Inside Telstra's Virtualisation Strategy

Telstra is increasingly turning to virtualisation as its core strategy to both manage the rising costs of -- and growth in -- its data centres, according the company’s CIO, John McInerney.

Running for the best part of five years, Telstra’s virtualisation program has seen a steady evolution from server farms based on utilisation software through to the latest in server and desktop virtualisation.

Where once the focus was on bringing product to market more quickly, the rising costs of infrastructure management have seen virtualisation come to the fore in the last six months as an additional way for Telstra to trim its IT costs, McInerney says.

“Our virtualisation program, like for most organisations, is a critical way of driving costs down,” he says. “Most organisations these days are trying to deal with incredibly demanding data centre growth requirements, and the fact that data centres are extremely expensive to run from an overall cost perspective.”

According to McInerney, Telstra’s confidence in virtualisation is largely due to the noticeable maturation in the technology. Virtualisation is now mature enough, he says, for Telstra to embark on a migration program for all its x86-based server platforms -- up to 800 systems -- to virtualisation.

“It’s a fairly big program, and we are doing it in a fairly aggressive timeframe, because we believe that the software, from a migration perspective, is more mature than what it was two years ago,” McInerney says.

Tooling up

In addition to reducing costs, virtualisation has led to improvements around compatibility and the quality of management tools, McInerney says. Where management tools were once narrowly focused, the ability to manage applications running on a range of various operating systems is now a reality.

“Compatibility issues seem to be being solved as we move forward. . . and the toolsets available in the market place have come a long way, so there are now some real benefits in deploying them,” he says.

“One of the key things for us is in being able to pre-provision, and effectively bring applications into that space faster. The pre-provisioning tools, the overall management tools -- how we actually bring in new infrastructure -- are vastly better than they were two years ago. Most vendors are now bundling these toolsets as part of their core offering. They weren’t doing that two years ago.”

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Virtualisation to the PC, application

In light of this, Telstra has also begun a desktop virtualisation trial using product from Simtone, VMware, Citrix and Microsoft, which if successful, will see it virtualise up to 20,000 PCs and notebooks, McInerney says.

“We are looking to virtualise the majority of desktops that we would categorise as commodity desktops -- typically those that run in our call centres on a very large scale,” he says. “We’re looking for a degree of fluidity in how we can move those environments, and move staff in and out of those environments.”

According to McInerney, the trial is part of a two-stage desktop virtualisation strategy, which will see Telstra also look to deploy virtualisation at the application layer as well.

“Stage one is to deliver a virtual desktop which involves storing an individual image of each desktop back in the data centre -- one image per user,” he says. “What we then want to look at, is to virtualise the application layer.

“Instead of having an individual copy of Word for each user, for example, users would all subscribe to one copy of Word which is virtualised on each machine. We want to bring applications which aren’t hosted in the data centre, back into the data centre.”

The next step on from there, McInerney says, is to move to a Sun Ray-type thin client computing model.

Under this model, originally developed for Sun’s Solaris operating system, all computing is done on the server, with a thin client or existing PC used simply to pass input and output data between itself and the server where the operating system and applications are located.

In this way Telstra call centre staff would be able to log on to any given thin client terminal or PC and be able to access their own particular PC image with its applications and operating system(s), based in the data centre.

“By virtualising these desktops we will also be able to significantly extend the life of the desktops we have,” McInerney says.

However, while virtualisation has significantly progressed, there are still challenges when it comes to users connecting via the network and those connecting while mobile.

“There isn’t one solution that will carry this from end-to-end,” he says “There are challenges that have to be solved when it comes to connecting to the network.”

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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