Dexia is a European banking group with about 35.200 employees in 26 countries. The Dexia Group focuses on retail and commercial banking in Europe, mainly Belgium, Luxembourg and Turkey, and on public and wholesale banking, mainly in France and Belgium, providing local public finance operators with comprehensive banking and financial solutions. Asset Management and Services provides asset management, investor and insurance services, in particular to the clients of the other two business lines. The different business lines interact constantly to serve clients better and to support the Group's commercial activity.
Early this decade, Dexia Bank Belgium selected Citrix® XenApp™ and thin clients to solve a major challenge. After a merger, the bank decided to develop a new banking application called FOXE to replace all existing applications by integrating their functionality. The new banking application, written in Java, was unable to run on the outdated IT infrastructure at the 900+ branches. Instead of replacing all PCs and servers, the XenApp solution proved to be a much more efficient and less expensive way to deploy the Java application across the branches. The simplified and standardized desktop at the branch banks also reduced the costs of IT.
After years of good experience with XenApp and thin clients at branch banks, Dexia was looking for a solution to implement flexible desktops at the local area network at the headquarters, without the need to replace PCs with thin clients. "Even more important was the requirement to be able to run periodic business continuity planning activities. With more than 1.000 employees who are critical for the banks, updating and maintaining these systems is almost impossible," said Thierry Abeels, member of the Executive Board of Dexia Technology Services. "With XenDesktop, the new environment should also be able to create secure Internet access in a sandbox like environment. Thinking of flexibility, business continuity and secure Internet access, PCs seem not the first choice." In France, Dexia runs 65 percent of its workstations with XenApp.
Instead of replacing PCs, Dexia made the strategic choice to consolidate servers and provide virtualized application access with XenApp and, for some specific purposes, Citrix® XenDesktop® using thin clients as access devices. The infrastructure with XenApp and thin clients is operating at the branches is currently being extended to the organization´s headquarters in Luxemburg, Paris and Brussels. XenDesktop was added to host the infrastructure for secure Internet and some specific applications. Working with a Citrix Technical Relationship Manager (TRM), Dexia implemented a complete virtualized desktop comprising XenApp with Microsoft® Windows Server™ 2003 and XenDesktop with virtualized Windows XP workloads. "We really like the concept of technical relationship management. The collaboration between Dexia and the Citrix TRM is very positive. The TRM brings expertise about new functions in the latest products and is not focused on marketing at all. Thanks to the long relationship, he knows our problems, situation and context, and is able to translate features and technology to our IT infrastructure and our organization," added Abeels. "The quality is very high and not limited to Citrix products. In fact, we got support in configuring XenDesktop on a non-Citrix hypervisor, and we were advised to add AppSense software to the architecture, validated by Citrix."
Now, 6.000 thin clients at branches receive virtualized desktops running on 400 HP servers. Currently at the headquarters, 2.000 locked-down and simplified PCs used as thin clients only with the Citrix plug-in for Hosted Apps connect to the same virtualized desktop on XenApp. The PCs will eventually be replaced by thin clients. Secured sandboxed Internet access is provided using XenDesktop, running virtualized Windows XP workloads. When the project is finalized, about 18.000 employees at Dexia will run a virtualized Citrix-powered desktop.
For its Mobile at Work concept, Dexia implemented XenApp as a solution to free up office space within its organization. There are always employees in meetings or conferences, ill or working from home, so the organization reduced the number of physical desks and desktops. With Mobile at Work, employees can work on any device at any location within the headquarters. With location-based access to applications on these virtualized desktops, the exact applications a user can select depend not only on role but also on location. For example, an employee who has access to the private banking application in the office in Luxembourg cannot use the application from outside the LAN, and an employee at home can use e-mail but has no access to some financial applications.
"Some mission critical applications are not installed on the XenApp farm. A few are very old applications for a few employees that do not work virtualized. But more important, we have applications for trading at the trading room that the developer or manufacturer does not support or that cannot be licensed on multi-user environments like XenApp," Abeels continued. "We plan for those employees who need these applications to access a virtualized desktop on XenDesktop instead of XenApp on the same client device. The streaming packages we provision to the XenApp farm are built with Microsoft App-V, which is supported by Citrix XenApp. These packages are also used on XenDesktop so there is no need to repackage applications."
For critical functions and critical applications, business continuity planning (BCP) is a more and more mandatory process. For Dexia Bank Belgium (an entity of the Dexia group), about 1.000 employees have critical roles for the business processes of the bank. "We have the ultimate standardized desktop. The desktop is identical with the same user-friendly look, and Web Interface is the entry point, no matter if employees work at the branch office, at home or at headquarters. This complete centralized infrastructure is relatively easy to control and makes BCP a systematic part of the organization," Abeels added. "It will no longer be necessary to prepare for a BCP exercise each year at the trading room. Would we have worked with thousands of traditional PCs, this would have been much more difficult to realize."
At Dexia, company policy and legislation limits access for employees to only approved Internet sites. Only sites contained on the whitelist can be accessed. Although it only takes about two hours for a new web-address to be approved and added to this whitelist, for some functions or roles at the bank this is too long and less practical. "We implemented XenDesktop in the demilitarized zone (DMZ) and provide full Internet access from these sandboxed workspaces. A user connects from a thin client or a PC configured as thin client to the centralized desktop in the DMZ and starts browsing on the virtualized Windows XP workload. After a user logs off, everything is removed and the next session is created with a new and fresh workspace," continued Abeels. "We will have about 500 employees using these free surfing desktops. This way, these employees can have unlimited Internet access without compromising security in any way."
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Currently more than 400 applications, including: