New College Durham has revealed how desktop virtualisation has helped the further education college reduce IT support costs and improve end user experience.

Although it has not yet completed its implementation of VMware's View Virtual Desktop across its approximately 1,600 computers, New College Durham has already managed to save on support labour time and cost. It also saves on the cost of refreshing its desktops, which it used to do every three to four years.

It deployed the software on 400 fat clients in the first phase in summer 2010 and 500 in the second phase, which completed two months ago. The remaining 700 will be completed by summer 2012.

"In the first phase, we only had one member of the desktop team supporting 400 [virtualised] desktops. Five were needed to support the rest of the fat clients. Now, we have two [on desktop support]. Only one is needed but we have two for cover," George Wraith, head of systems at New College Durham, told the VMworld conference in Copenhagen.

Limited resources and a small IT team led it to decide to implement the technology in three phases - which Wraith said was "by far the most successful" approach because his team has been able to learn from each stage and apply lessons learned to the latter stages.

New College Durham's IT infrastructure comprises Dell PCs, Dell servers, Fusion-IO storage cards and Wyse P20 clients. It uses PC over IP technology. Software deployed includes ESX vSphere 3.1, View 4.5 and Windows 7 operating system.

It decided to virtualise its desktop when it began to virtualise its servers in 2008, with the help of IT services provider Phoenix Software. From there, Wraith described the move to the virtualised desktop environment as a "no brainer".

New College Durham was driven to virtualisation for a number of reasons, but the main reason for virtualising servers was because it had run out of physical space, and the other option was to build a new server room.

"[When we moved to a new build campus in 2004] we moved into a brand new server room that we thought we had spec'd quite nicely for expansion.

"Come 2008, we'd effectively doubled our server estate size, and server virtualisation was by far the best way forward. We were running out of space in the server room and the cost of a new server room was quite horrendous," Wraith said.

Before it began the desktop virtualisation, New College Durham carried out a capacity planning exercise which revealed a significant IOPS (Input/Output Operations Per Second) requirement. To satisfy this requirement, extra money, not previously budgeted, was needed.

"It wasn't a problem at that stage because we hadn't started the implementation. Had that already gone ahead, and I had to go back to senior executives with my cap in hand...I know what I would have come up against," said Wraith.

Despite this extra cost, however, the college felt that the return on investment was still too great to ignore. It spent £338,736 on capital in the first year of implementation, £246,266 in the second year, and anticipates spending £232,269 in the final year.

The total capital spend is therefore £817,271, but compared with spending a £250,000 each year on desktop replenishment in the past, it now expects an ROI over three years. By the fifth year, it expects to make savings of £422,499, which will increase to £1.16 million by year 10.

Meanwhile, desktop virtualisation allowed the college to improve end user experience. For example, the boot time of the fat client in the previous environment was on average four minutes. In the virtual environment, it was just 40 seconds.

In addition, the college could move more easily from the controversial Windows Vista to Windows 7.

"We couldn't wait to get off Vista. That was a joy," said Wraith.