The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) is Scotland’s environment watchdog. Its role is to protect and improve Scotland’s environment. SEPA has 1.200 employees and 25 premises across the country from the Highlands and Islands to the Borders. The Agency helps businesses to understand their environmental responsibilities and to realise the economic benefits of good environmental practice.
SEPA’s staff largely use desktop PCs or laptops that are configured to their specific business needs. Some scientists require expensive, high-powered workstations to run complex flood and rainfall models while other staff need specialist, desk-top applications. Often, busy staff travel from internal meetings back to their base offices to complete work on their own PCs. The IT team also faces challenges, as IT Services Manager Jav Yaqub explains, “When your IT is spread across 25 sites, you have a different set of problems to solve. Managing 1.200 individual PCs is too much of a challenge technically, environmentally and financially. As an environmental regulator, one of our objectives is to avoid unnecessary travel. We don’t want engineers travelling up and down Scotland fixing issues and we don’t want to be shipping newly configured kit out to new employees. It’s just too clunky, inefficient and most importantly, it’s not green.”
SEPA want to offer their staff a more flexible workstyle, to enable them to work wherever and whenever they like, regardless of the device available. Yaqub explains, “We want to offer people their desktop, wherever they go but, like all organisations, we are very concerned about security and any potential data loss.”
Yaqub’s team looked at how to deliver a completely virtual desktop solution across the agency. "The idea of having desktop management centralised and using low power thin-client devices was very attractive," says Yaqub. He and his team explored a number of alternative solutions before reaching a decision. “Citrix spoke for itself,” Yaqub explains. "With Citrix, you are buying a complete end to end solution that provides remote access, network optimisation, application streaming and a virtual desktop. It’s also very lean on the network."
SEPA wanted a local partner that would take a long-term approach to the relationship. They selected Citrix Gold Solution Advisor I-KONIC to implement a solution comprising Citrix XenDesktop®, Citrix NetScaler®, Citrix Receiver™ and Citrix CloudBridge™. "I-KONIC stood out because of their experience and approach,” says Yaqub. "We built the solution ourselves with I-KONIC taking the role of coach and mentor. That way, our team learned as they went and know exactly how the system is configured. The approach worked really well and accelerated our ability to support the virtual infrastructure in-house."
"We say to staff we want to divorce you from your desk. The systems and information that are important to you will follow you about," explains Yaqub. "People love it. They are able to do more things from more places." Staff can access their SEPA desktop wherever they are, on whatever device is available: a desktop PC, a home PC, a personal tablet device or even a smartphone. In June 2013, SEPA moved into a new building designed specifically with mobile workstyles in mind. The Angus Smith Building is equipped with 300 hot-desks, each with twin screens and a thin client terminal. As a result, SEPA’s employees can move around more freely, creating ad hoc teams and projects. "People are not working in silos as before," notes Yaqub.
The Angus Smith Building has seven hot-desks for every ten staff. This, combined with the move to thin-client devices, has reduced desktop PC energy costs by 90 per cent. SEPA also benefits from the lower costs of running a smaller building. Business travel associated with IT support and with previously required travel between offices has been much reduced. This thin-client / hot-desk approach has become the model for future SEPA offices and will be adopted for existing offices as they are re-fitted.
SEPA scientists frequently run complex computer models to predict events such as rainfall or flooding. These models can take seven to eight hours to run and previously required costly workstations for each person. They needed to be at their desks to run the models and, if they were away, the workstations were not available to others. Using a virtual desktop solution, scientists (with appropriate access rights) can access processing power via their chosen device at any time. Models can be started during the day and accessed from home in the evening. New models can be started from home and run overnight. As a result, expensive computing resources are better utilised and scientists can run more models in a given period.
One quarter of SEPA’s 1.200 staff currently benefit from the virtual desktop solution. Yaqub and his team will roll the model out across the whole organisation over the next two years. At the same time, Yaqub continues to explore opportunities to provide further flexibility to his SEPA colleagues.
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