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Empowering the Digital Workspace: How the City of San Antonio Does It

Vernon Apperson

Author: Vernon Apperson

Vernon is a technology writer for VMware End-User Computing, specializing in customer storytelling.

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With 1.4 million people, San Antonio, Texas is the seventh largest city in the United States and a digital workspace pioneer. Faced with an aging and cumbersome Citrix XenDesktop environment, the city began to implement several digital workspace initiatives using VMware solutions.

Now any computer-using city worker can access a secure, city-branded workspace portal with a full suite of applications that they’re authorized to use, based on business needs. This approach provides a consistent desktop experience with robust identity management, regardless of location or device, to more than 10,000 Active Directory users who work with more than 250 apps.

Keep Your Data Where It Belongs (Hint: Not On Your Desk)

The workspace portal approach, managed by VMware Horizon, saves time and hassle for San Antonio’s employees and their representatives in the city and around the world. Business development managers in Washington D.C., Canada, Mexico and other locations—or even people working from home—no longer have to log in to a VPN to gain access to internal city documents or apps. “Being able to use a VDI session or Workspace has been a big advance for them,” says Rick Barnds, senior IT manager for the city.

Keeping data in the data center instead of the desktop has a host of benefits. The city can save money on desktop hardware and free workers in the field from having to come back to an office to perform computing tasks. The patch-once-distribute-to-many model keeps apps and operating systems up to date and secure. With no important or sensitive data on endpoint devices, disaster recovery and business continuity are greatly simplified.

To Serve, To Protect, To Read a Good Book

There are a few digital workspace success stories that stand out for Barnds. One is for public safety.

San Antonio Airport Police needed secure access to public safety systems while operating in a mixed security environment. Virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) to the rescue! The city deployed virtual desktops that allowed the police to access their critical public safety applications through a secure portal, while also allowing them to continue access to other local applications.

The city has also leveraged VMware Workstation Pro and VMware App Volumes for police and fire at their alternate 911 center. This ensures the same reliable desktop and application experience for the 911 call takers and dispatchers regardless of their location.

In city libraries, older hardware created what Barnds called “a challenging configuration” for self-checkout stations using Windows workstations, receipt printers and barcode and RFID scanners. Librarians had to reboot the system many times a day, eating up their time and causing delays for patrons. “The libraries have some unique, proprietary apps. Using VDI, we were able to overcome all these incompatibilities, abstract the hardware and present an application layer. That project was a huge success.”

Simplify, Streamline & Save Costs

Along with Horizon, App Volumes is a crucial component of San Antonio’s digital workspace solutions. Because App Volumes separates the operating system and user personalization from applications, deploying any application on any device becomes a simple process—even with the city’s legacy Citrix XenApp environments.

Barnds pointed out a lesser-known benefit of virtual desktops and workspace portals: controlling software licensing costs. Only a few employees might need expensive software, such as a CAD program. When programs are installed directly on machines, “It’s not controlled, and people may not understand the licensing constraints around it,” said Barnds. “When you put it in a workspace environment, the IT department can control it. If the department or end user hasn’t paid for that application, they can’t install it.”

“VMware digital workspace technology as a whole makes our life much easier. It gives us a huge amount of flexibility in the environment and really enables us to provision and service our customers in a much faster, much more efficient way.”
—Rick Barnds, Senior IT Manager, City of San Antonio

San Antonio has big plans for their future digital workspace footprint. On the heels of a successful and growing bring-your-own-device (BYOD) program that allows users to open VDI sessions on personal devices, the city is preparing to deploy VMware AirWatch to manage around 500 mobile devices. “That’s going to grow rapidly,” said Barnds, as the city expands the BYOD program.

After a major Windows 7 update where VMware Mirage “did a wonderful job out in the field,” according to Barnds, his department is looking ahead to a Windows 10 migration. The city also plans to implement VMware Identity Manager and VMware User Environment Manager for a full package of personalization and policy management solutions. “With complete user profile management, we can combine the flexibility and availability of VMware with a service level that makes the end-user experience look, act, feel just like a regular desktop,” said Barnds.

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