Orange County Community Resources is the umbrella organization for all government agencies that directly serve the citizens of Orange County, California. Key business units include OC Animal Control, OC Community Services, OC Parks and OC Public Libraries. The department's workforce of 1 370 includes a 25-person IT group that provides shared network, systems, applications and technical support services for all four agencies. The county's 33-branch library system is by far the largest consumer of IT services. In particular, the fleet of PCs used by library patrons has been a significant drain on the group's capital and human resources.
OC Public Libraries operated a fleet of 850 desktop PCs, offering free public access to the Internet, Microsoft Office applications, the library catalog and many other database services. While extremely popular, these machines were a major capital and administrative expense for the Community Resources IT team. "As with any public service, some people use it properly, but others want to see what they can do with it," says Clyde Gamboa, director of information technology. "People would try to save things, delete things or download programs."
Some patrons would even conduct private business on the machines, unaware that session history, account passwords and other personal data could be saved. "We spent a lot of energy ensuring that data could not be retrieved by others," Gamboa recalls. "There were a lot of administrative headaches, and we really had a hard time controlling our system images."
So when the time came to refresh the library system PCs, the IT group opted for a more manageable and cost-effective solution.
Gamboa had experience with Citrix XenApp for remote access to business management software, but virtualizing the library PCs posed several challenges. For one, the public machines had to be rebooted multiple times a day to flush browser histories, personal data and system changes. They also needed to integrate with a number of internal management systems. After consulting with the Citrix sales team, Gamboa learned that the libraries' 850 public access desktops and an additional 400 internal staff PCs were ideal candidates for virtualization via Citrix XenDesktop.
Following a design consultation with IT planning firm and Citrix partner ePlus, a proof-of-concept demonstration, and a single library pilot project, the Orange County team opted for desktop and application virtualization with Citrix XenDesktop and XenApp. Key solution components include:
Existing PCs have been repurposed as thin clients running Citrix Receiver client software. The team developed three new system images: one for public Internet machines, one for database search machines and one for internal staff systems. DesktopNow, a user profile management solution from AppSense, allows personalization of the staff's virtual desktops.
To optimize performance and security, the solution includes two Citrix NetScaler Application Delivery Controllers. "We have clients on a public network that use services hosted in our private datacenter," says Gamboa. "Having the NetScaler Application Delivery Controllers to manage that connectivity is a big help."
Integrating the library's third-party applications to run in the Citrix environment did present some technical challenges. However, Gamboa says the department "worked through every issue with Citrix and ePlus to the point where we are very, very happy with this solution."
By virtualizing its library desktops and applications and repurposing its existing PCs as thin clients, the Community Resources IT team avoided a planned $1,2 million PC refresh. "We will save $660 000 in PC purchases alone," says Gamboa.
The team also saved $125 000 by sizing the new FlexPod infrastructure to support existing virtual services for its other agencies, eliminating a separate upgrade budgeted at $250 000. "Leveraging the new FlexPod environment for our other services saved half the cost of that project. We not only saved in the library, we saved in our other programs as well," Gamboa says. Better yet, he adds, "Every dollar saved on the IT side goes right back into the book budget, so we can buy more materials and more services for our patrons."
The Community Resources IT team reduced the number of desktop images it maintains to just three, with significant savings in administrative costs and workload. "We've reduced the time we spend going out to reimage a machine just because a patron wanted to see what he could do to it," says Gamboa. "When a session ends and a new one starts, it's a brand-new desktop."
This simplicity and centralization also pays off when a system image needs to be modified. "When we have to update an image with a new version of Java or Flash, or update any of the applications we serve, we just pull the image, make the upgrades, and throw it back on the servers," says Gamboa. "As soon as they reboot, every desktop is instantly upgraded across all 33 libraries. The administrative savings are just tremendous."
Launching a fresh, virtual desktop image for every user session reduces the risk of patrons inadvertently saving personal data on public access machines—bits of confidential information that could fall into the wrong hands. "Banking data, account passwords, browser histories—all of this information disappears at the end of each session," says Gamboa.
Since completing the desktop virtualization of its library system, the Community Resources IT team has deployed Citrix ShareFile and Citrix XenMobile to enable remote file access by mobile employees, as well as secure sharing with external partners. Future plans include virtualizing line-of-business applications for mobile access.
"Now that we have the Citrix environment, it's super easy to virtualize any of our applications because data doesn't leave the datacenter," says Gamboa. "In fact, we have a project under way right now to deliver a line-of-business application using XenMobile and NetScaler. I see moving this to all of our other programs. All our agencies want mobile access because they all operate seven days a week and need to deliver services to field staff. Now we can provide those services in a manner that is secure, repeatable and centrally managed."
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