Air Traffic Controllers Use VDI For Flexible Working


Citrix and NATS are creating the largest cloud-based infrastructure in the UK transport sector

Air traffic control service provider NATS is piloting a new virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) using Citrix XenDesktop and XenApp, to reduce costs by £9 million over the next four years, shrink its carbon footprint and enable its 6,000 customers to work more flexibly.

Dubbed ‘Project Diamond’, the trial forms part of the organisation’s Future Workspaces initiative, which is designed to give customers the freedom to bring their own devices into the workplace, and access the applications that they need from any device, anywhere.

According to Gavin Walker, head of information solutions at NATS, the project not only makes it easier for IT departments to deliver and control applications, but also increases productivity, as it allows employees to log in outside of office hours.

“Customers can just jump on, check their email, get updates or even book their holidays from wherever they are,” said Walker, speaking to eWEEK Europe at the Citrix Synergy event in Barcelona. “By enabling that, we have gained 20 FTEs worth of productivity.”

Scalable and on-demand

The solution is available on-demand, and therefore suitable for all NATS customers, regardless of how much time they spend using it. For example air traffic controllers have no desks, phones or PCs in their offices, but want to access applications as soon as they step outside the control room.

Meanwhile, the research and development teams are much more intensive IT users, and need constant access throughout the day. Staff have access to the services, information and applications they need for their particular role, creating a customised experience.

Walker explained that XenDesktop makes sense for the company because it is scalable, so as the company expands into new markets, it can deploy applications over the Internet without having to build a whole new IT infrastructure. This could reduce the cost of new deployments by more nearly 70 percent, he said.

NATS chose to use Citrix’s VDI solution over other offerings from the likes of VMware and HP, because it offered an integrated stack that enabled the various use cases put forward by the organisation.

“With the others we would have had to mix and match,” said Walker. “Although some of the elements from other vendors were better that Citrix, a lot of it is too niche.”

Walker admitted that the solution is not perfect. He said that the smart boards that NATS uses do not run easily on a virtual desktop, and it is not clear how to implement video conferencing using Microsoft Lync. However, he sees it as a development opportunity, and a step towards offering more services to customers via the cloud.

The service is currently being trialled with more than 300 users, and will be rolled out to all NATS staff in the first half of 2012.

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