Hurricane Sandy stress-tests new XenDesktop solution
Frank Hirth is a premier UK-US tax and accounting firm that looks after the complex, international tax affairs of high net-worth individuals. Frank Hirth’s advisers provide highly specialised advice to clients on both sides of the Atlantic and rely on seamless support from an array of over 140 different software applications. Focused on arcane matters such as US tax compliance, some applications require updating and patching as often as two to three times a week. Headquartered in London, Frank Hirth opened a New York office in 2008. Following rapid growth over the past four years, it wanted to establish a larger office on Wall Street in order to better meet the needs of its US client base.
The challenge: to provide a consistent, high performance desktop
With expansion in mind, Head of IT Systems Mike Jackson needed a consistent, high performance desktop to support both London and New York. The ideal solution would also enable flexible working and be cost-effective to maintain. With so many software updates, management costs could be huge and would grow as the firm expanded its US presence. Jackson had explored thin client options before but the 85ms latency experienced had been too great to run Frank Hirth’s core business applications. “Desktop virtualisation seemed the next logical step,” he states. “The ability to provide a standard desktop with dedicated resource at low cost and high availability was really compelling and desktop virtualisation takes the latency issue out of the equation.”
The decision to move to Wall Street presented an opportunity to change the IT infrastructure and adopt a transatlantic, virtual desktop solution. Working with IT partner technologygroup, Jackson’s team in the UK developed a solution that used Citrix XenDesktop® and Citrix Receiver™ to provide a secure, stable and effective desktop for mobile workers from the London office and for all of the New York team. “Technologygroup was great,” says Jackson. “We had to move quickly after the New York office became available. They turned everything around to test the solution in the UK and get it ready for the US. It went very, very well.”
With the solution working, Jackson and colleague Ashley Thomas flew to New York to set up the new office. Starting with an empty floor, the pair – along with Anthony Studer, the US systems administrator – cabled, set up hardware and software, tested and brought the final stages of the 100 seat system live in just five days.
It was then that nature presented a further challenge.
Just as the new system went live, Hurricane Sandy hit New York City. Within hours, the ground floor of Frank Hirth’s new building was under four feet of flood water. The office would be out of reach for the next six weeks.
The solution: Desktop Virtualisation on personal devices provides high performance disaster recovery
With the telephone network down and the mobile network overloaded, the first benefit of virtual desktops was the ability to check that colleagues and friends were safe. Frank Hirth then quickly secured serviced office space on dry land, further up the island. Working on personal laptops, iPads and other devices, the team connected securely over the office’s Wi-Fi or from home. They soon found they were “working on faster desktops, more efficiently and with greater stability than before, even while in the throes of a very stressful situation” says Mike Jackson. “At a time when even buying a cup of coffee was difficult in Manhattan, our NY colleagues could continue to serve their clients. London rallied to support but there was no need to transfer workload to the UK.”
Key benefit: six week office outage has no impact on business results
Economic losses across New York City, arising from the largest Atlantic hurricane on record, were estimated at $18bn. Despite this, Frank Hirth found that its turnover, profit and productivity over the disaster period were not significantly impacted. Thanks to very dedicated, resilient and adaptable staff, the Citrix solution and “wonderful, very understanding clients” it was very nearly business as usual for Frank Hirth.
The US office has now re-opened in Wall Street Plaza and Jackson is also seeing the operational benefits of the XenDesktop solution. Centralisation of desktop management has resulted in better performance, greater stability and vastly improved efficiency. Remote workers now have secure access to their systems and Hurricane Sandy provided an unexpected trial of a bring-your-own-device policy.
Developing the solution for New York has made Frank Hirth a more agile – as well as a more resilient – business. Working in a highly specialised and competitive field, the firm must respond quickly when opportunities arise to attract new talent or open additional offices. With an established blueprint, Jackson is confident his team could have the technology for a new office operational seven weeks from signing the lease.
As Jackson says, “Technology is an important factor when talking to new hires at the firm. Being able to provide the best technology that ‘just works’ – that is fast, accessible and reliable – allows those talented individuals to concentrate on what they do best for the client.”