The Northern Constabulary adopts a thin client-based architecture
The Northern Constabulary is consolidating its desktops on a thin client architecture to lower support costs and increase the control it has over its IT.
The police force covers the Highlands and Islands region of Scotland - an area of 15,000 square miles. It has about 1,000 staff split into eight divisions.
Neville Lee, Northern Constabulary's IT customer services manager, who has responsibility for desktops, said the move to thin client terminals has helped solve the problem of providing IT support to remote sites.
Illustrating the problem, he said getting to the Shetlands from the mainland takes 14 hours, which caused a problem when the force's five support staff had to visit every site to perform updates for Y2K.
"We rely quite heavily on the network and the support costs were high," said Lee.
The old IT architecture, based around Novell Netware, was also slow, particularly in the wide area network links, and it was hard to install new applications.
The force began its move to thin client terminals in the third quarter of 2001 by rolling out Citrix Metaframe.
Initially it used its old Windows 3.11 PCs as Dos clients before turning to supplier Neoware for purpose-built thin client terminals - 3000 series boxes running Windows CE. The police force now has 250 thin client terminals in operation.
Lee said the new architecture has increased the control his department has over the police force's IT because new applications can be delivered centrally via Citrix, and the Neoware thin client desktops can be controlled remotely by support staff. E-mail is faster and the Wan links have less to cope with.
The police force has saved a lot on support costs and time spent travelling to sites has been cut dramatically, said Lee.
The savings have helped fund an upgrade from traditional CRT monitors to flat-screen TFT monitors and this year the force is cutting its PC replacement programme by 50% to £25,000. "The thin clients have paid from themselves," Lee said.
The force's ability to respond quickly to major incidents such as murders has also improved. Lee explained that in such cases the force needs to set up an incident room at the scene with PCs running Holmes 2 - a specialised police application for investigating crimes.
Lee said using regular PCs in the incident rooms was previously a "nightmare" because of the slow network connections. The new thin client-based incident rooms can be deployed more quickly and have better connections and data rates.
As there is no data on the thin clients - it resides on servers - security is improved and the machines can be shipped around more safely. The Neoware units also use 128-bit encryption to protect data.
This was first published in April 2003