Converged infrastructure to underpin desktop virtualization at Mater Health

End in sight for health-care provider's migration from Windows XP to Windows 7

Ease of deployment and management makes it likely that an increasing proportion of Mater Health Services' virtual desktops will be delivered courtesy of converged infrastructure.

The IT team at the organisation late last year deployed its first appliance from CI vendor Nutanix, said Peter Nomikos, IT services director at the health-care provider.

"We got our first block just before Christmas and we installed it in two hours," Nomikos said.

"We were impressed by that, clearly. We put some synthetic load on, did a number of tests to prove its capabilities and its performance, and we were very, very impressed."

Nomikos said that Mater had taken advantage of the end of a four-year leaseback cycle for a large number of its servers to swap in a number of appliances.

"We bought another five blocks at the beginning of June. We're now in the process of putting all the production load on those boxes that we can."

The organisation is currently carrying out a migration from Windows XP to Windows 7, a process that includes rolling out virtual desktops to as many Mater employees as possible.

Across the organisation there are currently around 1500 virtual desktops (based on Citrix's XenDesktop) and 2000 physical desktops, according to CIO Steven Parrish.

"We want it to be about 80 per cent VDI and 20 per cent [physical] desktop, but I think it’s probably going to end up about 65 per cent VDI, just because of the highly graphical nature of some of the applications that we run," Parrish said.

In addition, users in some areas of the hospitals managed by Mater have to run a significant number of applications simultaneously, which can be a challenge for virtual infrastructure, Parrish said.

Parrish said the organisation is in the middle of its migration from XP to Windows 7.

"Healthcare are traditionally late adopters of IT; we can’t afford, necessarily, to upgrade regularly. We also have a situation where we still have applications that won’t run on Windows 7," he said.

"With some old [healthcare] applications there’s no hope of getting them to work on Windows 7, so we've had to delay moving until we can upgrade those applications to versions that will run [on the newer OS]."

The shift to Windows 7 began a year ago, Nomikos said.

"We were doing it with business-as-usual resources. We got to a point where we hit about 50 per cent of the population upgraded to Windows 7," he said.

"The remaining 50 per cent were the difficult ones — the ones that we couldn’t upgrade because the application was too old or the vendor wouldn’t support Windows 7 at the time.

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"We decided to focus on the project a lot more when we hit that point because we just couldn’t progress it with our existing resources."

The current project to migrate the remaining desktops to Windows 7 was stood up in November last year. The aim is to finish the migration by the end of this calendar year.

The IT team has been careful to lock down PCs that are still running XP, Nomikos said. Microsoft ceased issuing patches for the operating system in April last year.

"We've been quite successful in mitigating the risks," Nomikos said.

Session portability has been a key driver for desktop virtualization at Mater, Parrish said.

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Virtual desktops allow a doctor, nurse or allied health professional to move from device to device as they see patients while retaining access to their documents and application state.

"It’s really about time-saving around the workflow of a clinician," Parrish said.

"We’re looking at 10-second connection speeds. You just can’t get that out of a physical machine," Nomikos said.

The organisation supports same sign-on through Active Directory/LDAP. Currently Mater employees have to type in their user name and password, but the organisation is interested in potentially deploying Imprivata's OneSign, Parrish said.

BYOD in Mater Health's future

Bring-your-own device is likely to play a role at Mater Health Services in the future, but there are no plans to implement BYOD in the short term, according to the organisation's CIO, Steven Parrish.

The main sticking has been working through the legal aspects of BYOD, Parrish said. The organisation does allow employees to use their personal iPhones or iPads or they can use Mater-provided iOS devices, but there's no mobile device free-for-all, the CIO said.

Device management is via Citrix's XenMobile offering.

"We're using it to manage the device at this stage, not necessarily to deploy mobile-enabled applications per se," said Peter Nomikos, Mater Health's IT services director.

"A lot of our use cases are around email, access to our intranet, SharePoint, those sorts of things. So we haven't found that killer app yet I think," Nomikos said.

Many of the applications used by Mater's hospitals have interfaces that are impractical for mobile devices, Parrish said.

For example, pathology still relies on a greenscreen, character-cell-based application.

"You can't get that working well on an iPad," the CIO said.

"The character cell app is 15 years' old and there's nothing on the market that can actually do what we want it to do, so we’ve got no option to replace it. As a result we have to keep a character cell app going for another five years or more until we find something that can work."

Follow Rohan on Twitter: @rohan_p

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