I’m the IT manager for Murnane Brandt, a nationally recognized law firm founded in 1940 that’s known for its successful complex litigation practice and strong business department. Our headquarters are in St. Paul, Minnesota, and we have branch offices in Bismarck, North Dakota and Hudson, Wisconsin.
With more than 80 attorneys and staff, our goal is to provide desktops that are more reliable and easier to support, while also reducing the risk of sensitive client information being lost or stolen. In addition, we wanted to support our users’ growing needs for mobility and device flexibility to maximize productivity and client service.
A Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) based on technology from Unidesk, VMware, and Nimble Storage enabled us to centralize our desktops in our own private cloud. We’ve been running VDI for over two years, and we’re 100% virtualized. Since deployment, we have seen improved IT efficiency, data security, staff productivity, and client service.
Here’s how we did it.
The Journey to VDI
The servers at Murnane Brandt had been virtualized for several years using VMware vSphere. But with our PCs overdue for a refresh, Windows XP coming to its end-of-life, and attorneys and staff pushing for Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) support, we started looking into virtual desktops.
The more we researched VDI, the more we thought it was the right avenue to pursue. Cost-wise it was a wash compared to constantly refreshing PCs, but the security, mobility, and management advantages of VDI made going virtual an easy decision.
One of our goals was to make the user experience so seamless that our attorneys and staff wouldn’t notice the difference between virtual and physical. We had decided on VMware Horizon to help provide this seamless user experience. But we needed a management solution that would make it easy for our two-person IT shop to provision desktops, deliver applications, patch images, maintain personalization, and do fast break/fix.
I didn’t find Unidesk so much as Unidesk found me. I had been researching how to deliver our apps and was struggling with some of the issues with traditional application virtualization technology. In my searches, I saw videos of Unidesk and how their new layering approach to app delivery was fast and easy, while giving the experience of a local install. That’s just what we wanted.
Once we implemented Unidesk in our environment, it made it easy for us to deliver the many different applications required by our staff, without the image management challenges that have traditionally made patching and updating Windows and applications inefficient.
Benefits: Simple Application Delivery, Image Management, and Break/Fix
Unidesk has greatly simplified the day-to-day management of desktops and applications at Murnane Brandt. Most applications are packaged as a Unidesk layer so they can be updated separately from the Windows 7 Gold OS layer. Unlike traditional application virtualization, which isolates apps in their own protective bubbles, Unidesk’s layered apps act like they are locally installed so there are no interoperability issues.
With Unidesk, it’s easy to deliver new applications and apply updates. We simply install the application once to create a layer, and then we can assign it to any desktop. Layering has saved me many times; if a certain app is having problems, I just click on the desktop, tell the app to reinstall itself, and 10 minutes later it’s working again.
The same goes for personalization layers. Our attorneys expect their desktops to remember where they left off so they don’t lose valuable time. The Unidesk personalization layer captures each user’s unique settings, documents, and plug-ins. If a desktop stops working, we just revert back to an earlier personalization layer snapshot and reboot. This simple step fixes whatever was causing the problem and recovers any lost information. We are even able to specify when and how often snapshots are taken as well as control how many snapshots are saved. For a small IT shop, this is an incredible time-saver.
Unexpected Branch Office and Remote Access Benefits
Opening a new office can often be a nightmare for IT. But with our VDI solution in place, supporting office expansion and practice growth has been easy and efficient. When we opened our office in Bismarck, we had them up and running in just an hour without having to go on-site. Instead, I only needed to preconfigure a router and ship it out with the other equipment. I was able to walk one of our attorneys through the VDI setup over the phone.
The Bismarck office virtual desktops were provisioned using Unidesk on the HP servers located in our St. Paul headquarters. All of the applications were quickly assigned by selecting from any of the 37 application layers. With the combination of Unidesk and VMware Horizon View, the user experience in Bismarck is no different than in our corporate headquarters in St. Paul.
VDI has also provided unexpected remote access benefits. For example, one of our attorneys had to travel to China for two weeks and was working remotely from a business traveler hotel. The other U.S. hotel guests were frustrated that they couldn’t access the resources they needed because of local Internet restrictions. However, our attorney seamlessly connected to his virtual desktop in St. Paul, and was able to access all of the applications and resources he needed to stay productive during his trip.
Since starting with Unidesk more than two years ago, we have seen desktop help requests decrease dramatically. Unidesk makes everything easier—desktop provisioning, Windows updates, app delivery, break/fix, and recovery. Unidesk’s layering approach to desktop management gives me the control I want and the experience our users expect and demand. It also makes it easy to customize any of our 80+ persistent virtual desktops with any application we need. It’s not often you find a solution that makes IT and end users so happy. We’re glad we’ve found one.