Mar 20 2013

Law Firms Deploy VDI with an Eye Toward BYOD

Virtual desktop infrastructure sets a foundation for mobility.

Michael Barnas, global applications and development director for SNR Denton, recalls how one of the law firm’s attorneys was able to send an important document to a client from the sidelines of his daughter’s soccer game, thanks to virtual desktops.

It’s that kind of service that makes a difference to clients and why SNR Denton has been on the virtualization path for close to a decade. The company’s IT department, which supports 3,000 users in 23 locations worldwide, deployed VMware when it collapsed its data centers in the early 2000s.  

At the time, the data center consolidation was primarily intended to strengthen continuity of operations and disaster recovery and reduce the number of servers. As the firm added new facilities over the past few years, it rolled out virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) using Citrix XenDesktop and XenServer.

Today, roughly 400 SNR Denton employees use virtual desktops to access more than 200 applications, including document management, time and billing, a company portal and special applications developed for legal practice areas.

Although the firm has yet to issue a formal bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy, some of its employees remotely access applications on their personal devices via VDI. “We do help people get to their virtual desktops on their personal notebooks, iPhones or iPads,” Barnas says. “As long as they’re set up to accommodate our security requirements, it’s fine.”


The estimated average number of connected devices per knowledge worker by 2014

SOURCE: Cisco IBSG Horizons Study (Cisco Internet Business Solutions Group, May 2012)

Moving forward, Barnas intends to roll out VDI to a majority of the firm’s employees this year, a project that coincides with a Windows 7 upgrade and potentially a move to thin clients. “We’re going to take a closer look at thin clients this year. We see that the video capabilities have improved, and that’s very important to the firm,” he says.

Brett Waldman, IDC research manager for client virtualization software, says a quest for efficiency and cost savings drives IT departments to deploy VDI.

“VDI lets IT departments separate the apps from the underlying hardware, allowing them to deliver apps anytime, anywhere on any device,” Waldman says. The technology simplifies the task of replacing and managing PCs and allows IT staff to deliver legacy Windows apps to users regardless of device type.

In addition to management and cost efficiencies, VDI speeds provisioning of new users at SNR Denton and contributes to job satisfaction. “We also use the virtual desktops as a recruiting tool,” Barnas says. “The ability for our attorneys to log in to the office from anywhere they have an Internet connection and serve our clients has been a huge improvement.”

Accommodating Modern Work Styles

Avi Solomon, director of IT for Becker & Poliakoff in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., says VDI helps the law firm’s employees work more effectively. For example, “We have an applications administrator who works best from home,” he says. “It doesn’t matter where she works, as long as she has access to the applications and stays productive.”

Roughly 60 users access Becker & Poliakoff’s case management and other systems via VDI with Citrix XenDesktop. Plans are in place to use a Citrix partner to help expand the use of VDI throughout the firm.

Solomon also wants to push toward a full BYOD environment, noting the firm has the requisite back-end technology, such as new HP blade servers and a storage area network with solid-state disks. “We’ll need to put some additional policies in place for BYOD, but people should be able to bring their device of choice, and we'll provide secure access to our system,” he says.

“The goal is to create the flexibility to let people work the way they are comfortable,” Solomon says. “Where virtualization of servers has provided agility to the business, VDI is being positioned to provide that same agility to the individual.”