Here are the influential voices leading the conversations where nonprofits and technology overlap.
In January 2007, the Ocean Conservancy began a deployment of Citrix System’s Presentation Server 4.0 aimed at providing a better and more cohesive user experience for our growing nonprofit environmental organization. The goal was not only to tie our technology together more effectively, but also to produce a more uniform experience for all our users.
The move to a Citrix environment was triggered by the decision to phase out the conservancy’s legacy membership application and migrate to a more robust system that could accommodate the organization’s expanding needs. Ocean Conservancy's network serves more than 100 users spread among our Washington, D.C., headquarters, four remote offices and various home offices, with a host of those users spending significant time on the road. A virtual private network connection had been sufficient to support the legacy membership application, but early tests and a recommendation from the new-application vendor suggested that VPN would not support the throughput necessary for reliable access to the new membership application.
The application manufacturer offered a Web interface to accommodate remote offices, but our past experience with other applications suggested that such an interface would offer limited functionality and would add to the cost and training time. Instead, the IT support team decided to centralize delivery and management of applications and chose to do that with Citrix Presentation Server.
As it began planning the Citrix deployment, Ocean Conservancy’s IT team outlined several goals for the project:
1) Use Citrix to allow any user at any location access to the new membership application, with full functionality and good performance.
2). Use Citrix to host additional applications to accommodate a newly adopted telecommuting program at the conservancy.
3) Standardize applications across the organization.
4) Improve user satisfaction overall.
5) Improve the IT staff’s ability to support new tools for users.
By deploying Citrix Presentation Server, the IT staff planned to create a single way for users to access applications and information. With the Citrix environment, we would be able to provide updates to all users simultaneously, facilitate file-sharing and offer consistent technical support.
Once the decision was made to adopt Citrix, we needed to find hardware on which to run it. We initially considered reallocating servers that were already in production but finally decided to purchase two Hewlett-Packard ProLiant DL380 servers running Microsoft Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1 (see sidebar for specifications), with plenty of memory to assign to users.
The Citrix Presentation Server deployment at the Ocean Conservancy has provided improved application access and performance, as well as centralized management of applications. Key to the successful rollout, according to IT staff:
The installation of Citrix Presentation Server 4.0 was straightforward, took two days and required minimal assistance from Citrix technical support. We also communicated with Microsoft to resolve licensing-allocation issues.
Configuration was important, not only for the Citrix environment to run smoothly, but also to make sure it meshed with our network architecture in order to prevent future problems. We configured the servers to support the Citrix Web interface and automatically deploy the Java client, which in turn let us deploy Citrix quickly by publishing the applications on the Web interface, with little support needed by users.
Except for some compatibility issues with the version of Internet Explorer in Microsoft Server 2003 (for which the IT staff first found a quick workaround and then a permanent fix), most of the challenges involved in the rollout were addressed by training. Users have welcomed the Citrix deployment, but it has taken time and guidance for everyone to become comfortable with a new computing environment.
The IT department held weekly training sessions for two months to teach users how to centralize their data, access their files more easily and deal with any issues that arose from the deployment.
Using Citrix Presentation Server also let us lock down users’ computers for centralized management and to avoid unnecessary IT help-desk support. This has resulted in an improved network environment, with fewer viruses entering through end-user machines.
For a total cost of about $25,000, including hardware and consulting, the Citrix rollout has forged an important technology link among all of Ocean Conservancy’s users.
Abdul Hoggard is IT director at the Ocean Conservancy, in Washington, D.C., and Hernando Caicedo is a managing partner with HCI Network Solutions.