Scotiabank cites Citrix benefits, server problems

The decision to stop running applications at the desktop and instead run them on a remote server is not one IT managers take lightly, because it entails risk. But according to many Citrix Systems Inc. customers, 2,500 of whom convened in Orlando, Fla. in October for an annual user conference, it can be very beneficial.

J.P. Savage, senior vice-president of systems, operations and technical services at Scotiabank, gave the conference keynote. He explained his switch from running applications on the desktop to a centrally located Citrix MetaFrame server.

Savage said he was fed up with what he called the “Wintel churn cycle” to upgrade Microsoft Corp. applications and Intel Corp.-based computers every few years. Instead, he decided to keep the older PCs, give his user base the Citrix Independent Computing Architecture client for the PCs and run updated Microsoft applications on Citrix servers.

“With Citrix, delivering a new browser – or Windows Office – can be done in a weekend at Scotiabank,” Savage said. “We’re extending the PC life cycle.”

While the Citrix implementation works well, problems with servers seem heightened. “I still have problems with the Citrix server farm,” said Savage, pointing out that when servers go down, it takes too long to bring them back up. “It should take 15 seconds to regain use, not 15 minutes.”

With client applications running on servers, Citrix customers pay attention to how many users can connect simultaneously to one MetaFrame Presentation Server. This varies widely, from only 20 to hundreds. When customers want to get more mileage out of servers, they sometimes add software to boost application performance.

Mark Groves, IT manager at the Home Shopping Network, for instance, said in his presentation that he found running Siebel Systems Inc. CRM software on Citrix was very CPU-intensive. “We found we could only have 25 users using this application,” Groves said. “It was very expensive.” But after he added AppSense’s Performance Suite software, servers could support 45 per cent more users and were more reliable.

Fidelity National Financial, a title insurance and real estate firm in Jacksonville, Fla., found that putting different versions of Windows or its own proprietary software on Citrix servers created problems. This meant buying more Citrix servers to keep applications separate. But Fidelity National discovered it could reduce the number of Citrix servers from 20 to 13 by adding Softricity Inc.’s SoftGrid software for grouping applications through memory allocation and other means.

“We don’t have to run separate servers for these applications now, and it reduces the administrative tasks,” said Paul Little, Fidelity National’s configuration manager.

Citrix has expanded its reach in the last few months through a line of security software called MetaFrame Access Suite for managing passwords, conferencing, single sign-on authentication and a secure gateway that could be used independently of the Citrix MetaFrame server.

Vinny Sosa, Citrix product marketing manager, acknowledged that Citrix faces a battle for recognition for its security wares, especially when they compete against security or portal products from IBM Corp. or BEA Systems Inc. One customer, Wachovia Bank, said it is implementing Access Suite as its business extranet.

“Using this, we’ll no longer have the expense of leased lines with business partners,” said David Whomsley, assistant vice-president of information security at Wachovia, the United States’ fifth-largest bank.

Citrix says that about 120,000 organizations – with a total of 50 million users – make at least part of their business applications available to employees or trading partners using Citrix client software.