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IT problem fixed by the simplest tool: web search

Thu., May 24, 2012, midnight

Washington Trust scores a solution using Google to find similar problems

Tech managers, especially those keeping a large company’s computers working, tend to talk about “solutions.”

Computers or networks have issues. IT people go off and identify possible solutions.

Washington Trust Bank’s Chris Green ran into one thorny companywide network issue this year. But the solution that made his bosses happy didn’t come from high-priced consultants or an ingenious system workaround. It was way simpler.

The company was switching 450 workers from Windows XP to Windows 7, plus moving all of their computers to a more secure, easier-to-maintain virtual desktop system. Virtual desktops have no hard drives; they connect and access data stored in a local data center.

When the first dozen or so workers tested the new system, Green found the transition was moving smoothly.

But things didn’t go so well when the number of Washington Trust workers reached 90.

“At 90 users we ran into a tipping point,” Green said. “We saw the network performance take a big hit.”

The goal of virtual desktops is to streamline and improve how office computers perform on a network. Instead, the bank’s network turned into a bottleneck, and Green had to wonder what went wrong.

The problem was most obvious in the morning as many workers logged onto the network.

He quickly went through his list of company partners, including the major provider of the bank’s network servers, as well as software company, VMware, which provided the virtual desktop layer.

Their advice: Buy more hardware and increase network storage.

Green, who’s 55 and has worked in the bank’s IT department for nine years, took the old and familiar path often followed in smaller companies. He Googled the problem, and he didn’t have to search long before finding other companies dealing with the same issue.

After scouring several dozen search results on Google, Green spotted discussions in a number of tech forums. Other firms were dealing with the same problem, he discovered.

He noticed that one company that seemed to have solved the identical problem was JPMorgan Chase, the nation’s largest bank, which was trying to virtualize more than 50,000 desktop computers worldwide.

In those forum posts Green found comments suggesting a Silicon Valley firm, Atlantis Computing, had software that could unclog the network bottleneck.

Green contacted Atlantis, and after a few tests the network slowdown disappeared. He’s now moving ahead with converting the rest of the Washington Trust desktops to an all-virtual system, using the Atlantis solution.

“To be successful in IT you have to have a certain amount of luck,” Green added. “It was fortunate the suggested solution I found (online) was a winner for us.”

The price tag for the Atlantis product is well below the $100,000 Washington Trust was looking to spend for the extra hardware suggested by VMware, Green said.

Sean Knox, director of marketing for Atlantis, said it’s not unusual for customers to find the company through blogs, and to some extent from discussion forums. “There are a good number of consultants and bloggers who know about us. That’s one way we see word get around,” Knox said.

He said the scenario Washington Trust and Green went through is fairly common as companies move into a virtual computer environment. In fact, the JPMorgan “fix” was very similar, though not identical, to the one Washington Trust deployed, he said.

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