Desktop Virtualization

VDI has helped Seattle Children's stay agile.

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Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) is a confusing name for something that could save you and your organization a ton of money and time. So, what is it? For those of you that are old enough, it's essentially the old dumb terminals from the 1970s (Wang, Digital, etc.) that were hooked up to the main frame, only updated with a better user interface. For the younger generation, you're simply being served a desktop from the "cloud."  Information Technology seems to just be one big circle of life, doesn't it? 

If your organization hasn't started the discussion on VDI, I'd certainly encourage you to do so. The benefits as seen by the clinicians, support staff and your IS staff are quite numerous. And, over a number or years, the ROI does indeed pencil out.

At Seattle Children's we've already begun to see some of the "hard dollar" savings and from day one we experienced those "soft" production/time efficiencies. Surprisingly, VDI has helped Seattle Children's deal with some issues that we never even anticipated it would play a role in - a happy windfall in our computing environment.

At Seattle Children's we started our primary VDI journey about two years ago, although there was a lot of work that went before the actual deployments. So far, Seattle Children's has deployed more than 3,900 zero clientsand has been recognized with the award of two Computer World Honors Laureates for the VDI deployment program. With this technology we are able to reduce average log on times that used to range from two to 10 minutes to a matter of seconds now.

We replaced PCs that were prone to breakage with solid state devices that are projected to last up to 10 years (these are the zero clients). Most importantly, it gives our clinicians the ability to be hyper-mobile with the right information available at the time and place they need it to help provide the safest and most effective care possible.

Our monitoring shows that our clinicians, as a group, move an average of 140,000 times per month from device to device, with one nurse moving to 48 different locations (devices) during one shift. Without our VDI technology, this type of hyper-mobility and information availability wouldn't have been possible. 

For our patients and families, the use of this technology at the bedside in our computers on wheels, gives them peace and quiet, literally. There are no moving parts like the fan or hard drive in a PC so our patients and families aren't subjected to that annoyance throughout their stay with us and can rest as comfortably as possible.

Energy Savings
The VDI project was done with patient safety as the highest priority but there were several corollary benefits: With less of a power draw, seven watts compared to 70 watts of a PC, we expect to realize a dollar savings of between $70 and $100 per device, per year in power costs. When multiplied by the 3,900 devices currently deployed, that equals out to quite a bit of savings. Our plan is to deploy an additional 1,500 devices by the time the program is completed. And, because the computers on wheels are battery powered, it means they'll last significantly longer between charges. 

Data Safety
Just like the VDI technology provides anywhere access to the EMR within our hospital, it also provides the exact same access, really the exact same desktop used at work, anywhere in the world. 

And, because of the way we have it configured, all our corporate data stays safely in our data center in Seattle. Finally, as organizations struggle with a "bring your own device" strategy, our VDI technology enables us to allow our staff to bring in any device and access corporate resources without exposing our data to download and potential loss; again, it all stays right there in the data center. This is particularly effective in our Research Institute where many of our researchers use non-standard devices to conduct research and can use those same non-standard devices to access corporate data through VDI.

Additional Benefits
Other than what's mentioned above, there are significant time and resource savings associated with VDI. Some time studies we've done show the average ambulatory nurse can save up to 45 minutes per day because he/she is simply not waiting on applications to load or PC's to boot.

From a pure cost perspective, our VDI devices are significantly cheaper than PCs, don't break, and don't need any "touch maintenance."  We haven't purchased a normal (not specialized like radiology or cardiology) PC in over two years, and more importantly, haven't had to swap out someone's old PC for a new one, which is the biggest cost in PC refresh.

All-in-all, our VDI project has been pretty successful at Seattle Children's. We're still not deployed to the extent we'd like to be and still find ourselves learning some lessons, but those instances are getting to be fewer and further between. With VDI, our organization is more agile and can react to the changes in both technology and patient care a lot more quickly than we could prior to VDI, and most importantly, it allows our providers to access the information they need where and when they need it. I encourage you to take a look at what VDI can do for your organization.

Wes Wright is senior vice president and chief information officer, Seattle Children's.

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