Dubai Municipality embraces the mobile age with VDI

Published: 11 March 2018 - 2:12 p.m.
By: David Ndichu

Dubai Municipality, a key part of the Government’s digital vision, had an IT infrastructure that was struggling to keep up with the mobile age.

The municipality body's IT department also faced numerous challenges in its ability to deliver modern applications to the business.

Relief was close by, thanks to an ongoing partnership with VMware whose virtual desktop infrastructure, or VDI technology could solve these issues in one go.

VDI is a desktop virtualisation technology in which a desktop operating system, runs and is managed in a data centre. The desktop image is delivered over a network to an endpoint device, which allows the user to interact with the OS and its applications as if they were running locally. The endpoint may be a traditional PC, thin client or a mobile device.

VDI appeared around 12 years ago as an alternative to the traditional client-server computing model. The term was incidentally coined by VMware.

Application virtualisation, on the other hand, is the separation of an application from the client computer accessing it. From the end user's perspective, the application works just like it would if it lived on the user's device. The applications are delivered without having to install them on individual desktops. Instead, administrators implement remote applications on a server in the company's data centre or with a hosting service and then deliver them to the users' desktops.

VDI, coupled with application virtualisation, could allow Dubai Municipality embrace the next step of its digital transformation journey. 

Dubai Municipality has a relationship with VMware, spanning the past five years. Dubai Municipality was one of the first Dubai government organisations to deploy a software-defined data centre with VMware vSAN and VMware VxRail hyper-converged infrastructure solutions. The next step for the Municipality was to deploy VMware Horizon to provision virtual or remote desktops and applications through a single VDI and app virtualisation platform to streamline management and easily onboard end users.

Business challenge

The main challenge for any business today is to launch a new application or a new system or deliver a new software to clients, says Ahmed Kajoor Dubai Municipality CIO. Under the previous IT environment at Dubai Municipality, the technical process of installing software was tedious and time-consuming. A member of the IT support had to physically go to every desktop to install or update or patch an application and configure the system. This was clearly a challenge for an organisation with thousands of employees and offices throughout the Emirate. The entire environment is now virtualised, including server and the desktop with Horizon.

Secondly, when a user shifted from one machine to another, their environment is lost and they need again set up a completely new one. With VDI, that tedious process has disappeared completely. IT simply needs to carry out a single registration which is then distributed to all clients. Whenever an update or upgrade is required, it is done on copy and that copy is distributed to every machine. 

Mobility has taken over the enterprise, and Dubai Municipality is no different. People move around and they want to be connected and access to their enterprise applications wherever they are observes Kajoor. "They expect the same experience from our IT as they do in their personal lives as they access websites or social media."

Thanks to the new system, Dubai Municipality IT users get the same experience whichever end device use. "Whether they use a new machine or an old one, it makes no difference-everyone receives the same experience and the same version of any software," says Kajoor.

Dubai Municipality can continue to pursue its digital transformation vision, working with VMware on developing a ‘Roadmap to the Digital Workspace' says Ahmed Auda, managing director, MENA, VMware. The desktop and application virtualisation using VMware Horizon is the first phase of their digital roadmap.

Kajoor says the Municipality evaluated many other VDI software vendors but VMware ticked all the right boxes, including support and good value for money.

The main challenge during implementation process was integration, says Kajoor. "Our environment was muddled. We had a mix of PCs, some that are over 15 years old, and here we were implementing the latest version of VMware." Luckily, says Kajoor, these challenges were smoothed over with the dedicated support from the VMware team, he adds.

Business benefit

The benefits of Horizon VDI solution are many. The most important one is the ability to transform static desktops into secure, digital workspaces that can be delivered on demand. Using desktop virtualisation, Dubai Municipality can now deliver the right technology at the right time, especially allowing employees to work from anywhere, says Auda. "Dubai Municipality can also find significant cost savings in no longer needing to replace PCs, as they have deployed thin clients in their place."

The complexity in delivering applications to end users has now been resolved. "We have a much easier path today in our ability to launch new projects. Our process has become much more streamlined and a more satisfying experience," Kajoor says.

"The experience you get with VMware is across devices, whether desktops or mobiles. This gave us a lot of confidence even to launch applications which are not designed for mobile access, but which can now be adapted using VMware," Kajoor says, "Without VMware, we are not mobile."

Kajoor himself is an example of this mobility in action. "When I get out of the office, I just carry my iPad and I have access to my entire office."

Another attribute with Horizon is the ability to dynamically allocate resources with virtual storage, virtual compute and virtual networking to simplify management and drive down costs. Dubai Municipality now has slightly over 800 users onboarded already to the new system, with another 2000 users on schedule to be brought in across its offices all over the Emirate.

Previously, Dubai Municipality employees were forced to work from a fixed desktop or laptop, which cannot be taken outside of the office, and faced user hurdles from the IT department or support in terms of security. By being able to manage mobile devices, Dubai Municipality will be able to give all employees freedom of choice with built-in security, says Auda. "The organisation can also leverage adaptive management for business applications to personalise access to applications and documents by device, location, and security profile," he adds.

Security is critical for an institution of Dubai Municipality's stature. Dubai Municipality has centralised its security from the inside-out, with full control over corporate emails, files, documents, internal applications, and websites, notes Auda. As a result, employees no longer need to install and update anti-virus or data loss prevention software on their individual clients.

IT support has been undergone a significant overhaul as well with the new system. The previous process was very complicated, says Kajoor, with an IT personnel required for set up whenever a new machine was acquired. Whenever troubleshooting was required, support had to physically attend to the client. This is no longer the case as VDI allows for remote troubleshooting.

In general, organisations that have deployed virtual desktop infrastructure have saved 40% in costs over a period of five years, says Auda. Much of the cost savings comes from operational costs, such as eradicated downtime, eliminating much of the desk-side IT support, and quick remote app and desktop updates.

Dubai Municipality IT users are delighted, says Kajoor. "The ability to use an iPad instead of a desktop and still able to access their information has transformed the user experience. We have managed to improve our customer satisfaction from 65%-85%, and this is before we have even rolled out the full implementation," he adds. 

The most marked change in Dubai Municipality's IT environment is its shrinking datacentre footprint. Thanks to the accompanying cloud services roll out, the municipality has so far reduced the number of data centres from five to one rack. Kajoor wants to eliminate its physical data centre entirely by the end of 2019 and shift fully to the cloud. "This would not have happened without proper virtualisation," says Kajoor.

The second phase of Dubai Municipality's ‘Roadmap to the Digital Workspace' is focused on mobility, with the intention of deploying VMWare's Unified Endpoint Management, explains Auda. This phase will provide a single platform for any use cases, enabling shared devices, Bring Your Own Device, and Point of Sale devices. "Ultimately, this will allow all employees complete freedom of choice and new user experiences, to use any type of application, whether legacy or cloud-based, from any device, in any location, at any time."

Dubai Municipality will also be able to use VMware Workspace One Intelligence to monitor and enhance the user experience, and also report and analyse bugs and application crashes.

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