Sacramento County Superior Court

Sacramento County Superior Court: Users and IT Both Win Their Cases with Citrix XenDesktop and Unidesk

Judges and other court workers require remote access to personalized desktops and many different Windows apps. The IT staff is lean and needs simple management. With Unidesk and Citrix XenDesktop, both win.

Superior Court of California - Sacramento County

"Incorporating Unidesk’s simple, unified management solution allowed for easy transition of VDI management back to the desktop team where it belongs."

Ron Berardi
Enterprise Architect, Superior Court of California - Sacramento County

Stating the Case for Virtual Desktops

The Sacramento County Superior Court is a regional subdivision of the California judicial branch. With ten locations, the court employs approximately 650 government workers. Enterprise Architect Ron Berardi has overseen several eras of desktop infrastructure during his 7 year tenure. Now that virtual desktops are fully deployed to everyone using Citrix XenDesktop and Unidesk, Ron and his team believe they have the ideal combination of performance, personalization, flexibility, and simplicity. In fact, VDI has been so successful, the court plans to scale its environment to 1,000 desktops to serve outside agencies and departments, essentially becoming a Desktop as a Service (DaaS) provider. But getting to this point wasn't without challenges.

PCs and Shared Sessions - "I Object!"

The PC era had created expectations among the court's knowledge workers that they could personalize their desktops to better fulfill their job responsibilities. Each user had administrative rights to configure their PCs with the software they needed. "We have about ninety judges in our organization which means that we have ninety bosses with very specific needs that we have to satisfy when it comes to their desktops,” explains Berardi.

However, this high degree of personalization placed additional burden and expense on IT. With PCs in need of refresh and Windows XP reaching end-of-life, centralizing desktops on data center servers made sense to improve IT efficiency.

Berardi hoped Windows shared sessions would be the answer. Applications and desktops were published using server-based computing and deployed to a subset of users. However, a number of issues surfaced:

  • The system was too complex to administer. Managing user profiles and applications dominated their workload and left minimal time for other IT projects.
  • Applications that depend upon specific Windows OS features, registry entries and file locations did not work well.
  • Interoperability between session-hosted applications was limited.
  • End users weren't buying in. Shared multi-user sessions took away the personalization and unique configurations that users had grown accustomed to with their PCs. For the courts, this was a crucial drawback, as many of the end users were influential decision makers.

It was soon apparent that shared sessions were not the right fit for the court's knowledge worker use cases.

The Unanimous Verdict: VDI

In researching the market, Berardi knew Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) was taking hold, and that some of the court applications that didn’t work well in a shared session environment would work fine in their own virtual machines. A dedicated virtual machine could also offer the personalization that the knowledge workers wanted.

Says Berardi, "We were determined to not only meet our users' desktop needs, but expand their desktop experience by offering additional luxuries that weren’t previously available, such as remote desktop use. We felt this was the way to rebuild their confidence in server-hosted desktops."

But VDI needed to satisfy several criteria if it was to be successful:

  • Administration had to be simple. Virtual desktop and application deployment as well as ongoing daily management needed to be easy enough for the small team of desktop technicians to handle.
  • Storage space requirements for the 700+ persistent desktops needed to be minimized to keep costs down.
  • Performance had to be the same if not better than physical PCs. The court had actually made this a mandate after the experience with shared sessions.
  • Remote access had to be easy and support users' choice of endpoint device. This requirement would also help test whether the court deliver desktops as a service to outside agencies and departments.

Finding for Unidesk

Unidesk was the answer to the VDI simplicity and space utilization challenges. Comments Berardi, “Incorporating Unidesk’s simple, unified management solution allowed for easy transition of VDI management back to the desktop team where it belongs. My partner on the infrastructure management side and I are focused on our larger architectural projects and we don’t have the capacity to be dealing with desktop issues on a daily basis. With Unidesk, application patching, Windows updates, and break/fix can fall under the direction of the desktop technicians.”

Four desktop technicians are now directly responsible for delivering 60+ applications as Unidesk layers. Adobe Creative Suite, AutoCAD, Judicial Applications, Windows Sharepoint, Dragon Naturally Speaking, Essential Forms, and many other apps are packaged as their own modular virtual disks and delivered to virtual machines as shared VMDKs. Even the Windows operating system is delivered as a layer. With Unidesk Imageless Desktop technology, OS, application, and personalization layers can be assigned to desktops in any combination to meet the unique needs of court workers. Unidesk merges all layers together into a virtual C :drive so that Windows and applications appear locally installed. Application interoperability is no longer any issue.

“For our desktop technicians, this is really cool because they had no prior knowledge of virtualization," says Berardi. "Unidesk gives them a single management console that allows them to deploy and manage desktops and applications without needing to develop extensive infrastructure expertise. They just create and patch layers once centrally, then deploy them to one desktop, a few desktops, or all of them."

The empowerment of the desktop technicians to manage VDI day-to-day has been invaluable to Berardi. “We rely on Unidesk as that one pane of glass to unite the two departments. We on the infrastructure side can set up the infrastructure and hand-off management to the desktop team. The desktop team can actually be the desktop team!”

Unidesk persistent desktops still give users the freedom to install their own applications, while minimizing space requirements. Windows and application layer virtual disks are shared by all desktops on a datastore, leaving only the Personalization layer as unique storage. As a result, each Imageless Desktop requires only 8-12 GB of disk space.

Adds Berardi, "IT maintains control of core applications and OS updates, but our judges and court workers still get the customization they want. This has helped us meet the court’s mandate of VDI working better than physical PCs. We can get apps to users in minutes, they get full personalization, and we can still fix anything that goes wrong just by rolling layers back to earlier versions."

Finding for Citrix XenDesktop

Citrix XenDesktop was chosen to address the court-mandated desktop performance and remote access requirements. The HDX protocol and support for all client devices provide the performance and flexibility that end users need.

Says Berardi, "Clients can connect from MacBooks, Windows machines, Apple iPhones, Windows phones, Android tablets, you name it!”

As an existing XenApp customer, Citrix made it cost-effective for the court to move to XenDesktop and adopt VDI. They took advantage of a promotion that enabled them to trade-in two XenApp licenses for one XenDesktop license.

Implementing Citrix XenDesktop also positions the court for its DaaS initiative. Citrix's WAN optimization and remote access features - widely regarded as industry best - will enable VDI to support the external agencies and departments who will be accessing the court's environment.

Final Judgement

The combination of Citrix XenDesktop and Unidesk has ushered in a new desktop era at Sacramento County Superior Court - one where user personalization and flexibility doesn't have to be traded off for IT simplicity and efficiency. As the court begins to offer use of its infrastructure through DaaS, more superior, municipal, and small claims courts in the State of California will be able to experience the same benefits.

Deployment Details

  • Application Management
    Unidesk
  • Server
    Cisco
  • EUC Platform
    Citrix XenDesktop
  • Storage
    NetApp
  • Application Layers
    61
  • More Info
  • 8-12 GB of space per persistent desktop
  • AutoCAD, Adobe Creative Suite, Dragon NaturallySpeaking, SharePoint, Windows 7 delivered as layers

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