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CIO turns to data analytics to hunt down VDI ghost

Thor Olavsrud | May 30, 2014
When Seattle Children's Hospital inexplicably found login times for its virtual desktops reaching as much as 15 minutes on some mornings, it turned to wire data analytics to track down the elusive cause of the problem.


A few years ago, Seattle Children's Hospital embraced virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) in a big way. Not long after, an elusive "ghost in the machine" began causing major headaches for the IT organization, says CIO Wes Wright.

"We started experiencing poor performance between 8 and 10 in the morning," Wright says, noting that it was never at exactly the same time and didn't necessarily happen every day. "I set up teams several different times to try to figure out what was going on, but we couldn't find it."

The 107-year-old institution serves as the pediatric referral center for Washington, Alaska, Montana and Idaho. Its 40-member strong IT organization supports more than 100 applications for more than 8,500 users across 25 different physical locations, including the nine research centers that make up the Seattle Children's Hospital Research Institute.

Many of the institution's workers, particularly nurses and clinicians, are mobile; they move from station to station throughout the day. Before adopting VDI, that meant logging onto a device at every new location.

"Before VDI, it took about two-and-a-half minutes to log into a machine that was up and spinning," Wright says.

VDI Helps Hospital Cut Login Times for Nurses, Clinicians
For mostly stationary workers, two-and-a-half minutes might not be too terrible. But for the hospital's mobile workers, it was turning into a considerable expense. A single nurse might log in more than 40 different times during a 12-hour shift, Wright says. That's more than 1.5 hours per shift spent logging in. Multiply by several thousand nurses and it's not hard to understand why the hospital needed to make a change.

The answer Wright settled on was Citrix XenDesktop. The IT organization started with about 250 users at one of its remote locations, but rapidly rolled it out to the main campus due to user demand.

"The loudest demand was the emergency department," Wright says. "I was a little hesitant for our main ramp into the main campus to be the emergency department, where workflow and timing is critical, but we did it."

The results were impressive: whenever mobile workers arrived at a new station, they would log into their XenDesktop instance from a device at the station. Login times decreased from roughly 2.5 minutes to 12 seconds. In short order, the IT organization was delivering nearly 3,000 Windows 7 desktops through the Citrix environment.

Then the ghost in the machine started appearing. On seemingly random mornings, logins would suddenly go from a few seconds to as long as 15 minutes.

Pinpointing End-User Performance Issues Wasn't Working
"We've got an environment with just about every technology you could think of," says Tim Holt, director of Enterprise Applications. "And consequently, it's very, very difficult to troubleshoot performance from an end-user perspective."


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