LAKE MARY, Fla.-The computer desktops at CFE FCU last twice as long as those at other CUs-and they're most likely more secure.

That's because CFE's desktops are virtual-the $1.2-billion CU is the first credit union to deploy the pint-sized machines at 300 workstations across the enterprise.

The 2-by-4-by-4-inch virtual machines are "zero-client"-they store no operating system, applications or files. Instead, each machine connects to the data center server at each branch, which contains a personalized image of that user's system, applications and files.

The tiny desktops compel Kevin Wright, VP-IT at CFE, to suggest that the zero-client devices are also "zero-space." Users can plug any legitimate peripheral into a USB hub connected to the virtual desktop.

The 19-branch CU expects to see ROI from the virtual desktops in March, just one year after deployment, said Wright. "The cost of the virtual hardware is about one-third of that of full desktops. They'll last eight years, two cycles of a full desktop. That's huge for us."

The virtual devices last longer because they contain no moving parts, he explained. "It's all solid-state equipment. You could soak it in a tub of water, stick it in a bag of rice, and it would still work."

Virtual desktops use only 3 watts of electricity compared with the typical desktop, which can suck up to 450 watts, Wright said, noting that can be key during a disaster, when running off a generator, he said.

The hardware and desktop management software are provided by Redwood City, Calif.-based Pano Logic and run on free ESX virtualization platform software provided by Palo Alto, Calif.-based VMware.

Virtual desktops are a cinch to manage using Pano Logic, Wright said. Pano Manager, VMware vCenter and the Microsoft Active Directory domain controller allow Wright to apply software patches from a central server and control user access.

"I can schedule Pano to do automatic updates and reboots," said Wright. "I don't have to depend on the end user to reboot, so I'm no longer behind on patching."

CFE will roll out the Microsoft Windows 7 operating system to the 300 virtual desktops in December, a task that will take all of an hour using Pano Manager, Wright said.

Wright said he can set up a new desktop for an employee in two to five minutes. "I can deploy 25 virtual desktops for training sessions with a couple mouse clicks."

Technical support personnel travel 75% less to troubleshoot at CFE's far-flung branches than when full desktops were the norm, thanks to Pano Manager, Wright said.

Data aren't stored on virtual desktops, and the devices have no memory, so Wright said he has "no fears" about security if the virtual hardware is stolen. "We never knew what someone might put on the full desktops."

Although users can use video without a hiccough, the core system still runs a tad slowly on the virtual desktops, Wright said. That's not Pano's fault, but a matter of resolving glitches with the core vendor, he said.

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