Tower Hamlets is an important borough towards the east of London, serving a diverse population of 254,000 citizens as well as the global financial services district based in the London Docklands area. Also incorporating the newly-constructed Olympic Park, the borough had the world’s attention during the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. For Tower Hamlets London Borough Council, the Games acted as a catalyst for IT investment, and the Council decided to upgrade about 200 end-of-life servers and its Microsoft Windows XP-based desktop estate for approximately 4500 users.
With the Olympics expected to result in major travel disruption, the Council decided to introduce a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) to serve as a platform for flexible working. The change, called the Smarter Working initiative, would support a faster migration from Windows XP to Windows 7 and, ultimately, to Citrix XenDesktop with Microsoft App-V.
A further driver for VDI-enabled flexible working was a desire to reduce costs. The Council, headquartered at a town hall building called Mulberry Place, had an impending break clause on the lease of its Anchorage House offices. This opportunity would allow it to relinquish the building in 2013, but only if occupants had some means of combining home and mobile working with hot-desking arrangements at other council offices.
“Existing technology meant people couldn’t work as flexibly as they wanted to. Everybody had to come into the office, which was not suitable given the Olympics,” says Mark Ferreday, technical architect at Tower Hamlets London Borough Council. The Council was also eager to improve its disaster recovery capabilities, given that it only had one data center and no real backup facilities.
The Council consulted Cisco over VDI deployment best practice, and then issued a tender. Cisco beat two other contenders to win the contract and started a six-month deployment of the VDI platform. This was carried out by ANS Group, and involved the upgrade of the Council’s existing data center and the creation of a duplicate facility at a separate site.
I was impressed by the teamwork between Cisco, ANS, and the other technology suppliers involved in the project. There were some initial problems but everybody pulled together to solve them. It is rare to see that; normally one party just blames the other. Employees now use VDI around the clock,. Previously, if one of our employees in the field needed to file a report at the end of the day, they would have to come into the office, involving up to an hour in travel time. Now they can go straight home and file it from there. The bandwidth is phenomenal. The Cisco VXI solution integrates really well with NetApp and VMware. To be honest, it would be hard to get it to work any better. Mark Ferreday, Technical Architect, Tower Hamlets
A consequence of this ease of deployment is that the Tower Hamlets IT team is now freed up to carry out much higher-value tasks, such as setting Citrix policies and carrying out development work.
Moreover, distributing data and workloads across two data centers has effectively improved the Council’s disaster recovery capabilities by 100 percent.
The Tower Hamlets IT team can use VMware vCenter Site Recovery Manager to switch workloads from one site to another at the press of a button.