Porting desktops to the cloud to cut public sector spending

Suffolk County Council has ported its desktops to the cloud and saved millions of pounds

Suffolk County Council is responsible for delivering major services throughout Suffolk. The council’s vision is to deliver and support the solutions it needs, when, where and how it needs them, and in the most cost-effective and flexible way possible. As part of this strategy, information and communication technology (ICT) is outsourced to Customer Service Direct (CSD), a joint venture between Suffolk County Council, Mid Suffolk District Council and BT.

However, the speed and scale of central Government’s austerity measures has meant Suffolk County Council’s transformation programme has had to cut even more costs than initially planned. Tasked with realising £50 million in savings by 2013, the council must maintain the integrity of its services while accommodating much wider collaboration across all Suffolk public services.

One of the large obligations the Council had was a rolling desktop refresh programme. Under its existing contract with CSD, 25 per cent of its estate was refreshed annually, but, in a shrinking environment, with people leaving the council’s employment in various ways, it had to find a strategy that allowed it to manage that downward trend, whilst still ensuring it wasn’t reliant on expensive assets being swapped out more regularly than necessary.

Secondly, there were internal pressures to enable the use of tablets and more mobile and flexible working practices. Furthermore, with the public health responsibilities of Primary Care Trusts (PCT) being transferred to councils in 2013, Suffolk County Council needed to prepare for the transition of PCT staff that need secure and reliable access to NHS systems.

Keen to fully exploit the opportunity that cloud computing provides to reduce costs via utility-based models of delivery and maintenance, Suffolk County Council’s vision is to move away from local ICT infrastructure and service to those hosted in the cloud and become a consumer rather than simply a provider of IT.

Mark Adams-Wright, chief information officer at Suffolk County Council, saw that desktop virtualisation would be a key part of the solution. He also realise this needed translating into a deliverable desktop strategy that balanced both short-term tactical and long-term strategic requirements.

“As it matures, we want to be able to capitalise on the cost and flexibility benefits of the cloud: we will be public cloud first, private cloud second and on premise if we have to,” he said.

Following a formal bid process, independent desktop migration company Centralis was selected, based on its transformation and technology consultancy skills.

Adams-Wright said that he chose Centralis because “other public sector colleagues had had such good experience around their use of Centralis. They were able to listen to what we wanted to achieve and provide that logical process to build a tactical solution and keep the strategic journey going at the same time.” 

Working with both Suffolk County Council and CSD, Centralis used its strategic consultative methodology to capture and clarify Suffolk’s goals and define specific functional, technological and user requirements. This enabled the technology options to be assessed against Suffolk’s tactical and strategic needs and ensure a best match was identified.

Centralis conducted a thorough infrastructure assessment, encompassing discovery, sizing and application profiling, to enable the development of a robust and detailed infrastructure design for Suffolk Country Council. This was followed by an initial pilot prior to deployment to the first group of 1,200 users.

“When we started working with Suffolk County Council, they had already decided on the type of solution they wanted and they needed to move quickly,” said Nigel Cottam, an account director at Centralis.

“We took them back to the start of the process, assessed what the impact of desktop transformation would be on their organisation in respect of their legacy assets and future goals. This approach of strategy first, technology second, is focused on ensuring that IT initiatives are closely aligned to the organisation’s short- and long-term goal,” he said.

With a thorough assessment of Suffolk County Council’s requirements and the available technologies, Centralis developed a desktop virtualisation infrastrucutre based on Citrix XenDesktop.

“Citrix was for us the right way to go,” said Adams-Wright. “It’s proven and robust and I know I’ve got a high quality environment that can support the four, five or six thousand users we might have in the future.”

Citrix XenDesktop was used to deliver applications to users from a central data centre with Citrix NetScaler deployed to enable secure, remote access. The deployment of Citrix Provisioning Services simplifies build management and also greatly reduces storage requirements.

Meanwhile, the goal of providing users with a single pane of glass whether accessing data through fat or thin client or from the cloud, is achieved through Citrix Cloud Gateway. Day-to-day management of the infrastructure is taken care of by the team at CSD, with Centralis providing technical support.

“Being able to work through the strategy to come up with a road map both for the tactical need and longer term to reach the sort of place we want to go, was very, very positive,” said Adams-Wright.

“Centralis has been able to turn our vision into something very practical. From an operational point of view, the project has been very well received and has been professionally run, well governed and extremely well supported both by the operational team and the wider management of Centralis.”

The council has already realised multiple benefits as a result of the desktop transformation project.  

“We now have people working in a far more productive, critical and simple way than they were before,” said Adams-Wright. “In my environment the answer to how successful you are is usually how much user-noise you get and the user-noise has disappeared, which tends to mean that the technology is doing exactly what we asked it to do and people are able to work in the way that they want to.”

The cloud-based desktops have reduced the cost of service delivery both internally and for users at Mid Suffolk District Council. As a result, Suffolk County Council is able to provide shared services to at an affordable price due to its thin-client environment.

Working in partnership with Centralis to deliver both the tactical and strategic aspects of the implementation has ensured that Suffolk Country Council is now in a strong position to pursue its long-term ambitions for cloud adoption.

By reducing the cost of its desktop estate and mobilising its workforce, the council expects its desktop transformation to release significant amounts of real estate and make savings.

The next phase of its ICT transformation programme is the migration of more users to the virtualised environment and cloud applications, as well the introduction of a secure sandbox for testing iPad, tablets and smart phone applications.

“The way we look at realisation of benefit is less about technological stacks and more about the ecosystem in general,” said Adams-Wright.

“I don’t necessarily look at how desktop virtualisation is going to save me money. It’s all about the move to a completely different model of operation that allows people to be more mobile, flexible and agile. It’s a building block for the future.”


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