Centrica deploys Citrix Cloud services on Azure to manage demand

Utility firm Centrica has implemented a standardised virtual desktop based on Citrix on the Microsoft Azure Cloud to support seasonal demands on its business

Centrica began using virtual desktops a decade ago. The servers to support this were mostly hosted on-premise, but over the past 18 months the company began a project to migrate over to the cloud.

Patrick Babic, service owner for Centrica’s end user computing (EUC) team, said the company decided to move to a cloud offering from local datacentre-hosted virtual desktop software to support its PC users. 

Discussing the rationale behind the project, Babic says: “The need for flexibility and scalability was a big driver for change. Whenever we had to expand the platform, it took four months to go through the paperwork, purchase and deploy the hardware. It was costly and not very agile.” This made it impossible to flex capacity in line with business seasonality.

Demand for PCs changes based on whether it is winter or summer. The UK call centre tends to experience higher demand in the colder months for heating enquiries, while in the US, Centrica experiences more calls in summer when people use air conditioning. This seasonal demand for virtual desktops has traditionally required more servers.

As the server hardware was approaching end of life, Babic and Centrica’s EUC service provider, Fujitsu, saw an opportunity for a new approach. Centrica has a cloud-first strategy and moving the virtual desktop to cloud would allow the business to simplify and standardise its desktop while also bringing greater flexibility and cost savings.

Babic and the team rejected a simple “lift and shift” approach to creating a cloud-based desktop. Instead, the team developed a completely new, standardised desktop, dramatically simplifying the older desktop solution.

In fact, the agile, cross-functional team of Centrica, Fujitsu and Citrix designed two desktop solutions that could ultimately be rolled out to 18,000 users worldwide. For standard users, the team built a single desktop, collating and simplifying 1,200 different applications.

With desktops on Citrix Cloud services and Microsoft Azure, Babic says Centric can spin up and down per region to meet the seasonal demand. “Our usage is seasonal. We tend to have higher demand in the UK call centre during the winter months than in summer, while demand in the US increases in the summer. This is why we require Azure’s virtual capacity,” he says.

With Citrix Cloud services running on Azure, Centrica has also managed to reduce 44 management servers to a simple, single URL.“We want to standardise on a single platform and now have flexibility to spin up more virtual servers to increase load when we need it and then decrease,” Babic says. 

The end user computing environment comprises client desktops, Microsoft applications, VP connectivity, instant messaging applications and SAP clients, and these can now all be accessed via Citrix Cloud services. Babic says that third parties can also connect to Citrix, which means that their desktop access can be managed there.

Along with human end users, desktop virtualisation is also used to enable robotic process automation software to perform desktop computing tasks that would previously have been done by employees. With 350 bots running constantly, the platform processed more than two million transactions in 2019, which was 100% growth from a year before.

The virtual desktop has now been rolled out to the UK and Ireland, supporting 10,000 users. Over the next two to three months, Babic says Centrica aims to complete North America to support a further 8,000 users.

The project is already cost-neutral. According to Centrica, the project will make cost savings in the first full year of operation, due in part to the new model being consumption-based. 

“Centrica, partnering with Fujitsu and Citrix, have designed, deployed and migrated thousands of users to a global desktop at pace and, critically, with no disruption to the business,” says Steven Anderson, Fujitsu’s global client executive for Centrica.

According to Anderson, the company’s collaborative approach to the project meant that it was able to complete the deployment in just a few months, something that usually takes large organisations years. This, he says, has meant that Centrica has been able to benefit from a single, consistent user experience and cost savings within a short space of time.

Babic adds: “With our desktop on Citrix Cloud services and Microsoft Azure, we can spin up and down per region to meet seasonal demand. We’ll also have the economies of scale that come from a global platform. Overall, we’ll be constantly flexing between 15,000 and 18,000 users.”

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