Two new contracts, one large and one small, show the city of Denton’s technology services department continuing to manage the fallout after a virtual desktop manufacturer went under last year.
“From the outset, we knew they [virtual desktops] weren’t going to work for everyone,” said Kevin Gunn, the city’s director of technology services.
In 2011, technology services had recommended that as the city’s lease for personal computers with Dell expired, most of the machines be replaced with virtual desktops. The plan was to spend $786,000 to replace 900 of the traditional computers used by the city’s 1,400 employees in 2012.
Last week, however, the City Council approved a $1.3 million lease agreement with option to purchase that went back to Dell for the immediate purchase of 1,094 notebook computers and desktop PCs, some with monitors. The agenda information sheet also advised the council that, in addition to the initial purchase, another 450 computers would be needed over the next four years for another $423,900.
Since the computing power can be the most expensive part of the machine, some technology professionals have been trying virtual desktops. Workers get devices, sometimes called “zero” or “thin clients,” that look and work like traditional computer desktops, but the software and data remain on a server in a central location.
Analysts have said that virtual desktops can help a business or governmental entity recover from a disaster quickly. They can also offer better compliance, manageability and security. But analysts are also finding that as companies switch to virtual desktops, the systems cost more.
Some in health care are moving to virtual desktops, for example. But the conversion is going slowly because there are only a few companies supporting the change for that industry, according to Imprivata, an information security company that has been querying health care system technology directors on the topic for the past three years.
The city had piloted about 180 virtual desktops in 2011 before it committed to rolling out 700 units in four phases in early 2012. In October 2012, a key supplier, PanoLogic, abruptly closed its doors. Moreover, about the time the contract was inked, the company that won the bid to help the city go virtual, INX, was acquired by another tech company, Presidio.
Elton Brock, the city’s purchasing director, said Denton has not used its three-year, renewable contract with INX for more than a year.
Gunn said his department still expects to deploy 600 virtual desktops, citing public work stations and other areas where virtualization can work.
The council’s agenda information for this latest purchase said nothing of the virtual desktops, only that a 2006 agreement with Dell had long ago expired. However, staff members told the council in an informal report in March that they considered only $49,000 of the $786,000 investment in the virtual desktops as “stranded” because of the lack of outside tech support for the transition.
This week, the City Council approved another technology contract, a small interlocal agreement with Corinth for technology services. Documents showed that Corinth sought server hosting and associated services for about $45,000 per year and Denton had excess capacity to provide. Virtualization is part of the contract, documents showed.
City documents also showed employees have complained about problems with log-ins and system responsiveness with the virtual desktops. Professionals who need computing power at the ready — for programs such as databases, video streaming or geographic information systems — can sometimes find it more difficult to work through a virtual desktop, experts say.
PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.