The State Board of Elections is the state agency charged with overall responsibility for administration of the elections process and campaign finance disclosure in North Carolina. As many as 30,000 state, county and local election workers depend on the Board at any given time for access to elections administration applications such as a statewide voter registration system.
The State Board of Elections supports election workers through applications installed on a distributed network of 100 county-level servers. To ensure smooth operations—especially during elections—these workers need reliable access to voter registrations and other data, even if a local server fails. "We needed to be able to provide disaster recovery and business continuity if a county office goes down," explains Marc Burris, the agency's CIO. "There are a lot of logistics involved in recovery, especially given that North Carolina is eighty percent rural—it just takes too long. We decided that we could allow access to the state server instead, which rolls up data from the county servers in real time. The question was how to provide access to this redundant data." Beyond data access, the solution needed to support printing, USB scanning and network scanning. "Because we use thick client applications, there weren't many options for us."
The State Board of Elections decided to use Citrix XenApp as an access point to its centralized election administration data for workers in any location, over any network. "A lot of other solutions had a thick network or Internet footprint, but XenApp let us virtualize our applications with a smaller footprint, which was especially helpful in our rural areas," says Burris. "Implementing XenApp was much easier than rewriting our applications to be web-based. It greatly reduced our costs and development time." The solution also supports the peripheral and network devices election workers depend on.
"Before Citrix, if a server died out in a county somewhere, we would have to get a hot spare ready here at the state elections office, then get it out to the county, and that would take considerable time," says Burris. "With XenApp, if a server fails, we can route people through virtualized applications to their statewide data almost instantaneously and they're ready to go. So Citrix has really given us business continuity in our disaster recovery plan."
With servers in all 100 counties statewide, State Board of Elections applications can place a heavy load on its distributed network, especially at election time. "Citrix is key in enabling our applications to be utilized throughout the State of North Carolina, including remote access to our internal applications from outside the office," says Burris. "For us, application virtualization provides a happy medium between VDI and web-based apps, providing the access our election workers need while keeping our footprint well within the capacity of these rural networks."
"Having a hundred counties in North Carolina means there are a hundred different networks, a hundred different types of devices and a hundred different ways of doing things," says Burris. "For our purposes, we treat it as a bring-your-own-device environment. We don't control the devices, so we've taken a user-centric approach with XenApp by allowing people to access our apps on any device, over any network."
The State Board of Elections now hopes to centralize its applications, a project with the potential for high costs and a long timeline. "If we're going to do that, we have two options," says Burris. "We can either rewrite the application to make it web-based, or we can use XenApp to virtualize it and accomplish the same goal more quickly and easily at a lower cost. Citrix gives us options."
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