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Essential guide to desktop virtualisation

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St Claraspital deploys virtual desktops to boost staff efficiency

St Claraspital took home the prize for best desktop virtualisation project at the 2015 Best of VMworld Europe User Awards – and this is why...

The end of support deadline for Windows XP prompted many organisations to rethink their desktop strategies, and St Claraspital specialist medical centre in Basel, Switzerland, was no exception.

The privately run acute care hospital boasts two specialised care centres, focused on the treatment of abdominal and tumour-related health conditions, as well as acting as a reference facility for patients suffering with heart, lung and orthopaedic problems.

The healthcare provider needed to migrate to Windows 7, and seized on the opportunity to push through changes to enable staff to use IT more effectively. The result of this saw it pick up the award for Best Desktop Virtualisation Project at the recent Best of VMworld Europe User Awards in Barcelona.

Along with the end of support for Windows XP, the project addressed outstanding issues the hospital encountered with roaming profiles, which prevented its staff from keeping records open as they moved around the hospital, explains Yves Laukemann, CIO at St Claraspital.

“For example, they had to log in (wait a while), work, receive an emergency call, close applications and log-out (wait a while), then relocate to where the emergency is, log-in again (wait some more), start the application or applications again – and so on.”

As result, doctors and nurses could easily end up spending 20 to 30 minutes each day simply “waiting for the computer”, he adds.

The hospital is also in the process of expanding – through new constructions – which has resulted in more staff movement than usual, exacerbating the problems.

In response, St Claraspital moved to adopt a zero-client product to pave the way for the separation of devices and user profiles within its walls, Laukemann explains.

“By using Teradici-based zero clients – which require no local management at all – we can easily pick up and move the workstations now as they are completely unrelated to users. This, in turn, really helps us to optimise human resources tasked with these moves,” he says.

Transforming the desktop

The real challenge with this project was finding a way to manage user profiles more effectively, and the hospital’s longstanding IT partner, uniQconsulting, suggested rolling out the RES ONE Workspace profile-management product to do this.

This technology provides support for roaming profiles, meaning the hospital’s clinicians could ensure they enjoyed a consistent and personalised user experience regardless of the device used.

“This product does a lot more that just profile-management, so we ended up with the decision to implement uniQconsulting’s complete ‘follow me desktop’ solution,” says Laukemann.

Read more about the Best of VMworld Europe User Awards

“RES ONE Workspace is the only product that satisfied our own internal requirement of having one tool, and one tool only, for managing all aspects of the user workspace, reducing implementation time and operation expense.

“The hospital purchased the complete ‘follow me desktop’ solution from uniQconsulting which automatically includes RES as a core component, alongside the Microsoft Windows platform, VMware Horizon View and Imprivata OneSign,” he adds.

The inclusion of Imprivata’s technology was central to the success of the project, as it allowed staff to shun traditional username and password authentication systems in favour of a tap-in/tap-out mechanism using their ID badges.

Getting up to speed

Given the project would herald a major change to the way the hospital’s staff work, it embarked on a six-month proof of concept period, Laukemann explains.

“We started with a small group of nurses and a group of doctors and fine-tuned the concept to their needs. This grew into a pilot involving a larger group of users,” he says.

“We ran the proof of concept in one of the wards, where we proved the viability of the new architecture and, after evaluating the feedback from the staff, we decided to implement.”

To help the staff get up to speed with this new way of working, some training on how to use the system was also required. “Our IT administrators had to learn the ways of the RES ONE Workspace Product, as well as Imprivata OneSign. They were already familiar with Microsoft Windows and VMware Horizon View,” says Laukemann.

“Besides using RES ONE Workspace, we also use RES ONE Automation for automating the IT aspects of boarding and offboarding hospital staff. But we use it for automating other things as well,” he says.

“We needed some time to really get the most out of the product but now that we do, the product helps us save time as it does the ‘tedious and repetitive tasks’ for us.”

The deployment proceeded without a hitch – despite the fact the standard version of “follow me desktop” required a degree of customisation in some instances.

“Our IT staff have been strongly involved in adapting the solution to the different needs and requirements of the various departments, and have been very creative in finding ways of dealing with whatever challenge they met,” says Laukemann.

Benefits of desktop transformation

All in all, Laukemann is happy with the result, and the productivity improvements the deployment has brought about. “We’ve reduced the log-in time from several minutes (which is not uncommon in a classical desktop environment) to less than 30 seconds.

“After log-in, the staff can roam the campus and switch between physical workstations in mere seconds. It’s called “terminal hopping”. The effect is a hidden, but great return of investment,” he says.

Not only has it improved the operational efficiency of the hospital as a whole, but also at a department level too.

“We see cost savings due to the strong standardisation of workstations. The effort we need to invest in regularly creating a base image with the latest patches might be a bit higher, but it more than pays off as we can mass deploy the image in record time. And we don’t need to patch each and every PC anymore. That is a real timesaver,” says Laukemann.

There have been changes in the working practices of the medical staff too – some of which have taken time to get used to.

“Previously, a physical PC/workstation belonged to a user. That is no longer the case. A user can now roam about freely and use his PC to, for example, record a dictation anywhere,” he says.

“They can even do this from their homes. We install zero-clients there as well and staff work from their homes quite often. Or say, in a hotel or at a medical convention. Location has become irrelevant. Staff appreciate their newly gained freedom and flexibility.”

But this freedom comes with an element of control, Laukemann stresses, as every user has his or her own personal account.

“Personal accounts also imply personal email accounts, enabling us to optimise processes, for example, the administrative tasks related to internal education, like planning,” Laukemann continues.

And the hospital is not resting on its laurels. “We’re evaluating the RES ONE Service Store product to provide users with a self-help web portal, where they can request access to applications or data or reset their passwords easily. We see great potential to offload/automate many tasks, so users can help themselves without ever involving IT staff,” says Laukemann.

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