The Sweet Smell of Security

Teleflora stakes its reputation on virtual computing stability and performance

Teleflora, the nation’s largest floral delivery network service, has chosen a 2X virtual computing solution to meet its call centers’ computing needs. The company chose to deploy the 2X ApplicationServer with load balancer along with the 2X ThinClientServer Enterprise Edition to optimize employees’ remote access to critical desktop applications.

The solution guarantees the efficient operation of Teleflora’s call centers, especially during peak order times, with desktop performance delivered to more than 1,100 users in multiple locations.

Jeff Jones is the systems architect at Teleflora and is responsible for ensuring the company’s desktops can meet the organization’s day-to-day needs efficiently.

Due to the company’s limited IT budget, he also is responsible for ensuring that Teleflora’s IT goals are met at the lowest possible price. Because Teleflora’s call centers experience a huge influx of customer relations employees during peak sales periods, more than 1,100 desktops must be maintained to support the order-processing needs, with 650 full-time employees and 500 peak-time call center hires.

The company had to purchase individual application licenses for each of its call center desktops, despite the fact that they may only be used a few weeks per year by the company’s seasonal hires, who are discharged at the end of each peak season.

To solve this problem, Jones chose a 2X-based thin client solution with his 10 32- bit HP BL460c blade servers, along with the VMware ESX 3.5 (VI3) virtualization platform. By switching to a thin client solution with remote application publishing, which runs users’ applications from a central server rather than from the individual desktops themselves, Jones was able to save $120 per machine simply from one-time licensing cost savings, a total cost reduction of more than $120,000.

Jones notes that although a thin client device solution also might prove effective, he said that to implement such a solution he would have to spend $300 each for more than 1,000 thin client devices to achieve long-term cost reductions, making a device-based solution impractical in achieving immediate savings. Teleflora’s 2X-based solution was thus a “diamond in the rough that fundamentally changed the way we do things,” Jones said, as it significantly lowered IT costs and reduced the need to purchase additional thin client devices.

Despite the cost savings in Teleflora’s bottom line, Jones credits 2X with providing a more valuable benefit in ensuring flawless desktop performance. During typical business periods, the company’s operations demand much from top-notch computing technology: The company maintains relationships with more than 25,000 member florists, for whom it provides an integrated back-end solution, including website hosting, e-mail and order processing, both by phone and online.

By providing a critical revenue stream for its member florists through order processing, Teleflora’s corporate reputation would be in jeopardy were its order processing system to fail. During critical periods, these failures were more likely to occur, with call centers bursting at the seams with 1,000 employees and a resulting increase in the probability of desktop system malfunctions. While more likely to occur, desktop crashes during these periods also cause more damage to florists’ revenue streams, because, as Jones notes, a typical call center employee “processes an order every two to three minutes.”

A desktop crash, which takes hours to fix, could put a significant dent in Teleflora’s sales, damaging its relationship with its member florists, who trust the company with their orders, and marring the company’s public brand. To reduce the probability of desktop crashes, Teleflora’s technicians would typically spend two weeks prepping the desktops at each call center before the arrival of seasonal employees, verifying the operating condition of each desktop individually. Since the 2X thin client installation, the call centers’ desktops have been operated remotely, removing the need for individual desktop checks, and Jones said that rather than use his technicians’ time making weeklong system spot checks, he is able to deploy them in a more productive manner, checking maintenance on call center phone systems and cubicle arrangements. He added that through improved maintenance with his 2X solution, his technicians’ labor requirements have fallen from 24 weeks to 24 hours, allowing them to perform their normal jobs without distractions.

A byproduct of Teleflora’s increased thin client-based efficiency is the newfound confidence Jones’ team and call center managers have gained in trusting their 2X solution to efficiently handle any potential desktop error that might arise. Jones said he previously felt nervous concerning possible crashes during high sales periods. Because of the risk of failures, he not only had his technicians rigorously check the machines before call center employees arrived, but he also felt compelled to have them watch the machines while sales were conducted. He said desktop maintenance thus became a “babysitting scenario” in which “technicians were forced to be defensive and wait for machines to crash before taking action.”

Now, through the 2X thin client solution, Jones said he “can fix virtually any desktop problem by simply rebooting the ThinClient OS from the central server, accomplishing in minutes what used to take hours to repair.” As a result, he said he has “been able to reduce desktop crashes by 99 percent from previous levels, since the team can reboot any failed desktop from a central source.”

Call center managers can now drive their teams to aggressively pursue sales, knowing that their technical support team can handle virtually any desktop challenge that might arise; it should thus be no surprise that company satisfaction with call center operations is at an all-time high.

This article originally appeared in the April 2011 issue of Security Today.

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