Independent Bank

“Our overall business strategy focuses on how we can best serve the customer. By improving the user experience, enhancing IT agility and supporting business continuity, our Citrix solution is instrumental in delivering exceptional customer service.” Ben Kohn, Senior System Architect, Independent Bank

  • Significant time and resources are spent on managing and patching 1,000 PCs in the branches.
  • User experience on existing PCs has become problematic and inconsistent.
  • XenDesktop improved efficiency allowing IT to focus on core business initiatives to server customers better.

Independent Bank is an Ionia, Michigan based bank holding company with total assets of approximately $3 billion and about 1,300 employees. Founded as First National Bank of Ionia in 1864, Independent Bank now operates more than 100 offices across Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. It provides a full range of financial services including retail and commercial banking, mortgage lending, investments and title services.

The challenges – Ensuring a consistent user experience, improving IT operation

Independent Bank implemented Citrix® XenApp™, the leading application virtualization solution, to centralize data for easier management and improved regulatory compliance, and to accelerate application delivery to branches over limited bandwidth. Ben Kohn, senior system architect, recalled, “We published a standard desktop to client devices and also published applications to that desktop—all using Citrix technology.” Over the years, the company has steadily upgraded its XenApp environment to obtain capabilities such as self-service password reset, SSL VPN connectivity and application performance monitoring. The bank also implemented application streaming for delivery of applications to the published desktop. Today, the bank uses XenApp to deliver 120 financial and office productivity applications from its bank retail platform, consumer and commercial loan platform, and Microsoft.

Recently, Independent Bank expanded its Citrix implementation with server virtualization through Citrix® XenServer™. “We chose Citrix XenServer, Platinum Edition with provisioning capability to stream workloads to our XenApp servers.” Kohn noted. “We did a side-by-side comparison with another leading product and found XenServer provided double the user density per virtual machine. Also, it doesn’t require a separate server for the management interface, and was simpler to implement.” The IT team is able to run a dozen XenApp virtual machines on each of six Dell servers with XenServer.

However, the bank also needed to better manage operating systems on 1,000 PCs in the branches. “The thin clients we are using are actually full Dell PCs to which we publish the XenApp desktop. They run the Windows® operating system locally, and we were spending a lot of time on operating system patches, virus protection updates and other administrative tasks. Our support requirements became pretty time-consuming.”

Equally problematic was the inconsistent user experience resulting from piecemeal management of PCs. “Without an OS image management solution, we couldn’t guarantee that a user would get the same experience as his colleague. Similarly, if someone sat down at the computer at the next window, she could have a completely different experience from the day before. We wanted to eliminate individual management of local desktops as discrete devices.”

Expanding and enhancing the Citrix environment

Independent Bank selected Citrix® XenDesktop™, Enterprise Edition to stream a single operating system image to all devices using provisioning services. “The user will sit down at a PC, but instead of running a local instance of Windows, a streamed version of the OS will be delivered to the endpoint.”

Independent Bank also upgraded XenApp to the Platinum Edition to gain new capabilities. “The HDX MediaStream feature is a big improvement for employees. It enables applications with sophisticated graphics to be delivered over low-bandwidth connections with high performance. For example, we tested our on-line training platform application, which has a lot of animation, and found that bandwidth consumption went down tenfold with HDX MediaStream.” Another user-friendly feature is the Citrix User Profile Manager, which captures and records user changes within the profile. This avoids user frustration from making the same profile changes each time a different XenApp server is accessed.

Benefiting users and IT with OS provisioning

By using Citrix desktop virtualization provisioning services to stream the PC operating system from the datacenter, Independent Bank is achieving important goals. First, users have “a truly thin OS, so they don’t have to deal with slowdowns due to IT rolling out virus scan updates or patches,” said Kohn. “Also, with XenDesktop, users get a consistent experience from day to day, because every time they reboot their computer, it is going right back to that golden image.”

As the bank grows, the existing team will be able to accomplish more due to improved efficiency and the ability to handle OS issues from the datacenter instead of at the branches. “XenDesktop provisioning offers all the administrative benefits of single-image management, plus easy rollout and rollback, which help us improve overall IT efficiency.”

From the perspective of IT costs, Citrix desktop virtualization soltuion promises to extend the useful life of PCs by at least two to three years, and then open the door to affordable, energy-efficient thin-client hardware when the PCs finally need replacing. “It’s usually the hard drive that fails, and if that happens, the user’s instance file can be stored on XenDesktop,” he explained.

Seeing what users see

Another important aspect of an optimal user experience is quickly identifying and fixing system issues before they interfere with productivity. The application performance monitoring capability of XenApp, Platinum Edition has given Independent Bank new tools. “It has enabled visibility into what users are seeing as never before. If there is a file server problem and a delayed response, we see it—how widespread it is, which users are affected and when. We’ve used it to spot problems with our scanning software and tune virus scan policies to avoid using too much CPU. It has helped alleviate frustration on the part of users and IT people who were trying to troubleshoot.”

Enabling employees to keep working during an interruption

Independent Bank implemented Citrix® Access Gateway™, Enterprise Edition to provide secure application delivery to users in the event of an interruption, and to simplify remote access versus a traditional VPN connection.

Recognizing the need for a simple but highly secure way for users to connect remotely to the XenApp environment, Independent Bank implemented Access Gateway to replace a traditional VPN. The Access Gateway SSL VPN, which has a downloadable web client, provides a simpler experience for users than the previous VPN. It also offers stronger data security to help meet regulatory requirements governing the financial services industry.

This solution not only supports ordinary remote connectivity, but also provides a critical piece of the business continuity plan. Kohn said, “If there’s a pandemic and everyone is at home on whatever computer is handy, we can deliver a desktop securely over Access Gateway and allow them to function.” XenServer will also play a key role in recovery by rapidly provisioning XenApp servers at the backup site.

Consolidating to cut IT requirements

Centralizing the IT environment with Citrix technologies is a key benefit for the bank. Kohn explained, “If users were running applications locally on the desktop, we would need much larger pipes to each site, servers at every branch, on-site data management and more PC administration. We would have to at least triple our IT team.”

He concluded, “Our overall business strategy focuses on how we can best serve the customer. By improving the user experience, enhancing IT agility and supporting business continuity, our Citrix solution is instrumental in delivering exceptional customer service.”