The National Air Traffic Service (NATS), which operates air traffic control across the UK and into the Atlantic, is commencing a large-scale pilot and eventual deployment of desktop virtualisation for its 4,500 staff.

The main supplier for the project is Citrix.

The pilot, which began on Feb 13 and is slated to run until the end of April, will involve around ten per cent of the workforce. If the process goes to plan, a full rollout to all staff will be complete by the end of the year.

Speaking to CIO UK, NATS head of IS Gavin Walker said the move to desktop virtualisation will allow staff to access the appropriate corporate systems from home, on their own devices if they chose.

Walker said an investment of around £5m has been earmarked for the program, but savings of around £10m are expected, compared to conventional software deployment costs.

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One of the business functions that will be impacted by the move is the pre-shift briefing that the organisation's 1,900 air traffic controllers (ATSCos) are required to access through its corporate systems.

Once the migration is completed, ATSCos will be able to view their briefings on any device remotely.

Walker said an existing PC estate will be retained, effectively repurposed as dumb terminals and it is expected that these, alongside laptops provided by the company will be the main devices used by staff to access core corporate applications.

The organisation has just completed a springboard project where 100 key stakeholders were given access to a cut-down version of the enterprise system. Access to a number of Microsoft applications including Office 2010, Visio 2010 and Project 2010 were made available over the system by virtualisation specialist Point to Point.