Consulate Health Care is one of the nation's leading providers of senior healthcare services. Founded in 1997 with a single care center and a mission of “Providing Service with Our Hearts and Hands,” the company has grown to become the largest provider of senior healthcare services in the state of Florida, and the sixth largest in the United States. Headquartered in Maitland, Florida, Consulate now operates more than 200 care centers across 21 states, delivering a comprehensive range of services that include short-term rehabilitative programs, post-acute transitional care, and Alzheimer’s and dementia care. Consulate’s 23 000 employees serve more than 40 000 patients annually.
In recent years, Consulate Health Care faced the challenges that come with rapid growth as it expanded from a regional to a national provider, acquired and integrated new operations, and built a large workforce that is widely distributed and highly mobile. The company’s IT organization supports a wide range of business applications that are used by employees, business partners and affiliated physicians. These include clinical applications, claims processing and submissions, financials, email, personal productivity applications, and a significant collection of legacy systems. Prior to 2009, most apps were running on local servers and PCs, but the cost of supporting them with a modest IT staff became unsustainable.
What Consulate needed was a way to control application support costs. “We needed a more centralized IT environment that would let us touch every endpoint without the need to physically touch or refresh every PC—something that would let us deliver legacy apps to those who needed them, alongside the latest and greatest services we were rolling out,” says Chief Information Officer Mark Crandall.
“We also needed to give our support teams better tools to access and maintain our software,” adds Mike Mangum, director of systems engineering. “They needed to have one place to make changes, apply patches and troubleshoot problems without searching through different local workstations.”
A final requirement was to do no harm to the existing user experience. “We needed to keep the user experience as though everything was still running locally, so we wouldn’t be taking anything away from them,” Mangum concludes.
Crandall and his team ultimately decided to virtualize all their Microsoft Windows applications on Citrix XenApp, migrating them to a new server farm in Consulate Health Care’s Maitland datacenter for delivery to users as secure mobile services. Citrix Provisioning Services, included with the XenApp licenses, is used to dynamically manage virtual server provisioning within the Citrix farm.
Centralizing its application hosting has simplified life tremendously for Consulate’s systems administrators. In particular, single-image management with Provisioning Services has been a productivity revelation.
“That workload efficiency has really become top of mind for us,” Crandall explains. “Now we can make a change to one image and push it across the entire farm, and that reduces the administrator’s workload. They no longer need to make changes, updates and hot fixes multiple times in multiple locations. It really gives us the opportunity to reduce the cost of those activities. We’re talking about 8 to 16 hours every week that we used to spend testing and applying routine maintenance changes that we can now complete in minutes.”
Citrix Provisioning Services has helped Consulate reduce the storage requirements of server nodes in its XenApp farm. Because Provisioning Services streams the system image to each node as it boots, local storage can be greatly reduced. The Consulate team cut each one from 60GB to 20GB, for a total savings of 4.5TB and a significant reduction in costs.
“Let me underline that as we grow over the next five years and beyond, the infrastructure savings are going to be significant,” says Kurt Rodriguez, vice president of infrastructure and telecommunications.
Centralizing and virtualizing its business applications has given new life to Consulate’s PCs. “We’ve got minimum browser requirements that vary, and operating systems requirements that vary,” Crandall points out, “but we can deliver all these different applications because Citrix serves them up seamlessly to whatever endpoint the user has at hand. That means we can get by with some machines that may not have the RAM or CPU to run an application locally, because we can serve it through a Citrix client. That’s a huge benefit.”
By virtualizing its applications, Consulate Health Care has stronger security for sensitive data. “Containerizing any personal health information that we store is certainly one of the utmost concerns that we have,” Crandall says. “The Citrix environment gives us the ability to very quickly grant and rescind access to the applications that contain that type of information. We can also limit the amount of data that is saved to any specific hard drive, and thereby limit access to only those users who log in to our environment through the Citrix appliance.”
Perhaps the most important benefit Consulate has realized through its change in application delivery is the ability to respond more quickly to its users’ needs. “There’s a sign hanging in the IT department that reads, ‘If you’re not helping one of our patients, you’d better be helping someone who is,’” Crandall says. “That’s what it means to be in IT here at Consulate. We’re always looking for ways to utilize technology to put better tools in the hands of our caregivers.”
Following up on its successful application delivery conversion, the Consulate IT team is moving ahead with a variety of Citrix initiatives. Two Citrix NetScaler appliances are currently being configured to provide load balancing and disaster recovery by distributing application workloads across the primary XenApp farm in Consulate’s Maitland datacenter and a secondary location in Atlanta. The company has Citrix XenClient and Citrix XenDesktop in pilot stage evaluation for virtual desktop delivery and is testing Citrix XenMobile for mobile app and device management. Consulate has recently adopted Citrix GoToMeeting for audio and video conferencing and is considering Citrix GoToAssist for IT service management. “We’re looking to Citrix to help us discover the best ways to grow and improve the services we deliver to our users and to our patients,” says Crandall.
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