI implementation out of their Trident Hotel in Gurgaon over a period of three months. Over the duration of this POC, Khanna says that he made two major observations about this project that concerned the aspects arising out of user behaviour and the particular user profile.
Overcoming the Psychological Barrier
“There was a psychological impact in that once they were given the thin clients and were explained that their data computation now happens centrally on a server, they thought that these systems were not as powerful as the earlier PC’s they had,” says Khanna. This is despite the fact that performance tests conducted on these new thin client systems debunked this misconception. Khanna cites a possible cause for this negative first impression to the fact that users were told that they would be using ‘dumb terminals’.
“It was pretty surprising to see that end users were so attached to their IT assets that they could not part away with the power given to their local machines. As a concept, this did not go down well with users and they kept on complaining about performance issues,” adds Khanna.
To prove that that this was indeed a case of psychology trumping technology, the users were given the same thin clients; however this time they were told that these were new ‘desktop PC’s’. Surprisingly, the user’s acceptance was higher in this case even though these machines were the same configuration machines given to users earlier.
Khanna also found out that users, mostly those from the sales and marketing teams, who had to use video intensive applications could not work that efficiently on these new thin clients, because of compatibility issues between those apps and the Linux OS. So while most of the thin clients came as ‘dumb terminals’ with the Linux OS pre-installed, Khanna had to specifically get thin clients that came pre-installed with the Windows OS for these sales persons so that they could run their apps properly without facing any issues. Currently, the Windows based thin clients account for around 10 percent of all the thin clients that Khanna had acquired.
Khanna adds that the results of the POC helped convince the Oberoi Group of the advantages of opting for a VDI solution over a traditional IT system for their new Greenfield projects. As Khanna puts it, the primary drivers for implementing the VDI system were twofold: providing a better security framework, and reducing the overall TCO.
“We wanted to implement a security framework that was more effective than the one we already had in place,” says Khanna, pointing out that in a distributed system the chances of experiencing security lapses was higher than in a more centralized system like a VDI setup.
The Gurgaon property of the Oberoi Group went ‘live’ in Dec 2009 along with the new VDI system, with around 100 users utilising the new system.
Based on their successful experience with this implementation at this site, the Group implemented the VDI and server virtualization solutions at both of their latest properties: namely the 252 room Oberoi hotel that opened in Dubai on 15 June, 2013 and the 323 room Trident Hyderabad that opened on 1 September, 2013.
Khanna points out that the Oberoi Group carried out similar project evaluations at some of the Groups other existing sites. However, the challenge that kept cropping up was what was to be done with the existing infrastructure at those sites.
“We couldn’t do a 100 percent refresh in one go. Instead we would be left with an infrastructure that was partly made up of the old systems and another part that was composed of the new setup,” explains Khanna, pointing out that they did not wish to land up in such a situation and that “was why the Group limited itself to implementing this system at the new Greenfield projects.”
Khanna was able to meet all the business expectation he had hoped to meet by implementing this system – namely saving power, better manageability, better security framework and more agility.
“If you look at our aims, other than the power savings, none of the other parameters are tangible. There are a lot of intangible benefits and they pay off (at the end of the day),” he adds.
Speaking about the power benefits, Khanna points out that while a regular desktop uses around 150 Watts of power, a thin client will only use around 15 Watts, and “when you multiply this [difference] by the number of users who use the system, the power costs come down [significantly].”
Now with a VDI system in place, Khanna has now been able to better secure his internal IT systems as now instead of having to deal with “100 individual systems have now been all consolidated into one server.”
Another benefit is that the administrator is saved from the overhead of moving around to find a particular machine or a particular user, thereby freeing him to involve himself in more strategic business-IT relevant work.
“They can work on other areas which can bring about more innovation,” he adds.
If you look at our aims, other than the power savings, none of the other parameters are tangible. There are a lot of intangible benefits and they pay off (at the end of the day).