Home to more than 100,000 residents, the Taranaki region of New Zealand accounts for nearly 3 percent of the country’s population. Encompassing more than 7,000 kilometers on the west coast of the North Island, Taranaki sits in the shadow of the volcanic mountain for which it was named, effectively isolating it from the rest of New Zealand. Taranaki District Health Board (TDHB) is the only health organization that caters to this entire area.
Although Taranaki District Health Board employs more than 3,000 workers and operates facilities throughout the district, the core of its operations—including its two datacenters—resides at the Taranaki Base Hospital campus in New Plymouth. Two years ago, New Zealand’s Ministry of Health approved a building program to upgrade the hospital with an acute services facility. For IT personnel, this presented an opportunity to design from scratch an infrastructure that could support the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) environment physicians were clamoring for. It was also music to the ears of TDHB senior systems engineer Carl Behrent, who was brought in a year before to look after the organization’s Citrix environment.
“When I began working at TDHB three years ago, the extent of our Citrix environment was Citrix XenApp 5 and Citrix Access Gateway,” says Behrent. “I knew that by updating our current Citrix gear and incorporating additional Citrix solutions for desktop virtualization, mobility and more, we could deliver the BYOD and remote-access capabilities our users were demanding. What’s more, we could do so without compromising security or application performance. But we didn’t have the budget for this kind of IT transformation until the building program came into consideration.”
Behrent had no problem making the case for a fully integrated solution from Citrix. “TDHB wanted to bring the whole clinical IT environment up to date,” he says. “And they understood that to do that, they needed the technology to support their efforts.” First, TDHB successfully completed an in-place migration to Citrix XenApp 6.5, bringing along the entire Microsoft Windows environment plus a slew of new devices. After updating the network with all-new switching gear from Cisco, TDHB brought in Citrix consultants to evaluate the network’s design and readiness for BYOD. That resulted in the deployment of Citrix NetScaler App Delivery Controller to provide a modern gateway and some much-needed redundancy for the environment. It also led to the implementation of Citrix XenMobile to manage the myriad devices connecting to the network. At the same time, TDHB invested in Citrix ShareFile for secure file sharing and Citrix Receiver to connect client devices to the desktop virtualization services.
Today the healthcare organization is using NetScaler not just to deliver and optimize its Citrix applications but also to run its Microsoft SharePoint and Exchange environments. The IT department’s goal is to eventually run everything through NetScaler—including key web services, custom-developed medical apps and the electronic medical records system to ensure key patient data is available regardless of setting. For now, though, both users and administrators are thrilled at the increased performance and uptime that NetScaler provides for TDBH’s all-important Exchange environment, with Behrent citing features such as content switching and load balancing as instrumental to that success.
“Doctors tend to think of IT as their second profession,” says Behrent. “And they’re not shy about asking for what they want, which lately has meant BYOD. By facilitating that with our Citrix solutions, we’ve been able to silence our biggest critics. Now that we’re using Citrix Receiver, they can just slap that on their device, and they can be sitting anywhere and accessing the information they need. They love this; it makes them much more productive.”
This kind of productivity will only increase as TDHB begins full deployment of XenMobile. First in line to benefit: the workers who see patients and administer care in the field. Currently these workers collect patient data via pen and paper and then re-enter it into TDHB’s system—a time-consuming undertaking. Even worse, the lag time between collecting and entering data means that if a patient has a problem in the interim, clinicians won’t have access to the latest data. However, with XenMobile, field workers will be armed with mobile devices synced up to the hospital’s system. The result: reduced administrative burdens on field workers and improved patient care, thanks to a complete and up-to-date medical records system.
Although Behrent and team are aware of the benefits NetScaler offers in terms of performance optimization, their first priority is to achieve redundancy. “Back in the old days, there was no redundancy,” says Behrent. “We had to bring staff in during the middle of the night to do patches or updates because that was the only time we could afford to have those services down. Now that we have these workloads running through NetScaler as well, no downtime is required. Obviously that makes our lives easier and our environment more stable. It also helps us reduce costs in that we no longer have to pay overtime for the employees who come in after hours to deal with things.” This is especially true for the organization’s Exchange servers, which in the days prior to NetScaler lacked intelligent load balancing and had to be taken offline for patching or maintenance.
Also of enormous value to TDHB’s web development team are the performance graphs generated by NetScaler Insight Center. “Previously we had no visibility into how well things were performing,” says Behrent. “Now we can see traffic flows and pinpoint exactly where problems are occurring. If we had had this tool years ago, we could have resolved issues much more quickly.”
Security breaches at healthcare organizations are an increasingly common occurrence, and the vulnerability of patient data is a top-of-mind issue. As a result, Citrix solutions go a long way toward easing the hospital’s security woes. “With Citrix ShareFile, we can keep our data on-site rather than on users’ devices,” says Behrent. “By accessing everything through ShareFile, we reduce the risk of security breaches. What’s more, we save money over the long term by issuing fewer corporate-owned devices.”
Although TDHB is still just scratching the surface of what it can do with its Citrix solutions, Behrent is particularly excited about using NetScaler to its full potential. “Once we have all of our traffic flows going through NetScaler, we can get visibility about how they’re performing,” he says. “From there we can start turning on or off functions of NetScaler to improve the system—things like caching, compression and all of the new front-end optimization. This is the stuff that’s going to blow our developers’ minds and allow us to innovate going forward.”
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