Suncorp banks on desktop virtualization

Queensland floods lead bank to implement virtual desktop

A series of natural disasters including the Queensland floods of 2010 prompted Brisbane-based bank, Suncorp, to implement a desktop virtualization project called Desktop Anywhere.

Suncorp enterprise engineering general manager, Terry Powell, told delegates at the Gartner Infrastructure, Operations and Data Centre Summit that when the floods hit Brisbane, the bank was faced with sending 5000 staff home.

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“Everyone who was sent home was allowed to login to our Citrix desktop — so a system that usually has 500 users a day had about 3000 users on at once,” he said.

“We were also faced with sending staff around the country to service claims, so we were in a dilemma about whether they could access applications from the Citrix desktop.”

Powell said the bank had a number of drivers which led to desktop virtualization. These included staff wanting to work from home, the high cost of managing its existing desktop fleet and a Windows 7 operating system upgrade that was stalling.

Desktop Anywhere was deployed in October 2011 and had 2000 users as of March this year. Staff can access a full desktop experience, including video, wherever they are working.

According to Powell, the virtual desktop is 50 per cent cheaper to run than its physical desktop environment.

However, the project has not been without its challenges such as performance perception and budget concerns.

“Unfortunately desktop virtualization had a bad reputation in the early years so we’ve had to get in there and get it working,” Powell said.

“Staff have also queried the cost, so we’ve redirected our desktop refresh budget into helping our virtual desktop project rollout.”

He added that the project has brought a number of benefits to Suncorp including operational efficiencies and workplace flexibility.

The bank has deployed three virtual desktop service offerings for staff including standard, professional and developer. Professional and standard users have access to higher computing power and full administration rights.

“If I get the right density, I can provide a virtual standard desktop for $1200 per device, a professional for $1700 per device and a developer for $2700 per device,” he said.

“This compares with physical desktop costs ranging from $2500 for a well-managed device up to $4500 for a poorly managed device.”

In addition, more staff can work from home as they only need a PC and headset to access Suncorp’s system.

While Desktop Anywhere is used by 2000 staff across divisions including business technology, real estate, human resources, finance, procurement and marketing, Powell has plans to deploy virtual desktop to 7000 staff, mainly in Brisbane, by the end of financial year 2012.

Suncorp’s banking, personal insurance, commercial insurance, treasury, chief finance office, chief risk office and group legal divisions will be next in line for the rollout.

Looking to the future, Powell said that the bank is developing Android and iOS apps for customers to complete claim forms online.

Within Suncorp, it is planning support for bring your own devices (BYOD) such as iPads while a unified communications (UC) rollout of WebEx to connect with Tandberg devices was in development.

The virtual desktop project follows the rollout in 2011 of Kofax software to capture data by the bank's loans unit.

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