Missy Laird, IT director for Amarillo, Texas, says that virtual desktop infrastructure has provided public safety agencies with speedy access to information.

Jan 25 2024
Data Center

Local IT Leaders Optimize Their Work Environments with VDI

Virtual desktop infrastructure keeps employees on the same page, wherever they may work.

During the pandemic, the adoption of virtual desktop infrastructure empowered employees of Amarillo, Texas, to work from home — and it created breathing room for those who still had to come into the office.

“With VDI, we moved employees into various conference rooms without moving their physical machines. This allowed some departments to realize the value of the flexibility of VDI, both on-premises and off,” says Amarillo Director of IT Missy Laird.

With VDI, a hypervisor segments servers into virtual machines that in turn host virtual desktops. Users can connect to desktop instances from anywhere, and agencies can support the virtual machines from one location.

Experts say that state and local governments have good reason to embrace this strategy. Employees “don’t have to have all the files on their local computers. They can access them anywhere, on any device that is allowed,” says National Association of Counties (NACo) CIO Rita D. Reynolds.

And with VDI, IT teams can better manage software applications.

“It simplifies the initial software deployment, and when it comes to software updates and patches, you can do those across the virtual desktops from a central location,” Reynolds says.

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Local Governments Save Time, Gain Speed with VDI Solutions

Amarillo turned to the VMware Horizon VDI solution as part of a larger data center overhaul. IT leaders quickly began to see potential benefits beyond empowering remote workers.

“We were able to modernize our desktop world in more ways than we initially thought. We started by replacing some of our traditional desktops with VDI but quickly discovered that we could be far more innovative with the technology,” Laird says.

With desktop users up and running on VDI, “we started looking for other areas where we could deploy that we hadn’t thought about,” she says.

EXPLORE: Data center optimization may help agencies address security threats.

Early testing showed that first responders could benefit from having high-speed access to needed information, “so we rolled it out to the entire fleet of public safety vehicles,” Laird says.

The city reports saving $800,000 in recurring hardware-refresh costs for police cars by using VMware Horizon VDI supported by VxRail, a jointly engineered hyperconverged infrastructure from Dell EMC and VMware

“We also tested this in our emergency operations center with the same result. Now, they all operate on VDI,” Laird says.


The percentage by which a virtual desktop infrastructure upgrade cut response times for first responders in Amarillo, Texas

Source: Dell Technologies, "IT Modernization Sets Up a Data-Driven Future," January 2021

VDI Meets Demands to Work from Anywhere for Local Agencies

In Corona, Calif., CIO Chris McMasters saw the need for VDI firsthand during an emergency event.

“I was out of town at a conference in Florida, and we had a situation with the wildfires in California. We were trying to figure out how to run operations when you’re somewhere else,” McMasters says. A Citrix Workspace VDI solution initially proved to be the answer.

The IT team conducted a pilot project with Citrix, and when the pandemic came, “we basically turned it on for everyone, moving the pilot into production within 24 hours,” McMasters says. “I didn’t have to buy any hardware. I just spun up all my servers online, replicated whatever I needed to have and we turned it all on. We said, 'Go home. We’ll send everyone logins.'”

With most city IT running on the Microsoft Azure platform, Corona more recently has begun using the Microsoft 365 VDI offering to consolidate its technologies.

“Simplicity was the biggest driver, simplicity in the architecture,” McMasters says. “With us using the back-end cloud infrastructure components on the Windows side, it simplified things to put everything within their Azure platform.”

READ MORE: Several counties upgraded their on-premises data centers.

VDI Allows Flexibility Across Environments and Devices

During the pandemic, VDI kept end users connected. With all of the computation memory occurring on the cloud, “it didn’t matter if you were running a 10-year-old computer or an iPad. You could still run that VDI instance against it,” McMasters says. “We continued to run all of our operations, the permitting or finances, online. Our ERPs and HR systems didn’t miss a beat. It all just kept going.”

In the post-pandemic era, the city is leveraging VDI to solve what McMasters had long perceived as a shortcoming in state and local government.

In his private-sector experience, “I was running an IT department that spanned the nation, and people would work remotely all of the time, any time of the day or night. Coming into the government, I always thought it was weird that we couldn’t do that,” he says.

Post-pandemic, “we still have quite a few remote workers in city government. In my department, the majority are remote, or at the very least hybrid,” he says. Thanks to VDI, “they come into the office for a day or two and then they work from home, or work wherever they want. It looks a lot different.”

VDI Offers Many Benefits to State and Local Governments

Beyond supporting remote work, experts point to several reasons that virtualization makes sense for state and local government.

VDI helps IT teams to work smarter. It “simplifies managerial tasks like software updates, patches and system backups,” says Yale Fox, founder of Applied Science, a tech research and development studio. In terms of cost, VDI “reduces the need to purchase and maintain high-end hardware, since most of the work is done on the server side.”

Then there’s security. “With VDI, all data is centrally managed and stored, which reduces the risk of data breaches and other leaks that can happen when stored on individual devices,” Fox says.

At NACo, Reynolds also sees security benefits. “It helps organizations maintain compliance with their data security and privacy regulations,” she says. With data stored and managed within the data center rather than on individual devices, “the organization has more control over things like sensitive data or files,” she says.

Missy Laird
We were able to modernize our desktop world in more ways than we initially thought.”

Missy Laird IT Director, Amarillo, Texas

One often overlooked benefit of virtualization is its ability to extend the life of legacy applications, Reynolds says. There comes a point when older applications just won’t work on modern phones or laptops — a problem VDI solves.

“When you host them on a virtual desktop, you can access them from more modern endpoints,” she says.

How can you get started? While there are a range of VDI solutions in the marketplace, Reynolds says to look first at tried-and-true offerings.

“There are several known vendors, known solutions, out there. Start with those known solutions first,” she says. “Look at the reviews and look at what need they are filling.”

Photography by Robert Seale

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