A small IT staff manages the city’s infrastructure and that of neighboring towns thanks to a strategic partner, a sound plan, and great digital technology
For decades, “the Little Engine that Could,” has been a favorite story of adults and children alike. In the story, through the sheer force of will and determination, a little light-duty switch engine pulled a long heavy train over a mountain. The moral of the tale is that the engine accomplished the impossible simply because it knew it could.
One day, a similar story may be written about the dynamic IT team at the City of Tyler, Texas. Their mission is to deliver maximum impact with limited resources. They do it because they know they can – despite the fact that the group is one third the size of IT departments in most cities of a similar size.
Tyler, home to 86 years of Rose Festivals and the Tyler Rose Museum, is a quaint city of 100,000 people with a footprint of 15.5 square miles. Quickly, the city is positioning itself as a role model for other small cities. Through digital technology and sheer force of will, the city’s IT team delivers a great employee experience that enables secure productive remote work. Workers access consistent familiar technology from anywhere, on any device, at any time, over any network. It’s an infrastructure that supports the future of work.
The city’s CALL TO SERVE mandate -- “streamline, empower, respond, venture, and evaluate” – is a cornerstone in this effort. Capitalizing on its powerful infrastructure, Tyler’s team also securely extends IT capabilities to the neighboring City of Whitehouse as a separate tenant. In addition, in a consulting capacity, Tyler provides IT services to the City of Jacksonville.
For many of its initiatives in the last several years, Citrix partner and consulting firm Mark III Systems has been a strategic partner. Mark III’s Bernard Nguyen, Citrix architectural lead, is a long-time Citrix advocate who has been instrumental in helping the City of Tyler design, pilot, approve and scale up various Citrix solutions. “At the end of 2018, Bernard helped us plot the path toward our ultimate goal: making offices irrelevant. First, we implemented a Citrix pilot project in our municipal court system. Its success then led us to begin rolling Citrix out to all the departments,” Benny Yazdanpanahi, CIO, says. “Feedback from users is universally positive. Users love the fact that they can work from anywhere,” he concludes.
One of the most interesting tests of the viability of the Citrix platform came early in the process. The team deployed Citrix to the Tyler Finance Budget Officer and challenged him to test it. “Ultimately, he was so enamored with Citrix that he didn’t even want to use a desktop computer. He wanted to project his Citrix apps and data on a 55-inch screen on the wall,” Yazdanpanahi explains. “He said he could do everything he wanted to do – whether in the office or at home -- and that his experience was consistent either way.” Yazdanpanahi adds, “Our finance leader also noticed that everything ran faster because it was running in our private cloud rather than on a desktop.”
Thanks to the fact that the Citrix implementation had been underway for a little more than a year, the city was ahead of the curve when the coronavirus pandemic caused government-mandated work from home edicts. “We were quickly able to give our home-based clients access to their apps and data. “They have the choice of using their own personal computers, or Chromebooks provided by the city.” Yazdanpanahi states.
First responders and police have different needs than office workers
Not only was it necessary for the team to empower office workers, but also, emergency responders needed immediate access to apps and data as well. This involved implementing continuously available technology in vehicles. The city is in the process of finishing the deployment in all of its police cars, in city vehicles and in fire trucks. “Now, when there is a fix or an upgrade, we do not have to physically go in and touch every single vehicle. Everything is automated and we can provision all of the emergency responders’ cars and trucks from one master image,” notes Yazdanpanahi.
Today, thanks to Citrix technology, most city functions can be managed from anywhere. There are only a small number of users that still need to be onboarded onto the Citrix platform.
Benny Yazdanpanahi firmly believes that when local access is removed from end users, an IT environment becomes infinitely more secure. In the City of Tyler environment, there's absolutely nothing running locally. Everything is in the city’s private cloud. Two-factor authentication ensures secure access and other Citrix technology solutions secure users’ entire work sessions. “Citrix really has made our lives much simpler,” he says. “The way our system is configured, a user has to be part of the domain to get in and out.”
Bernard Nguyen of Mark III has been instrumental in evaluating, deploying and testing the Citrix solution stack at City of Tyler. Today’s environment is comprised of a rich set of Citrix solutions and capabilities, including Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops, Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops Standard for Azure (formerly Citrix Managed Desktops), Citrix Workspace App, and Citrix Hypervisor. Also included are Citrix Application Delivery Controllers (ADCs), Citrix Application Delivery Management (ADM), Citrix Endpoint Management (CEM) and Citrix Gateway. The team also relies on Citrix App Layering.
The City of Tyler IT team has chosen to implement Microsoft Azure as part of its cloud-ready strategy.
Citrix has enjoyed a long-standing partnership with Microsoft. Its technology affords multiple VDI deployment options for Citrix solutions on Microsoft Azure: virtual apps, desktops, data and networking. This means that the City of Tyler can reduce overall IT costs and increase efficiency by provisioning and delivering workloads on Microsoft Azure cloud platform, or they can choose to deploy VDI with Citrix Cloud services on Microsoft Azure. The city has chosen to implement a direct VPN connection to Microsoft through its ISP. Now, not only does Microsoft Azure enable the City of Tyler to ensure continuous service, but also, it also provides the means for the team to have a backup of its environment.
There’s another area in which Microsoft Azure delivers value to the team: desktops-as-a-service (DaaS). Azure enables easy delivery of apps with its complete DaaS solution. Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops is an integral part of this, enabling the modern digital workspace by delivering apps and desktops to any device from any cloud.
The City of Tyler maintains three data centers, each with a pair of Citrix Application Delivery Controllers (VPX models). The ADCs are used for load balancing. There is fail-over from one data center to the others, so that even if as many as two data centers go down at the same time, operations can remain up and running. In such a scenario, end users won’t even experience any degradation or downtime.
Citrix Application Delivery Management (ADM) is a centralized management solution that can be used to manage, monitor, and troubleshoot an entire global application delivery infrastructure from a single, unified console. Tyler uses ADM mainly for Citrix Endpoint Management application delivery.
Whether in a data center, in a cloud, or with apps delivered as SaaS apps, Citrix Gateway consolidates remote access infrastructure to provide single sign-on across all applications. Users can access any app, from any device, through a single URL. Nguyen is particularly enthusiastic about the value Citrix Gateway brings to the city. He comments, “The beauty of Citrix Gateway is that it's so integrated with the overall Citrix product portfolio, it makes things go a lot faster. Gateway has a number of built-in functions and user improvements that have been implemented over several decades.” He adds, “It's a game changer that provides remote access whenever and wherever users need it -- regardless of the types of devices they are using.”
Citrix App layering is a final piece of the puzzle that rounds out the City of Tyler’s technology arsenal. App Layering is a Windows Operating System and application management solution designed for on premise private clouds and public clouds. Layering, Citrix App Layering's underlying technology, enables all components of a virtual machine to be independently assigned, patched, and updated. With App Layering, the City of Tyler is able to roll back its applications. “All the users have to do is to turn their computers off, and then bring them back up again,” Yazdanpanahi says. “With the police, a group for which we did need to roll back applications, had it not been for App Layering, we would have had to physically go to all the police units to make the change. That would have been a nightmare!” he remarks.
More Citrix offerings are being evaluated for future use at the City of Tyler. One is Citrix Analytics, which provides both security and performance analytics. Citrix Workspace, a secure digital platform that will enable the city to manage its digital transformation with an intelligent workspace platform is another solution that is being evaluated for use in the next six months. Finally, the team is eying Citrix Cloud to serve as its management plane in Microsoft Azure.
“Ours is a small community with a big heart. I fell in love with Tyler many years ago,” says Yazdanpanahi. “One of the reasons why is the giving spirit of the people. For example, the leaders serving in local government positions actually are volunteers working in unpaid roles,” he says. Because of this arrangement, the city is able to operate in “pay as you go mode.” It does not carry any general debt obligations.
“By maximizing resources and carefully evaluating IT spend, we have built an IT infrastructure that is a world away from several years ago when we were loading everything on laptops. We did it because we knew we could,” declares Yazdanpanahi. “We’ll never go back – at least as long as I'm here!”
First, we implemented a Citrix pilot project in our municipal court system. Its success led us to begin rolling Citrix out to all the departments. Feedback from users is universally positive. Users love the fact that they can work from anywhere.