Thursday, May 13, 2010


RAMS Home Loans has been considering rolling out a virtualised desktop to its 69 home loan centre franchises after it began virtualising its headquarters last year.

Around six months ago, RAMS started investigating VMware's virtualised environment. It deployed the virtualised desktop and server environment in October last year in its Ultimo offices, then transferred it into the company's new offices in York Street, Sydney in December.

Head of Operations and IT Mark Austin said it was a big change for the company.

"It's such a huge shift from the standard server and PC sort of environment where you can actually see, touch and control all the disparate environments," Austin said. "To actually shift to something that is not real — it's just one box — was actually quite a difficult thing to do."

Austin said that you had to be careful when moving to virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), and said that it wasn't something that would suit every business.

"You can't say to yourself that 'I'm going to replace a PC with a virtual terminal'," he said. "A PC is a powerful beast, from video capabilities to sound and all these sorts of things, [but] that doesn't come in a virtual environment.

"A virtual environment is for people that need to have core applications: Microsoft Office [and] some web browsing for the ability to run their department."

Such a set-up with basic applications was what RAMS had, he said.

The company has 120 people in total with 150 desktops available for use, 70 per cent of which were virtualised. Departments like Marketing use graphically intensive applications such as Dreamweaver and Photoshop, which were not virtualised.

Prior to moving the company's kit to the virtualised setting, Austin said RAMS had two 100-square-metre server rooms that housed approximately 80 servers in 20 racks.

After virtualising, RAMS had been able to reduce the space required down to one 20-square-metre server room. The new room housed five racks and three servers.

Data for the virtualised environment is stored on a NetApp storage area network (SAN) and is hosted within the company's York Street office, he said. All data is mirrored for redundancy.

Of the three servers, one runs Microsoft Exchange, one runs an inbound fax service and the other, the main server, runs everything else. Austin said the only reason the fax service had its own server was because it needed specific hardware that couldn't sit in a virtual environment.

Many of RAMS' applications aren't sitting on its servers at all, as it often outsourced them. "The majority of our core applications, which are probably critical to this business, are all outsourced and all web-based. We actually then farm these out to disparate organisations," he said.

The company's home loan system is hosted in Melbourne, its imaging system in Sydney, and its decision engine "in another datacentre", Austin said.

The next step for RAMS, Austin said, will be to virtualise the 69 home loan centres run privately around the country, and will be managed by IT outsourcer Harbour IT. There are around 280 desktop PCs being managed by Harbour IT currently, he said.

"That is something that we are considering," Austin said. "Rolling out the VDI environment to the franchise would allow me to not only drop my cost of ownership from an infrastructure point of view, but from a support point of view it's going to be far less [intensive] as well, therefore it's going to be beneficial to the franchisee.

"It's very doable. We could do it now. We've just got to look at the acceptance rate within the franchise network and really think 'Are we trying to apply a control on our franchise network that is really not necessary or is it just a cost-reduction exercise?'," he said.

Currently, the company invoices its franchise for any IT-related work. This is because RAMS doesn't have a financial interest in any of its franchises. In total, Austin said there were two people working on IT systems internally. One of those was him.

"So any IT or any sort of support that we provide the franchise, we actually have to charge them, that is actually quite a high cost," Austin said.

He said that when the company looked at going down the virtualisation path, it had placed a 30 per cent operational and support cost savings figure on the plan. "We're probably nudging about 50 per cent saving right now," he said. "So it's a lot better than we thought."

As well as savings, the company was also able to get a clearer picture of its software licensing.
"This allowed us to get a clear picture of what our licensing position is by moving to VDI and it also meant that we could get a consistent desktop, not prescribed in a way that it can't be customised, but people can feel that it's their space," Austin said.