Formed in 2004, Charityshare Limited is a joint venture between UK charities The Children’s Society, Age UK and Alzheimer’s Society. The company provides core IT services across the three member organisations, including hosted technical infrastructure, service desk operations, IT support and infrastructure project delivery. By pooling IT infrastructure, each member charity gains access to superior networking and support services. From its offices in London, Charityshare supports over 7 000 PC users across 500 different UK locations. These premises range from central hub offices with up to 700 workers, down to single-user sites.
Charityshare wanted to provide its member charities with a more flexible IT infrastructure that would make it easier for users to access key business systems from a variety of devices and locations whilst helping boost overall productivity. It also wanted to accommodate and improve responsiveness to the three charities’ core computing requirements.
Of the 7 000 staff and volunteers working for The Children’s Society, Age UK and Alzheimer’s Society, only 30-40% of workers are based in their organisation’s head office. Many of the charities’ workers and volunteers operate from local hospitals, day care centres and shops. Charityshare therefore needed to provide an environment to support workers and volunteers in a large number of small disparate offices, whilst increasing the security of the data and reducing the overall on-site support.
These requirements meant that accessing data and applications securely via low bandwidth links was also critical. Any charity office with more than nine users previously maintained secure servers due to sensitive data – ranging from service users’ personal records to employees’ pension details. This added to system maintenance needs and led to more physical security checks.
Charityshare originally intended to provide users with remote access, using application virtualisation to access relevant business applications and browse corporate intranet pages, rather than a full virtual desktop solution. However, Charityshare’s Citrix Architect Paul Mainstone and the team found that providing laptops and PCs to disparate members of staff and volunteers, combined with purchasing individual software licenses across the member charities’ workforces, was too expensive. This option also meant that the IT team would still need to invest time and resources in physical visits to regional offices to provide local IT support or set up new users – which ultimately Charityshare wanted to avoid. A departmental review of Charityshare’s server estate also showed that many user applications were tying up large amounts of its server space.
After an intense feasibility study, a virtual computing environment was found to be most appropriate, especially when working with greatly varying office hardware standards and system connectivity. Having reviewed Citrix® technology capabilities, Charityshare developed a business case for a pilot virtual desktop solution and began deploying Citrix XenDesktop® to key business users within Charityshare. It also became clear that virtual desktops could support member charities’ increasing computing demands whilst conserving system capacity.
Charityshare provides unique infrastructure models to its three member charities dependent on their requirements. Within those charities, there are four different types of users including: the occasional volunteer who needs basic e-mail and web access; the task worker who uses a standard suite of office applications; the knowledge worker who requires bespoke applications as well as office applications; and the road-warrior who needs reliable access to specific systems offline. Charityshare also provides workers with specific extra capabilities, such as additional device memory and access to applications, as required.
To meet customers’ operational and security needs, Charityshare settled on deploying XenDesktop along with Citrix XenApp® environment, which is now available to the three different charities.
First, Charityshare migrated its own, non-technical staff to a thin client-based virtual desktop solution. It then worked with Age UK to roll out a desktop transformation programme, implemented before the London 2012 Olympic Games, to allow users to access desktops from any location or device. Age UK is a flagship example of how CharityShare is delivering a full IT transformation project with Citrix technologies, including:
Charityshare is also providing virtual desktop solutions to proportions of other member charities’ workforces and volunteers, including the Alzheimer’s Society, where it is:
Paul Mainstone comments: “Although we provide a unified IT infrastructure for the charities, it is still important that we deliver the member charities a bespoke IT infrastructure dependent on their needs and requirements. Using Citrix technologies, we aim to provide different infrastructure models for different charities. We also use virtual desktops within Charityshare, so our staff also benefit from virtual computing.”
The Citrix virtual computing platform is helping Charityshare transform its infrastructure and services, providing more reliable business applications to help teams become more efficient and productive and enhance customers’ information security. Charityshare’s IT services portfolio offers better value, delivering increased system and application performance and greater information lock-down capabilities through the Citrix technologies.
Charityshare has reduced its software licensing costs and the associated system support. The organization’s IT team now procures virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) licenses through a concurrency licensing strategy, which enables it to purchase only the number of licenses equal to the largest number of users likely to be active at a given time. This model is particularly useful where its member charities have a high volume of staff yet low concurrency requirements – making it possible to purchase 1 000 licenses but successfully share them among 7 000 full-time and part-time staff and volunteers. In addition, when the team compared VDI and non-VDI based software updates, it found that the centralised approach cost twenty times less than a Windows XP update.
Paul Mainstone concludes: “Desktop virtualisation enables us to reach more people, ensure a much better user experience and increase productivity. Initial estimates indicate that Charityshare will be saving £1,5 million over five years by reducing the costs associated with maintenance and software upgrades of conventional PCs.”
Customers’ information security has also been greatly enhanced. Implementing a Citrix virtual desktop solution allows Charityshare to host all key information in its central datacentre with more robust security specifications than the distributed computers in charities’ small non-secure regional offices. The Citrix platform helps ensure that the level of information access is appropriate to each corporate or authorised external user, which has further reduced the risk of records falling into the wrong hands.
Charityshare is currently developing a pilot programme involving Citrix XenServer® and Citrix XenClient® to enhance mobile workers’ flexibility and efficiency as well as provide further scope for cost savings. Initial analysis has concluded that using XenServer with XenDesktop and XenApp has increased performance and capacity over their current hypervisor, as well as the large cost savings from not having to purchase additional licenses.
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