|GCS lowers costs with Citrix solution for remote agents|
Global Consolidated Services (GCS) is a Long Island based travel services company. The GCS solution currently powers Sceptre Tours, The Aer Lingus Vacation Store, Dooley Vacations, Britain and Ireland Vacations and Auto Europe Vacations. Their leading brand, Sceptre Tours is a major tour operator to Ireland, Italy, the UK and other European destinations. Their headquarters is home to their call center as well as their sales, accounting, operations and executive management team.
With the travel industry suffering from the economic downturn, GCS has managed to maintain market share and continue to grow their offerings, increase marketing and expand their staff. As their technology advisors, Consul-vation designed a solution to help them grow their sales and call center capabilities by using a private cloud solution and virtual home agent system. This case study reviews how we leveraged their existing application and connectivity base with Citrix technology to bring GCS cost savings and increased productivity through a secure, flexible and managed solution.
The Business Requirement
Remote access to applications was the core of the solution. The home agents had to feel as if the software was running on a local network. We began with a Citrix XenApp server as the center of the solution, and worked our way out. The first order of business was to validate that the applications would work under XenApp, which is virtualization software that presents an application as if it were running on the local desktop, when it is actually projecting the windows from, and all of the processing is done, on the XenApp server. The user sees windows and dialogs without having to worry about remote desktops or remote control software, all they see is the application dialogs.
We performed a proof on concept by installing XenApp on a virtual server in a lab environment, then installed all the mission critical software and “published” it for testing. Next, GCS managers tested the applications to make sure that they functioned properly. Once this was proven, we moved forward with the rest of the design.
Since XenApp runs each user session on the server, the hardware has to be capable of supporting a heavy load. It’s akin to stuffing a new PC into a single server for every user that logs into XenApp. We also had to design upward scalability, as the number of users could triple in the near future.
We designed the solution around an HP Proliant server running Windows Server 2008 64-Bit edition with a Dual Core Intel processor and 16GB of RAM. Storage requirements were comparatively minimal, so an array of drives was built on a high-speed RAID controller. Our estimates predicted that the server could support up to 15-20 concurrent users before starting to see degradation. If this happened, we could add more memory or a second processor until the server completely maxed out. Since XenApp is an enterprise class solution, it supports load balancing between multiple servers, even geographically dispersed servers. So even if the machine reached peak configuration, we could deploy a new server to support any level of expansion.
On the home agent side, the requirement for a turnkey solution led us to a laptop based solution running a bare bones Windows XP operating system. Since all the applications would be accessed remotely over the web through Citrix, there was no need to image specific applications into the laptops. For each home agent, GCS would provision a dedicated broadband connection at the user’s home, to separate their home computer use from work and alleviate security concerns with less secured home networks. Each user would also be issued a pre-configured broadband router/firewall, configured to communicate with the central office only, and setup to work with VOIP.
For the phones, the vendor provided “Soft Phones” (software based phones) to run on each laptop, that the agents would use with a PC headset to communicate, as the software mimics the normal physical phone functions. This solution removed the need to distribute physical phones and allowed a home agent to be part of the call center no matter where they were.
At headquarters, there would be a dedicated broadband line installed, using the same carrier the home agents were using to keep traffic on the same provider network, providing more efficient performance. Additionally, a new firewall would be added to the central network to protect the Citrix server and only allow authorized agents to access the services. In order to provide access to internal network resources, the Citrix server was internally protected by a firewall as well, with limited access to necessary services only.
The complete design allowed for a fast, secure and controlled communication between lightweight home agent laptops and a right-sized infrastructure in the home office.
For the initial rollout, GCS tested a few agents at home first, followed by a gradual rollout to new trainees. The home setup was also duplicated in the office during training so that new agents could learn while in the comfort of the office. Since the deployment, GCS has already doubled the original home agent count and has steadily added more every few months. The home agents are happy with the ability to function at home as if they were in the office and management has been able to grow without major capital investments in space and construction. More importantly, the marketing campaign has driven more phone traffic which GCS can now handle and scale to as needed.
Consul-vation continually monitors the infrastructure and believes the capacity can handle more then the originally expected counts of home agents. This translates into a faster ROI compared to growth, since investment in new servers and capacity can be delayed while the number of users continues to grow and all the business requirements would still be met.
Contact: Greg Dejak, (516) 881-3300
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