Halton Housing Trust has revolutionised the work-life balance of its staff with the introduction of virtual desktop technology that allows them to work wherever they have access to the internet.
Halton Housing’s new infrastructure is based on Sun Ray zero-client devices which have been installed on every desk in the organisation and integrate with its existing VoIP telephony system to provide hot desking in all offices.
Neil Higham, assistant director of ICT, Halton Housing Trust, said, “Once logged in, the desktop behaves exactly like Windows XP on a ‘normal’ desktop or laptop. If you need to rush off somewhere when you’re in the middle of writing an email, there is no need to wait for your PC or laptop to shut down. You just take your smartcard out and your telephone is automatically transferred to voicemail or diverted to your mobile.
“When you plug your smartcard into another Sun Ray device or access remotely via another device, the desktop session that starts up is exactly as you left it. You are also logged back on to your extension.”
The Sun Rays use 25 per cent of the power of traditional thin client devices and 5 per cent of the power of traditional PCs, thereby reducing costs, power consumption and carbon emissions. It also combines with the Mitel telephone handset on the desk to reduce desk space.
The virtual desktop environment will also make it much easier for Halton Housing to upgrade to Windows 7 and Office 2010 later this year. Higham explained, “We just need to install them once on the server and give the users access to them. The next time they log on, they will have Windows 7 and Office 2010.”
The virtual infrastructure also gives employees remote access to the same desktop via the housing provider’s Citrix remote access system. When employees log on from home or anywhere with an internet connection, they click on an icon to access their desktop and once again it is in exactly the same state as they left it.
Halton Housing funded the project by rethinking its PC and laptop replacement and upgrade cycle. Higham said, “We decided that rather than spending money on devices that will need to be replaced again in five years time, we would invest in Sun Rays and a virtual desktop environment. Sun Rays have no moving parts so they can last for 20 years or more. It also gave us the hot-desking and flexible working environment that we wanted to achieve.”
Nick Atkin, chief executive, Halton Housing Trust, said, “As part of our wider approach to office space rationalisation and flexible working, there is no doubt that this has been a key cornerstone which has contributed to a wider change in our entire working culture.”
The project has been designed and implemented by the Halton Housing’s own ICT department. Higham said, “I like to deliver as much as possible using in-house resources and it’s been fantastic to implement such a complicated project with our own team.”