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The topics discussed here grow out of the bread-and-butter issues that confront my consulting and software clients on a daily basis. We'll talk about prosaic stuff like Membership Management, Meetings and Events Management and Fundraising, broader ideas like security and software project management, and the social, cultural, and organizational issues that impact IT decision-making.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Managing Technology Across Multiple Locations

In all the talk about emerging technologies I rarely hear discussed solutions for the problems faced by organizations with more than one location. But for many of our MEMBERS ONLY clients, building and maintaining an IT infrastructure across numerous locations raises issues every day.

Thin-client computing.
One technology we've seen quite a few organizations use effectively in this situation is "thin-client" computing, where applications are hosted on a central application server, and published out to workstations. Since all that is being sent to the desktops are keystrokes and screen images - not data or applications - bandwidth requirements between branches and the servers are kept to a minimum and speed and performance maximized. As we will see, there are some other compelling advatages as well. The two most common thin-client solutions in the Windows world are Microsoft Terminal Server, and Citrix Metaframe.

A Case Study
The YMCA of Triangle Area is a 14 branch YMCA in the Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina, with two camps -- Seagull and Seafarer -- a several hour drive away on the Pamlico Sound. Trying to build a single network in this environment created numerous challenges the Y has had to meet. In meeting those challenges, this Y has gradually shifted more and more of its computing to a Citrix-based thin-client model.

Saving bandwidth
Originally, the Y saw thin-client computing as a way of utilizing their data-intensive management applications, such as our MEMBERS ONLY programs and their general ledger, without requiring enough bandwidth to move an ocean of data down the pipeline. Other applications were still installed and used in the conventional manner.

Simplifying Software Management
But management issues soon argued for moving MS Office and email applications to Citrix, as well as their fundraising and employee time-clock system. Hosting all the commonly used applications centrally meant that software upgrades involved nothing more than updating apps running on the centrally located Citrix servers. Suddenly it was easy to guarantee that everyone was on the same version of all applications - and installation no longer involved driving out to a remote branch.

Improving Workstation Management
The YMCA's network administrator, Gary Autrey, points out that because the applications are all hosted and no data is stored locally on desktop PCs, users are far less dependent on working at their own PC. And setting up a new workstation consumes far less staff time, because the applications do not need to be installed. Citrix publishes the appropriate applications out to each user based on the Windows Groups they belong to. So there is so much less that can go wrong on each workstation.

Back on the Farm.
But by now it was getting to be lot of processing to offload on a single central computer. In the case of the Triangle YMCA, which has 320 users, one server could not bear the load. Fortunately Citrix allows clustering of application servers into what they call a server farm. The software manages the load so that as more users log on, the number of processes running on each machine is kept in balance and performance is optimized. The YMCA has a four server farm, running Citrix Metaframe over Windows Server 2003.

Packet routing is managed by their ISP. When a packet gets sent out of a branch, the ISP routes it directly to the central office Citrix farm if that is where it is addressed, rather than letting it move to any switch further downstream. Otherwise it is sent out to the internet. And a certain amount of their total bandwidth is reserved for the Citrix traffic. The server farm is also accessible via the public internet - so authorized users can run the applications from home, and vendors like us can log on to investigate a trouble ticket.

Internet-published often is taken to mean browser-based nowadays. But with thin-client solutions, conventional Windows apps can be made available over the internet. They can even be launched from a browser. It's a route to take seriously if you are struggling with the problem of multiple locations.
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Comments on "Managing Technology Across Multiple Locations"


Blogger K said ... (December 21, 2005 at 1:22 AM) : 

Hi, I am a little lost. Not sure how to download Thur's templates because when I try, nothing happens. I click download, and it brings me to a page that does nothing.
You have made this template look really great, very professional looking.
I would like a 3 column. Would you mind to share how you did it?

Thanks, and Merry Christmas.


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