A company that has to vie for customers and employees cannot afford to let a lack of technology slow it down. Representatives at Pro Staff, a contingency staffing services company, agreed that to maintain a leadership position, the company needed to quickly automate its manual staffing processes with a minimum of capital outlay and a small support staff.
Pro Staff started as a small, regional operation in Minneapolis, Minnesota, 14 years ago and now has more than 100 offices in most major US markets. The company employed more than 60,000 people last year. With a relatively small administrative staff and only pockets of technology throughout the organization, Pro Staff needed a technical solution to remain competitive and support its growth.
Pro Staff implemented a Citrix WinFrame enterprise strategy using Intelligent Console Architecture (ICA)-based distributed Windows computing with centralized servers and Wyse remote terminals. ICA is a Citrix-developed protocol that increases transmission speeds for remote-node software (for a detailed review of ICA, see John Enck, "Think Thin and Win with Intelligent Console Architecture," page 128). This approach lets an enterprise centralize software administration, which helps reduce the introduction of unauthorized software and viruses, pool limited Help Desk resources, and save money by incorporating terminals instead of PCs.
- Pro Staff's Intelligent Console Architecture (ICA)-based remote networking solution helps prevent users from introducing unauthorized software and viruses, pools limited Help Desk resources, and saves money by relying on terminals instead of PCs. The company's Citrix WinFrame enterprise strategy takes advantage of distributed Windows computing with centralized servers and Wyse remote terminals. A Windows-based database application tracks job applicants, their skills, work assignments, and clients.
- Each user has a Wyse Winterm terminal connected to a Digital Prioris server running WinFrame ICA software through a carrier-managed frame relay WAN with TCP/IP and Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP). The Winterms let Pro Staff's Help Desk remotely configure and troubleshoot user systems.
- The WinFrame servers can be Backup Domain Controllers (BDCs) that receive conditioned power from an Exide UPS. Applications and associated data reside on two clustered NT servers connected to two external RAIDs housed in Digital Equipment's Storageworks cabinets. Pro Staff will duplicate its network configuration at another site to create redundancy in case of disaster.
A Look Back
More than two years ago, Pro Staff decided to invest in a computerized system to help its staffing professionals manage a rapidly growing base of applicants and employees. Pro Staff first experimented with the limited installation of a DOS-based staffing application that relied on Citrix's WinView to distribute the application across a WAN. Although the staffing application proved difficult to use and inefficient across a WAN, Pro Staff was intrigued by the Citrix concept and the early whispers of WinFrame, multi-user server software based on Windows NT Server (for a review of WinFrame, Tim Daniels, "Citrix WinFrame 1.6 Beta," May 1996).
Pro Staff continued searching for a staffing application and found a Windows-based database application that tracks job applicants and their skills, work assignments, and clients. This product was one of the first to use WinFrame. With Citrix, this product became Pro Staff's solution. The Microsoft Office suite was Pro Staff's standard, and the Windows-based staffing product was waiting in the wings when the company began looking at an NT-based solution.
As a former Value Added Reseller (VAR) for Citrix, Kevin Smith, Pro Staff's IS director, was familiar with WinView. He recognized that WinFrame improved on WinView by offering multiprocessor support, load balancing, the 20% to 30% faster ICA protocol, and seamless integration with most Microsoft products and features--including NT's solid, secure platform. With assistance from a Citrix software VAR, Pro Staff's network systems engineer/administrator, Kevin Woodward, took the lead as the engineer on the project. More than five years of Novell NetWare and Windows 3.x experience and a detailed knowledge of the staffing industry made him uniquely qualified to manage the project.
Building an Enterprise
Pro Staff assumed each site needed a PC; with no legacy systems to use, Pro Staff made PC purchasing a significant part of the project budget. Then, Wyse Technology announced Winterm, a smart terminal (486/50MHz processor with 512KB of cache RAM) built to run the ICA-based WinFrame client with WinFrame servers. Each Winterm costs around $800, and this low price tag helped Pro Staff executives decide to deploy one workstation for each of the approximately 700 users in placement offices across the country. By choosing the Winterm terminals, Pro Staff reduced the cost of adding new workstations by more than half. Pro Staff will still make one PC available at each site for floppy disk transfers and resume scanning.
The company attached the Winterm terminals to a carrier-managed frame relay WAN running TCP/IP with Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) to handle most addressing chores (for information on DHCP, see John Enck, "Take a Number," October 1995, Mark Minasi, "Improving on DHCP," September 1996, and Spyros Sakellariadis, "Integrating and Administering DNS," September 1996). Figure 1 shows Pro Staff's network configuration. This combination creates an elegant technical infrastructure that offers the logistical advantages and cost savings of centralized processing and has the scaleability and flexibility of a distributed system.
The Citrix ICA protocol sends only keystrokes and screen updates across the wire, and all application execution happens on the server. This configuration requires some pretty beefy server hardware. Pro Staff went with Digital's Prioris line.
Each WinFrame server contains four Pentium 133MHz processors with 512MB of RAM to load balance shared resources for 40 users. (Citrix suggests one processor and 128MB of RAM for every 10 users.) Users will run remote sessions on the WinFrame boxes, and the applications and associated data will reside on two clustered NT servers (for an explanation of clustering, see Mark Smith, "Closing In on Clusters," August 1996) using Digital Clusters for Windows NT (for a review of this technology, see Joel Sloss, "Digital Clusters for Windows NT," August 1996) connected to two external RAIDs housed in Digital Equipment's Storageworks cabinet. Each clustered server manages its own 8GB RAID, one for the staffing application and one for the productivity applications.
Pro Staff will duplicate this configuration at another site to create redundancy in case of a disaster. Half of Pro Staff's users will access the staffing application and data residing at one data center and the remaining users will access the other. Each data center can accommodate all users if necessary. Pro Staff has built each WinFrame server as a Backup Domain Controller (BDC) that receives conditioned power from an Exide UPS hard-wired to its own 60-amp circuit. Down to the switches and hubs, Pro Staff's infrastructure is built to deal with virtually any failure.
Realizing the Benefits
Winterm terminals offer significant cost savings over PCs and make hardware configuration a breeze. For example, to configure IP addresses with DHCP, you enter the address of your DHCP server and the default gateway. Period. Then you can log on to your NT desktop with one mouse click. With WinFrame's Administrative Tools, your Systems Administrator controls what users can see and modify on their desktop and what applications they can access from their desktop.
Software management across the enterprise becomes as easy as on a local LAN. You can install, update, modify, and delete files throughout the network--all from your server. Because users can't load software from their desktop, you eliminate unauthorized screen savers, games, or other resource-hogging recreational software. You also dramatically reduce opportunities for users to introduce viruses into your environment.
WinFrame is also a tool for the corporate Help Desk. The shadow feature lets Help Desk personnel assume control of a user's desktop. The users can watch their screen while Help Desk personnel talk them through a solution.
Please see "An Interview with Pro Staff"
Citrix Systems * 800-437-7503
Wyse Technology * 800-800-9973
Digital Equipment * 800-344-4825