The town of Bergheim has fully transferred its IT infrastructure to an external data center: Since the end of 2010, the city administration processes all applications via the data center in Rhein-Erft-Rur. The private cloud infrastructure based on Citrix technology not only allows greater efficiency and transparent monthly billing of IT services, but particularly provides advantages in availability and flexibility.
If an employee of the city administration of Bergheim today requires a new application for his work, he just has to pick up the phone. A few minutes later, the icon corresponding to the application appears on his user's desktop. The employee can just as easily unsubscribe at any time from any applications not being used. The council has implemented this "software-as-a-Service" model since the end of 2010 in cooperation with the municipal data processing center (kdvz) Rhein-Erft-Rur. Applications are no longer installed locally on individual user's terminals, but provided virtually from the kdvz data center. All of the city council's IT services are now run in this way - the IT city of Bergheim is therefore now completely run out of the 'cloud'.
"The development of cloud computing is still in its infancy in many areas," says Wolfgang Berger, Head of Human Resources and Organization in the town of Bergheim. "We see in the approach as the key to improved efficiency in the IT sector. For this reason we have started early in Bergheim, implementing what is technically feasible."
The city council had already taken the decision to move to a service-based IT architecture about five years ago. Until that time, the IT department was operating a classic client-server infrastructure for about 350 users - with all the disadvantages of a decentralized IT environment. "We had a continually growing demand for support and the distribution of new applications and updates on PCs was very time consuming," said Theo Kratz, Head of IT in the city council. "It was also getting increasingly complicated to meet all the requirements regarding reliability and data protection in the workplace."
The IT department therefore began to test new ways of application deployment. One of the most critical technical processes - the municipal budget software - was made accessible to staff first with Microsoft Terminal Server technology and then via a Citrix XenApp environment. The client software is now centrally administered and maintained on the server farm.
"For us, this solution presented a noticeable improvement in everyday life," says Theo Kratz. "Users were able, from the outset, to work very well and reliably with the virtualized application – at the same time, administration was dramatically improved." So more and more applications have been transferred to the central server farm, until the city council was finally able to operate the majority of jobs completely through the Citrix environment. Powerful PCs were no longer needed at the desks of employees - the existing computers were gradually replaced by low-maintenance and energy efficient thin clients.
The economic benefits of this centralization and virtualization strategy were quickly visible. In 2008 the Bergheim council led a comprehensive cost analysis based on a study by the Fraunhofer Institute. Result: The IT spending per job could be reduced by more than 29 per cent compared to the traditional client-server solution. Particularly noticeable was the significantly lower support costs from this centralized application management. The longer service life of the terminals and the lower power consumption of Thin Clients also brought about significant savings.
The efficiency of the centralized infrastructure has been confirmed in an evaluation by the municipality Testing Institute North Rhine-Westphalia. Bergheim's external evaluators certified a very high level of IT security. A crucial factor was consistent central data management: Sensitive applications and documents were no longer hosted on individual devices and therefore easy to attack, but only held on central servers, where they could be more easily and effectively protected against unauthorized access.
"Our experience - and also the reliable figures that we had collected - encouraged us to continue on the path," says Wolfgang Berger. "In the next step we wanted to outsource the operation of the IT infrastructure and set up a private cloud that would relate exactly to our actual needs." The timing was favorable: just before exchanging its existing server, the council realised these investments in new hardware could be avoided by changing to a service-based model.
When selecting the external service provider, both the technical feasibility and the legal security needed to be ensured. The kdvz Rhein-Erft-Rur met the requirements: The full-service IT provider operates a data centre for 37 local governments, working in accordance with the standards of the Federal Office for Security in Information Technology (BSI) and offers high security. In addition, the kdvz demonstrated that it could create the technical conditions for the private cloud model, in advance of the project.
"The preparatory work that the city council had invested in for the design and implementation of the solution, was very much worth it," says Jörg Vosse, System Architect at kdvz. "Since the existing IT environment was already centralized and virtualized consistently, migration to our date centre was relatively simple and efficient."
kdvz had also already implemented Citrix technology to provide centralized application delivery – however a new XenApp infrastructure had to be built for the private cloud solution for Bergheim. The entire server farm has been virtualized with XenServer to optimize hardware utilization and enable a flexible and efficient administration.
For the Citrix Provisioning Services of XenServer, a standardized server image is always streaming on the virtual XenApp server. This simplifies changes to the environment and ensures consistent server configurations. A total of 100 different standard and specialized procedures are brought to the XenApp server with Application Streaming technology. The streaming process guarantees software deployment as needed and at the same time, isolates the applications from each other – preventing potential software conflicts on the server. For the efficient administration of user profiles, kdvz has installed Citrix Profile Management.
From a technical perspective, the individual components of the IT infrastructure are largely decoupled: kdvz only need to manage single instances - for example, from server workloads and applications. This "on-demand infrastructure" also supports usage-based billing of IT services. The town of Bergheim today only pays for a certain amount per user, in which all the infrastructure and administration costs are included. Through this model, with monthly billing, IT spending will be completely transparent and calculable.
As a result of the new solution, the city administration expects that the annual IT costs will reduce by a further 40,000 euros. Even the reduced labor requirement for in-house IT service plays an important role. "Employees responsible for administrative activities which have ceased to exist, can now take on more demanding tasks such as user support and the development of our internal processes."
For Theo Kratz, one of the most important benefits is an overall improvement in the quality of the operation of the IT infrastructure: "We had previously maintained a stable operation of IT with the means available. With the private cloud solution we operating at an optimum level - especially in terms of availability, data security, recovery and response times. The use of the latest Citrix technologies has it made many things possible."
Further improvement measures are already in progress: the council and kdvz want to set up a fully automated billing system, making applications accessible via a web-based interface - even a brief phone call to kdvz could save money in the future.
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