Firstly, all the servers in the 56 offices were consolidated into two data centers — one in Kowloon Bay and the other in Tsuen Wan — for redundancy and recovery purposes. Users were allocated to either data center in a pattern that ensures maximum uptime in the event of an outage.
The data center compute-power presents as a single virtualized server environment — applications and storage are virtualized and integrated into this dynamic environment, which users access via a VDI (virtualized desktop interface).
The MTR also allows access via mobile devices, a development made possible by the security measures that the data center setup now affords them. A unified communications platform was rolled out at the same time to boost the productivity benefits of the project.
The first issue brought up at the roundtable was application management. Gerrit Bahlman, director of IT at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, asked how MTR dealt with the number of separate pieces of software used across the 56 offices.
Hung acknowledged that this was an issue, but careful consideration was taken to consolidate the number of applications to avoid additional support costs. As MTR's property management division primarily operated from a core software system, this helped the virtualization process.
A more challenging matter was dealing with applications which required high levels of compute-power to operate. "The difficulty on this project was the scale of the VDI implementation, with so many users and offices," said Hung. "We also had to virtualize so many non-typical applications, like AutoCAD and Photoshop, which needed a lot of bandwidth capacity and high-resolution screens. When we started on this project, we encountered some technical issues because we didn't anticipate the amount of bandwidth these applications would consume."
HP's proposed solution to this problem was to deploy a proprietary piece of software which analyzed the working environment, establishing patterns of use and peak requirements. This then allowed MTR to segregate their users into two types based on usage, then allocate bandwidth and compute resources accordingly.
However, Cally Chan, managing director, HP Hong Kong, cautioned that the process is a delicate one, and under-provisioning of bandwidth and computing resources for power users could have a negative impact on the wider organization.
"If you just leverage the standard backend server you have two problems," she said. "The first is that it's not powerful enough to cater for the intensive demand of an AutoCAD user. The second is that you affect the performance of other users." Chan said one way to do this was to leave power users on high-spec PC workstations, while thin clients are rolled out to normal users.
Banks are one group of companies that have actively deployed VDI as they seek better management of the user environment, improved security and also with many banking operations, thin clients have proved popular staff often use multiple screens in their workspace.
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.