Virtualization technologies have already been successfully implemented in the transportation and transit arenas. The State of Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) has employees scattered across the state in branch offices, small project offices and out in the field, so the underperformance of client/server applications created a real problem. The increasing use of graphics-intensive geographic information systems (GIS) solutions and data-heavy construction applications required a large amount of information to be downloaded onto the client device over the network. Also, inconsistencies across various local servers led to an unstable environment in which all servers were different and often running different versions of the same application. This heterogeneous architecture required more time and resources than was necessary.
To streamline the existing IT system, MDOT deployed a virtualization solution that centralized the server and allowed for enterprise-wide application delivery. This removed the need to assign IT staff in each district office. “Now we control everything centrally,” says Beth Ann Hinds, senior systems specialist for MDOT. And, the virtualization solution gives mobile workers more freedom to work with high-performance application success.
Server virtualization transforms the datacenter from sprawling and expensive server farms into a well-managed, energy-efficient hub. By using a single server to process multiple virtual machines handling different applications, transportation entities can increase server utilization rates while running far fewer servers. This cuts down on the power needed to operate, cool and maintain datacenter equipment by as much as 75 percent and multiplies efficiency tenfold, according to some studies. Transit organizations can use virtualization to get the capacity and availability they need to push out information via email, texts, tweets or any other technology that gives customers what they want: up-to-the-minute information at their fingertips.
But virtualization’s benefits for mass transit don’t stop there.
Access and ease for end users and IT teams
Desktops, laptops and other end devices — including the ubiquitous BlackBerry and iPhone — now act as the access point for employees and customers alike. Employees have to access enormous amounts of transit data, including fat GIS files, to properly serve customers wherever they may be. And customers today want to access more data themselves or, better yet, have that data pushed out to them via email, texts or other Web 2.0 technologies.
Desktop virtualization enables fast access to data and applications from just about anywhere, over any network, without expensive hardware and the need to spend valuable time touching every end device for patches, upgrades and new software installations. Instead, the IT department handles these once time-consuming changes at the server level, in the datacenter — saving weeks of man-hours and freeing up the IT staff to work on other key services.
Back at the Mississippi Department of Transportation, leveraging the latest applications and updates to more than 100 locations meant that the IT team had to physically visit each office to install applications and updates on each local server and each client device. For mobile MDOT employees using laptops or even BlackBerry devices, IT staff members had to physically locate or recall the devices in order to complete administrative tasks. MDOT’s virtualization solution changed all that.
A virtualized desktop performs completely independent of the access device, running on ultra-reliable servers in the datacenter. Unlike the traditional desktop, a virtualized desktop is available to run whenever the user requests access from any device or desktop appliance. The technology enables users to quickly log on to their personalized virtual desktop and begin working — ensuring immediate access to data and immediate productivity.
Through their current virtualization solution, MDOT’s IT team delivers a desktop of about 15 applications to 1,000 employees across Mississippi. These applications include Site Manager for construction and materials management, the Performance Series financial management system, a contract administration solution and Oracle and Sybase databases. Because applications process on the server with only minimal data traveling on the network, applications can be delivered to desktops and BlackBerry devices alike. Employees get the data they need to serve customers faster than ever, with no need to use a specific device at a fixed location.
Since desktop virtualization transforms the end user’s device into a simple access tool, the refresh cycle for costly desktops and laptops is increased by years. According to a Gartner Research study, the five-year total cost of ownership for a desktop computer without virtualization averages more than 10 times the original purchase price. So the ability of the virtual desktop to impact the bottom line becomes immediately evident.