NHS North Yorkshire & Humber CSU
With VMware desktop virtualisation, NHS North Yorkshire and Humber Commissioning Support Unit (CSU) is providing the mobile working capability vital to delivering modern healthcare – at a lower cost than traditional desktop deployments.
With the NHS undergoing a period of reorganisation, NHS North Yorkshire and Humber CSU is currently responsible for all health services delivered to the local community – over 500,000 people use its services.
As a forward-looking organisation with a track record of innovation, the vision of NHS North Yorkshire and Humber CSU is ‘achieving the best health for all’ with clear objectives set for priority areas -including the transformation of IT services.
In 2005, as part of this innovation, NHS North Yorkshire and Humber CSU adopted a virtualised server environment based on VMware vSphere to benefit from the operational efficiencies associated with this technology. Consequently, plans for a Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) strategy began soon afterwards.
NHS North Yorkshire and Humber CSU currently manages 4,500 client devices (mostly desktop PCs, but also laptops and tablets) for more than 600 NHS service areas within 20 different organisations at over 130 sites across West Yorkshire, including hospitals, support agencies and GP surgeries – some at very rural locations. The scope of the project, therefore, meant that very careful planning was necessary.
The challenges of a VDI project within this diverse and geographically dispersed environment were considerable. To deliver a VDI deployment on this scale, NHS North Yorkshire and Humber CSU would face significant technical and financial obstacles.
These challenges were compounded by a number of issues specific to healthcare, such as specialist clinical applications untested within a data centre environment; applications uncertified by software vendors to run virtually; support of NHS smartcards for secure authentication; and medical imaging applications with high fidelity graphics required to view high resolution clinical images, such as patient x-rays and scans.
All applications supported by NHS North Yorkshire and Humber CSU were required to run within a VDI environment ‘as good’ or better than the current level of service, and without any complex or time consuming configuration. Crucially, the end user experience could not be impacted. Client login times should be less than one minute and the end user experience ultra-responsive regardless of application workload. Within a clinical environment, end users would not tolerate performance issues of any sort. Given the large number of diverse users, end user training also had to be minimal, or ideally, non-existent.
The use case for VDI within an NHS organisation is self-evident and key business objectives for the project were identified very early on. The main benefit of VDI was considered to be the reduction in operational costs incurred by supporting such a large number of geographically disparate client devices. The need to reduce the number of field engineer visits was seen as a primary economic driver, as was the need to lower the number of service desk calls in general – something which would result from a more centralised desktop management. An additional bonus was seen as improved security by hosting end user data within a data centre – the loss or theft of a client device would not compromise data security as no sensitive data would ever be held locally on the device. Also, a need to simplify remote working beyond the restrictions of conventional Terminal Services and make better provision for business continuity was identified. Lastly, a reduced environmental impact was considered to be an important factor.