Using technology for a noble cause

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In achieving it goal of feeding millions of school children in different states in the country, Akshay Patra Foundation has been aided by the implementation of Citrix Netscaler and XenApp.

A not-for-profit organisation headquartered in Bangalore, the Akshaya Patra Foundation is dedicated to fighting hunger and malnutrition. Since its inception in year 2000, the organisation has made commendable efforts for ensuring that many more children from poor background have access to wholesome meal on every school day.

It was in the year 2000 that the Akshaya Patra Foundation made a humble beginning, serving just 1500 children across 5 schools in Bangalore. Today the organisation has grown into the world’s largest (not-for-profit) midday meal program, which serves wholesome food to over 1/4 million children from 10,661 schools across 10 states in India. The Akshaya Patra Foundation has also made a name for itself by using modern technology to cater to the food related needs of millions of citizens.

Driving efficiency through technology

When the Akshaya Patra Foundation began to increase the scope of its work, in terms of both, numbers and geography, the need was felt to centralise and standardise the data on the organisation’s activities. To achieve this objective Microsoft Dynamics Exchange 2007 ERP application was incorporated in in April 2011 across all the locations where the organisation functioned. The issue of throughput while accessing the application through MPLS was a major challenge for the team. Problems were also there due to issues related to connectivity.

“Our aim was to provide users a great experience while accessing the application. However, users often faced problems related to speed and connectivity that negatively impacted their experience. Another major concern for the IT team was the security of data, since among other confidential information we also dealt with donor’s data,” says Janarthanan B, Head – IT, The Akshaya Patra Foundation. Currently there are more than 400 users accessing this application.

To overcome these bottlenecks, Akshaya Patra began looking for alternatives. The organisation carried out a PoC with Citrix’s XenApp Platinum and NetScaler solutions and few other vendors on parameters of speed and security. “On both fronts (speed and security), Citrix outperformed other vendors that we were evaluating,” says Janarthanan.

The NGO applied for 50 licenses of Citrix XenApp Platinum. Frontier Business Systems, a Citrix partner, deployed the solutions at Akshaya Patra. “We collected the feedback from users located in different branches on the XenApp solution and it was only after being completely satisfied with the solution that we went ahead with the implementation,” says Janardhan.

The initial 50 licenses were implemented on a server and users were given access to it. The ERP application was published through Citrix XenApp. Employees are now connected to the Citrix data server and thereby access the ERP. After the pilot implementation of 50 licenses, the better user experience led to the Foundation adding 50 more licenses, increasing the total number to 100. It is certain that the foundation will further increase the number of licenses, as it grows.

Citrix XenApp enabled application management by virtualising the ERP and delivering it as a centralised on-demand service to any user anywhere. XenApp helped in controlling and encrypting access to data and applications, thereby improving security.

Implementation after proper study

Janardhan is of the view that organisations should conduct proper study of their own environment before going for a deployment of such kind. They should have an assessment from both the vendor and the partner regarding what infrastructure will be supported and what will not be. In Akshaya Patra’s case the particular storage configuration required for high availability feature of NetScaler was not supported by Citrix.

The NGO, however, did not opt for high availability functionality, before they finalised the data centre. Citrix Netscaler is hosted on IBM storage, which is located in Sify data centre in Bangalore.
According to Janardhan, “The implementation team was not fully aware of the configuration required for our storage. But we managed to have the issue resolved and now we are using the same storage. But this issue did lead to a slight delay in the implementation.”

Post implementation, the Citrix NetScaler has led to vast improvement in the functioning of the ERP application and it has maximised the end-user experience. Some of its features include server load balancing, full web app firewall security, fast application acceleration capabilities. XenApp provided users with performance and control of the Infrastructure while NetScaler ensured a secure connectivity.

While Citrix XenApp and NetScaler solutions have enhanced security and user experience, Akshaya Patra believes that the real value of the benefits can be gauged after the complete implementation (of the additional licenses which have been procured). “The high-availability configuration enabled
recently, helped us reduce downtime and facilitate ease of maintenance,” says Janardhan.

At the moment, only ERP is being accessed through Citrix XenApp. Akshaya Patra Foundation plans to incorporate the Donor Management Application as part of the Citrix XenApp. A virtual desktop environment is a long-term plan that the organisation hopes to realise in the coming years.

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Case StudychildrenCitrix Solutionspoor
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