SÜDVERS Group employees can access their business applications from any location: a desktop virtualisation solution based on Citrix technology makes it possible. The next step is for financial services to also integrate private mobile devices securely in the infrastructure.
Since its inception in 1948, the SÜDVERS Group has developed from a pure insurance company, to one of the largest independent financial services providers in Germany. The focus of the business is still in technical industrial insurance but in recent years, the areas of risk management, pensions and credit insurance have been added. In these segments the SÜDVERS Group has generated €242 million. The number of employees across the group of companies has more than doubled due to continuous growth within the last ten years: SÜDVERS currently employs 357 people at 14 locations in Germany, Austria and Croatia.
An important prerequisite for the economic success of the company are powerful IT applications. The focus is on broker management software, OASIS.WIN, from NKK, which covers all the core processes of the insurance business. SÜDVERS has also developed its own database-based Web application, called iBox, to support the documentation of consultations and simplify risk surveys. The integrated online claim file makes the claims process transparent for customers from the outset. In addition, SÜDVERS' IT department operates a whole range of special applications for the individual companies, such as custom software for calculations for retirement.
"Managing this complex range of applications across individual PCs in our offices, was a major challenge for us in the past," says Rolf Störr, Head of IT at SÜDVERS Service and Management GmbH. "We first tried a classic software distribution approach but the method used was prone to errors and was not always reliable over WAN." When SÜDVERS began switching to Office 2010 and Windows 7, it decided to introduce a new strategy for application and desktop management.
Together with the IT consulting firm Macro Factory, we developed a concept for the central provision of all major applications over the corporate data center. The aim was to replace the existing PCs at workplaces almost completely with thin clients. "Two things stood out for us," explains IT manager Rolf Störr. "Firstly, we wanted to make the management of user desktops more easy and efficient. Secondly, our objective was to make access more flexible and ensure applications were performing well so both our mobile works and home users."
As a first step, Macro Factory's technical experts and SÜDVERS analyzed the existing application portfolio. Here all applications used by the company are sorted out in terms of how much they are used and a basic set of 20 core applications is defined. To centrally provide the standard desktop with these core applications for users, the partners built a shared desktop environment at the corporate data centre, based on Citrix XenDesktop. Even applications with special hardware requirements - such as dictation, which is controlled by a foot switch - could be integrated into the central standard desktop. With the Enhanced Desktop component of Citrix they also gave the server-based desktop the 'look and feel' of a Windows 7 desktop environment.
"With the support of Macro Factory, we have succeeded in getting the majority of users to use the default desktop," says Rolf Störr. "Only a few special applications were installed locally on individual PCs. In most workplaces we could switch to the energy-saving and low-maintenance thin clients as planned." With XenDesktop, it is also possible in the future, to provide the remaining desktops with special software virtualized on the data centre. "The FlexCast technology from XenDesktop offers different methods of desktop virtualization - such as personalized VDI desktops or local virtual machines for mobile users," explains Dominik Meier, Division Manager Midmarket at Macro Factory. "So SÜDVERS can cover any usage scenarios in the future."
The company attached great importance to making the transition to the new desktop concept as smooth as possible: the user should not have to accept any limitations and be able to work productively in the new environment from the outset. Therefore, the IT department systematically led the users through training in order to familiarize them with the new Office programs and to highlight features of the shared desktop model. All thin client workstations were equipped with new, larger monitors.
"The high acceptance of the solution was mainly due to the improved application performance," reports Rolf Störr. "The branch offices benefit greatly because the data being shared between client applications and the database is no longer over the WAN. This has significantly accelerated the response times of our main application, OASIS.WIN."
The IT department now also carry out modifications to the software landscape: application updates are only applied once on the central server image. Citrix Provisioning Services provide the updated image then it is automated in the Citrix environment for all servers - so users can all work at the same time with the new software release.
"We have achieved high flexibility with minimum administrative effort, thanks to the Citrix technology," says Rolf Störr. "Plus, with the new desktop model, we have the ability to share user desktops regardless of location or device." Even users at home or in the field can connect to the same desktop they use in the office. To secure web access SÜDVERS and Macro Factory installed Citrix NetScaler in the data centre. The integrated SSL VPN component of NetScaler encrypts all communication between the terminal and the Citrix servers in the data centre on which applications run.
The sensitive customer data does not leave the protected data center. With the virtualization of user desktops, centralization of all nuclear applications and the implementation of a secure access solution, SÜDVERS has created strict conditions for mobile access. Even today, field staff on the move can securely access all business applications from a notebook.
In the future, the company intends to significantly expand its range of solutions for the mobile workforce. "Notebook users should in future also have the option to work offline with their applications," said Rolf Störr. "Therefore, we are currently evaluating the XenClient functionality of XenDesktop. With the client hypervisor we can provide virtual Windows desktops with all applications required by SÜDVERS, locally on each terminal. The virtual business desktops are fully encrypted so the user can operate on a notebook and the IT department can delete a terminal from a distance.
Going a step further, the IT manager wants to integrate smartphones and tablets; "We are planning to implement a 'Bring Your Own Device' program and will officially support private mobile devices, however, we must ensure that business applications running on the mobile device are protected and can be managed by IT centrally. For this reason, Citrix XenMobile is very interesting for us."
The new enterprise mobility solution from Citrix allows users to access mobile business apps securely on Android or iOS devices and keeps private data and applications completely separate. Administrators can apply granular security policies on the company's own apps and secure access to the internal IT on Micro-VPNs. In addition, it can be set that business emails or web applications may only be opened with the appropriate business apps. "XenMobile makes native mobile applications secure, such as the email client WorxMail, the Browser app WorxWeb and the file sharing service Share File," explains Dominik Meier. "Other mobile apps can use the Worx App SDK , which can be customized without programming for safe use with XenMobile."
According to the IT manager, Störr, the Citrix solution addressed all of the IT department's issues with BYOD: "Especially with mobile IT use, it is critical consider the needs of users first: Only smartphone and tablet solutions that are easy and simple to use will be accepted by users in practice. At the same time we need to implement the company's uncompromising security requirements. We see Citrix as being very well positioned to meet our needs holistically."
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