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NHS Professionals keeps staffing system healthy with Citrix virtual computing

With a workforce of 50,000 healthcare professionals that complete 2 million shifts per year, NHS Professionals is the largest managed flexible workforce services provider to the National Health Service. NHS Professionals helps 80 Trusts throughout England ensure the highest levels of patient safety, service, quality and performance combined with financial responsibility.  By placing nurses, midwives, doctors, therapists and other health professionals in assignments of varying duration, the organisation helps Trust partners avoid over- and under-staffing to improve clinical operations and reduce costs. NHS Professionals operates offices in Watford and Leeds and a main datacenter and failover center in London.

The challenge: providing reliable, secure and flexible delivery of IT services

NHS Professionals has been a Citrix customer for a number of years. It originally adopted Citrix application virtualisation to centralise management and delivery of a core legacy application across a distributed enterprise.  Although the organisation subsequently consolidated its physical office locations, it still centrally delivers applications, including Microsoft® Office, the NHS electronic staff record (ESR) system and bespoke applications, to users in a variety of scenarios using Citrix® XenApp™. In addition to office employees, NHS Professionals has home-based workers, mobile employees and staff who are based in hospitals. These users connect securely to the XenApp environment over the Internet using Citrix Access Gateway™.

In addition, the organisation had a requirement to deliver applications to offshore personnel in Pune, India, who carry out finance-related activities that involve secure handling of sensitive and personal information about NHS Professionals’ flexible workforce. “We needed a way to deliver applications to these remote individuals with an extra level of security and control,” said Dean Field, head of IT.

A critical part of NHS Professionals’ IT environment is NHSP:Online, its online bookings and placement system that flexible workers use to register their available dates and book shifts, and Trusts use to request doctors, nurses, administrators and other staff. To ensure high availability, performance and uptime around the clock for this heavily used web application, NHS Professionals implemented the Citrix® NetScaler® MPX™ application delivery controller (ADC) solution, which cut page load times from 40 seconds to less than two seconds, even when 30,000 simultaneous connections were being made. A highly available (HA) pair of NetScaler MPX appliances was installed in the main datacenter and another in the  recovery datacenter for redundancy.

However, Field and his team wanted additional security features such as an application firewall. The goal was to find an ADC solution that matched their needs more closely.

Enhancing the Citrix virtual computing environment

NHS Professionals is continuing to expand and enhance its Citrix implementation. One project involves giving the offshore workers in Pune access to XenApp hosted applications using Access Gateway, Advanced Edition with SmartAccess. This technology allows administrators to manage access control and set policies that define acceptable actions based on user identity and the configuration of the endpoint device. “We’ll be able to centrally control user actions such as printing and saving so that confidential data is protected,” said Field.

Also, during its most recent Citrix upgrade, NHS Professionals chose to move up to Citrix® XenDesktop®, which provides all the functionality of XenApp plus the ability to deliver virtual desktops. The organisation is particularly interested in implementing Citrix®  XenClient®, a high-performance, bare-metal hypervisor that runs directly on the client device hardware and is supported by XenDesktop. “We really like the idea of presenting our laptop users with an image instead of locally installing applications,” said Field. “If a problem is encountered, we can simply reload the virtual machine instead of requiring the user to bring the laptop into the datacenter for maintenance.”

In addition, Field decided to implement NetScaler® VPX™ virtual appliances in place of the physical appliances in both datacenters to obtain additional security functionality, including the NetScaler Application Firewall™, and HTML injection, at an affordable cost. Currently, the NetScaler VPX appliances provide load balancing and application-layer security for 12 web servers that host several critical solutions: a recruitment system that receives up to 2,000 job applications per month; a management information system used by the Trusts; and the bookings and placement system.

Providing new options for desktop delivery

Although NHS Professionals plans to continue delivering a standard desktop of applications to task workers using XenApp, as has been done successfully for years, Field looks forward to leveraging XenDesktop for certain users. “Most of our users get the Internet Explorer browser, Microsoft Office applications and a core business application, and XenApp suits that model to a ‘T’. But we also have power users and developers for whom it makes sense to work with their own desktop space, rather than in a shared environment. So we foresee a hybrid delivery environment in the future.”

Ensuring high system reliability and availability

An effective disaster recovery (DR) plan and infrastructure are extremely important for NHS Professionals due to the nature of the service it provides. Field explained, “People might wonder why it’s so critical that our web servers remain available, but the fact is that we supply short-term medical staff, and a natural disaster or other emergency is exactly the time when these personnel would be desperately needed. NetScaler already plays an important role in DR, and we are planning to implement Global Server Load Balancing functionality so that each of our two datacenters can fail over seamlessly to the other.”

Field concluded, “We can’t speak highly enough about NetScaler. These products make life easy for us. They’re extremely reliable and powerful. In fact, we’re only beginning to take advantage of all they can do.”

About the Citrix Solution

Citrix Systems, Inc. (NASDAQ:CTXS) is a leading provider of virtual computing solutions that help companies deliver IT as an on-demand service. Founded in 1989, Citrix combines virtualisation, networking, and cloud computing technologies into a full portfolio of products that enable virtual workstyles for users and virtual datacenters for IT. More than 230,000 organisations worldwide rely on Citrix to help them build simpler and more cost-effective IT environments. Citrix partners with over 10,000 companies in more than 100 countries. Annual revenue in 2009 was $1.61 billion.

About NHS Professionals

NHS Professionals manages flexible worker banks on behalf of some 80 NHS Trusts. We aim to save Trusts up to 20% of their flexible workforce costs by reducing shift demand, optimising pay rates and eliminating expensive agency usage.

As the largest provider of managed flexible workforce services, we manage approximately 2 million shifts each year. Our flexible workforce of around 50,000 nurses, doctors, administration and clerical and other healthcare professionals is supplemented by recruiting more than 1,000 flexible workers every month. We help Trusts improve patient care by providing reliable flexible workers, compliant with NHS recruitment check standards.

NHS Professionals helps you implement tactical measures to improve workforce efficiency and productivity as part of an overall workforce strategy. Comprehensive and detailed management information and access to budgetary control mechanisms within the technology platform are all part of the service.

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We can’t speak highly enough about NetScaler. These products make life easy for us. They’re extremely reliable and powerful. In fact, we’re only beginning to take advantage of all they can do.
- Dean Field

Head of IT

NHS Professionals

Key Benefits

  • Provides high availability and security for web applications
  • Enables flexible delivery of desktops for different user scenarios
  • Protects and controls confidential data usage
  • Supports disaster recovery

Applications Delivered

  • Bookings and placement application
  • Recruitment system
  • Management information system
  • Microsoft® Office and Internet Explorer®

Networking Environment