BAA moves to thin client infrastructure

Project: WebTop

Business goal: To reduce the cost and complexity associated with a vast applications portfolio through the introduction of a new thin client infrastructure.

Project partner: C&C Technology

Overall award sponsor: Oki

Category award sponsor: BMC Software

The British Airports Authority (BAA) has no fear of big undertakings. As well as running seven of the UK's largest airports, it is the force behind such mega-projects as the Heathrow Express and Terminal 5. When it came to the realisation in 2002 that its end-user applications infrastucture had become an unmanageable drain on resources that was impeding the organisation's agility, it embarked on a radical – and arguably long-overdue – overhaul.

Over many years, the company had let the number of applications running on its IT infrastructure swell to around 3,000. Most of these applications were either accessed via PCs or resided on PCs – making software maintenance and support highly expensive, cumbersome and never-ending.


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As Malcolm Mitchell, head of information, systems and technology architecture at BAA, observes: "[As] systems are getting more and more complex, you need to overcompensate and expend a lot of energy on simplification."

One of the keys to the elimination of complexity at BAA has been its WebTop Programme. WebTop set out to greatly rationalise and simplify the authority's infrastructure by introducing a thin-client architecture. With the help of partners such as C&C Technology, it embarked on a three-year, £26 million project to web-enable the vast bulk of its applications. BAA implemented Citrix thin client software so applications could reside and be executed at server level, and Wyse terminals to provide low-cost, browser-based access to applications.

After a pilot phase that shifted 250 users over to the new system, the full scale roll-out began in June 2004, with a gradual deployment across the authority's 19 UK sites involving 1,000 users migrating each month.

At the point of completion in April 2005, the programme had succeeded in reducing the number of applications used by BAA's 10,000 employees from 3,000 to a much more manageable 400.

Now, any BAA employee armed with the appropriate security tag and access rights can log on at any Internet terminal and activate relevant applications and data. By centralising applications and providing networked access, the airport operator has been able to significantly reduce IT support costs. There has been an 18% reduction in the cost of hardware per user, while the time it takes to deploy new installations has been cut by an order of magnitude. BAA says it has evolved from undertaking software upgrades in a costly and disruptive manner towards a much more continuous process.

However the project has not simply been about savings. The new thin client approach has enhanced the security of applications as patches and other security changes can be implemented centrally. At the same time, the life of existing PC assets has been extended, with older PCs perfectly capable of acting as thin clients. Basing all application processing on the servers has also enabled BAA's employees and partners to share information more easily and work more flexibly.

Richard Rundle, group IT director at BAA explains how the overhaul is having some specific benefits for users and customer alike: "By providing staff with the means to access information and applications at any time – and from any location – we are able to address problems such as traffic congestion at airports and crowded facilities."

Despite the high potential for problems in migrating 10,000 users in multiple locations, BAA found, to its senior managers' delight, that calls to its IT service centre actually decreased. The incremental nature of the migration did not hamper the speed of implementation because workers were able to access the new environment from the old platform during the transition.

Terry Fusco, IT service delivery director at BAA, is enthusiastic about the multiple benefits that have followed the introduction of the thin client environment: "WebTop has moved complexity from the PC to the server level. As a result, we have been able to use cheaper devices, reduce support costs and extend the life of existing PCs, whilst allowing greater security, control and application rationalisation."

And that enthusiasm was shared by several of the Effective IT judges, whose comments ranged from "a very cost effective architecture" to "an excellent streamlining and consolidation".

Now, BAA wants to build on that platform with additional IT services including plans for ubiquitous access to business information and more flexible working for staff. With the company pumping £2 million a day into new airport facilities over the next decade, those are going to be further elements for success.

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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