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The Challenge

Managing hundreds of desktop computers is no easy task. Firms can't afford to have their traders and brokers down while IT staff rummage around desks replacing broken units. Now, there's an alternative to decentralized-workstation computing.

Adam Taubman knew that the move to a new building in Westchester, N.Y. presented a chance for Morgan Stanley to change the way it managed its desktop-computing environment.

When it came to the PCs running on the trading floor at its new facility, the firm decided to try something different. It took the desk out of desktop computing, opting, instead, to deploy 2000 PC blades from ClearCube Technology of Austin, Texas.

"We saw an opportunity to use cutting-edge technology in the new building in Westchester to create real value and improve efficiency. Benefits will include better security, less user downtime, lower service costs and improved business continuity," says Taubman, executive director and technology-project manager with Morgan Stanley.

The system, he says, allows Morgan Stanley to centralize the CPUs that run the desktops and manage the system from one location within the building.

It's a new take on thin-client technology that eliminates the need for complicated middleware. The blades, which are smaller than the standard hard drive and feature a disk drive, motherboard and power supply, are stacked on a rack in a centralized-computing facility. A typical rack can hold 96 blades and each ClearCube blade features an Intel Pentium 4 processor and has 120 gigabytes of memory.

What's left on the desk is the monitor, mouse, keyboard and a port device (about the size of a thin modem) that links users to the blades.

"The project is very important," Taubman says. "By taking the PC off the desk and putting it into the comms (communications) room, we're changing the operating model at Morgan Stanley. This solution will improve our service levels and reduce our desktop-operating costs. This architecture represents a logical next-technology step in the evolution of our trading floor and desktop-computing environment."

Blade computing is not new. It's been around in the server space for a few years and most of the key server-hardware providers have a blade solution, but it's rare in the desktop environment.

"When you think of blade computing, you're mostly thinking about blade servers," says Larry Tabb, founder of the Tabb Group.

The "big difference" is that the blade server operates in a cluster and, as the work comes in, the central manager "divvies up all the pieces of the pie" and distributes the work across multiple blades. With a desktop, the PC blades are clustered, but each user has a designated device.

Tabb says in the server space, "These clusters are becoming much more popular," adding, "There's a move towards clustered solutions instead of bigger boxes."

Taubman says that at Morgan Stanley, "The focus is on total cost of ownership," and he expects a 30 percent savings by using PC blades. "Desktop operating costs will come down and service levels will go up. We expect that, by using ClearCube and centralizing computing in our comms room, there will be savings on servicing PCs. If there is a problem, you don't need to send somebody under the desk," he says.

Rather, if a blade fails, the system fails over to another blade that sits unused in the rack. The faulty unit is then replaced at the end of the day.

Tabb, who recently sat on a panel about blade desktops featuring firms such as UBS Warburg, Morgan Stanley, Wachovia Securities and Banc of America - all of which are at some stage of development using PC blades - says one of the biggest savings is in the area of moves/adds and changes. It save companies between $1,000 to $2,000 annually for each desktop simply by making it easier to move and modify systems.

As well, by centralizing the hard drives, it frees up space around trader's desks and reduces air-conditioning costs, since the units are no longer on the trading floor generating heat.

Taubman says the blade-computing solution that his firm has deployed "enables traders and support staff in Westchester to have their desktops remotely managed from anywhere in the world." It gives his firm the ability to "virtualize" a move, add or change, and to use extra hard-disk space to store multiple images and allocate more resources without IT staff ever leaving their desks.

"These capabilities represent significant operating-cost savings and are the model for future desktop operations globally," says Taubman, adding the firm is considering the solution for other parts or the organization. From a building standpoint, he says, "There was very little up-front cost. We did need to install additional power and cooling in the comms room, but, at the same time, less cooling and power will be needed at the desk."

Tabb says blade computing is the future. "I think we will see significant uptake on this in the next couple of years, not just for trading floors, but call-center branches and anywhere you can carve out a set of PCs and maintain them remotely."

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