Fareportal, a travel company with workforce strength of 2100, that operates in the US, Canadian and European markets, had started its India operations in 2005. It’s main delivery centre, based out Gurgaon, was growing at such a rate that would see the company almost double its headcount in a span of 2 years from 2011 to 2013. Such growth called for an increase of office space, but with the spiking real estate prices in Gurgaon, Fareportal had to look at some means of offsetting the real estate prices against its growth.
A.K. Singh, Director – IT, Fareportal, understood that one way of addressing this issue was through reutilizing the existing real estate that the company already possessed. To that effect he went about starting the implementation of a desktop virtualization solution in 2012 – which would be an interesting combination of Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) and Hosted Shared Desktop (HSD) solutions.
The nature of work done by Fareportal’s employees lay behind Singh opting to implement both the VDI and HSD solution. Fareportals’ developers, given their job description, required dedicated systems and as such they couldn’t use an HSD system to meet all their resource requirements. So with a VDI solution, Singh would be able to provide them with a higher capacity device as and when required, allowing the developers to deploy the code faster.
Moreover, there were certain apps that were bound to a certain MAC address, and users who used these apps also couldn’t use an HSD system.
“Consider 10 people logging onto an HSD instance. They will all have the same MAC address. In the case of apps that are bound to a particular MAC address, only that particular MAC address can run just one instance of that app,” explains Singh, pointing how even in such a case an HSD system wouldn’t suffice with multiple people sharing the same desktop.
So for both the developers and users with such access controlled apps, Singh set about implementing a VDI solution.
For the remaining users, including call centre employees, general corporate functions like HR, admin, IT, accounting, etc… the HSD system was rolled out as it could support their regular workload.
After having seen a number of options, Singh opted to implement Citrix’s XenDesktop and XenApp solutions. The other main drivers for setting up this implementation was the need to extend the refresh cycle for the various end devices that the company would use. Moreover, Fareportal wanted to invest more on, as Singh puts it, a “centralized infrastructure where the organization can better control and deploy solutions at a quicker pace.”
Singh carried out a POC for the new system in June 2012 and completed it by December 2012.
As Singh puts it, the two biggest challenges he faced during this period were getting users to accept this new system and in realizing the importance of storage for setting up such a system.
Singh soon realized the importance of storage in delivering to users the required level of performance from their systems.
“Storage turned out to be a very critical aspect, and we had to consider how the type of storage, the capacity, (and related characteristics) played a very critical role in the implementation,” says Singh.
In any virtual environment, whether it is on the server or storage front, a particular IOPS (Input/Output Operations Per Second) level needs to be maintained so that users get the required performance from their systems, he explains. This was confirmed when the POC was carried out.
Singh addressed this user-performance requirement by implementing a SAN environment “connected with about 10 Gbps of bandwidth.” This setup made for a storage system that provided an IOPS performance in the range of 1500 to 2000, allowing Fareportal’s employees to get the ideal performance from their systems.
As with all other projects that affect the end-users work, Singh had to take time to address and assuage his employee’s concerns regarding the new system.
Singh notes that he had to cast himself as a salesman for this new implementation to get his employees on board.
“You have to be a good sales/marketing guy more so than being good IT guy (to convince your employees),” says Singh.
“(Getting users to accept the new system) is a gradual process. You have to bring about a support process to train your users,” he adds.
But in Fareportal’s case almost half the user acceptance battle was already won. Being a growing company granted Fareportal the advantage that they could expect fewer issues in getting the new employees to accept the new system, more so than from their existing employees, as they were not encumbered to an earlier way of work unlike their more senior colleagues.
Moreover, as the company had already setup an infrastructure that was well updated, they didn’t have to setup any new infrastructure to meet the requirements of implementing this new system.
Having carried out the POC and taken away the necessary learning’s to his satisfaction, Singh started implementing the Citrix XenDesktop and XenApp solutions and had it completed by Februrary 2013.
As of now, 30 percent of Fareportal’s workforce uses the new Citrix XenDesktop and XenApp environments. Singh expects to have the rest of the team get onto the new system as well, although he states that that would be a gradual shift.
“It will take time – it will be a gradual increase. We can’t have a paradigm shift. We will be doing this (expansion) slowly,” he explains.
The success of this implementation has been noted at the Fareportal’s headquarters, with plans for such solutions to be put in place at the company’s head office.
With the new system in place, the company has been able to make savings to the tune of $ 400,000 per annum from just the real estate cost they have avoided by being able to accommodate more people in the same amount of space.
Singh notes that the productivity of the VDI users - developers and those who used access controlled apps – increased as they could requisition resources as and when required.
Moreover, with the company setting up the new thin client systems, they have been able to reap 15 percent savings on the power front as well. Singh adds that from an infrastructure perspective, they have been able to make savings of 35 percent.
“If you have around 300 desktops, you would require a 20 kv UPS power load. If you had a similar number of thin client systems, the power requirements would come down to 7.5 kv. This results in huge cost savings,” explains Singh.
Moreover, seeing how much they have benefited from this system, Fareportal is also planning on adding new office space in Gurgaon in the near future that will be completely setup, from scratch, with a virtual environment.