Health-Care Provider Embraces Virtual Desktops

By Michael Vizard  |  Posted 05-07-2013

By Michael Vizard

For several years now virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) has received a bad rap. Not only is VDI perceived as expensive to implement, but there is an assumption that users will rebel against anything that causes the centralization of their desktops.

Yet, most enterprise users not only have issues with how well their local desktop computers perform, but the total cost of managing standalone computers adds up considerably over time.

With those issues in mind, Sunrise Health Region, a health-care organization serving patients in Saskatchewan, Canada, embarked on a VDI project involving 3,500 instances of Windows 7 that needed to be remotely accessed across thousands of miles.

For all the debate over IT costs, the reason Sunrise Health went with VDI had a lot more to do with productivity. Clinicians need to visit different departments, and many of them were wasting a lot of time logging onto different computers.

"Clinicians were spending about 150 minutes per shift waiting to log into different PC systems," says Sheranga Jayasinghe, director of IT for Sunrise Health Region. "Now that figure is down to five minutes a shift, which allows them to give all that time back to the patients."

Sunrise Heath’s IT organization works closely with other health-care organizations located all across the Canadian province. To help centralize the management of all those desktops in a way that gives employees of the organization more flexibility, Sunrise Health opted for a polyglot solution that encompasses thin clients from Dell Wyse accessing Citrix XenDesktop and XenApp software that is deployed on top of virtual machine software from VMware that is running on servers from Hewlett-Packard.

"Normally, we like to go with the one-throat-to-choke approach, but the support for smartcard authentication on the Dell Wyse client really swayed us," says Jayasinghe. "It turns out the hospital personnel really like that approach to authentication.”

To get past the personalization issues that derail many VDI projects, Sunrise Heath also deployed software from AppSense that allows IT organizations to persistently store a personalized desktop environment for each user on a virtual server alongside software for managing virtual desktops from Unidesk.

"We wanted to be able to create a true follow-me computing environment," says Jayasinghe.

In addition, the health-care organization deployed software from Uniprint that allows users to treat the nearest printer nearest as their own local device, versus printing documents in their own department when they are multiple floors or miles away from their office.

"Uniprint gives us a follow-me printing tool that is pretty important to the users," says Jayasinghe. "AppSense and Unidesk allow us to make sure that everybody's desktop shortcuts are in the right place."

In the short term, Jayasinghe wants to modernize the IT infrastructure that the VDI deployment runs on, which will involve upgrades to Sunrise Health’s servers and networks. Jayasinghe’s long-term goal is to eliminate the need for Citrix XenApp in favor of the modern XenDesktop approach to desktop virtualization.

Of course, the shift to electronic health-care records is what makes it possible to deploy VDI in the first place. Not only are those records more secure, but centrally managing who gets to access them via a virtual desktop means Sunrise Heath is, by definition, in compliance with a fair number of regulations. That eliminates any number of potential fines, and it also makes the auditing process of the IT organization a lot simpler.

At a time when many enterprises are still running Windows XP, the issues concerning Windows deployment strategies have never been more top of mind, especially as Microsoft moves to end support for Windows XP in 2014. On the up side, the demise of support for Windows XP creates the crisis that IT leaders need to make the case for a more substantive change in how Windows desktops are managed.