Techniques: No roof, no problem

Lessons Learned: An agency with a backbone

The Florida Guardian ad Litem Office was established in 2004 from a loose, statewide association of 21 child advocacy groups.

Not long afterward, agency officials realized they needed a centralized information technology backbone so every case could be accurately tracked.

Officials dismissed their first idea ' a network of 20 to 30 distributed servers ' as too costly and difficult to manage.

Configuring the agency's 800 client devices would have required hundreds of hours of technical labor.

All new users would need to have their PCs set up by a technician.

By contrast, setting up new users via Citrix's application delivery infrastructure takes about 30 minutes. Using the Citrix Presentation Server, FLGAL's three-person IT staff can roll out new applications to all users simultaneously.

'Just in network connectivity costs alone, we are saving over $405,000,' said Johnny White, FLGAL's ITdirector.

' Trudy Walsh

Through the Storm: Employees in Broward County, Fla.'s, Guardian ad Litem Office worked via Citrix Access Gateway after Hurricane Wilma hit the courthouse.

Photo by NOAA

Hurricane Wilma blew the roof off the Broward County, Fla., courthouse two years ago, but that didn't stop employees at a Florida child-protection agency from doing their jobs. The agency's secure virtual private network proved to be a lifeline for both agency workers and their clients.

The Florida Guardian ad Litem (Latin for 'for the case') Office, known as FLGAL, has the job of providing legal advocacy services to children who otherwise would be unrepresented in noncriminal cases involving abuse, neglect and abandonment, foster care and adoption.

The court appoints a guardian to speak for the child, said Johnny White, information technology director at the office.

FLGAL has about 800 full-time staff members, mostly caseworkers and lawyers, and about 5,500 volunteers working in 50 offices throughout the state to ensure the well-being of children involved in court cases.

'We use various methods of getting that voice in the courtroom for the child,' White said.

So when Hurricane Wilma struck Oct. 24, 2005, the FLGAL office couldn't just close up shop and wait for the storm to blow over.

And what a storm it was. In the worst hurricane season in recorded history, Hurricane Wilma was a standout. It was at one point the most intense hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic basin. When Wilma made landfall in South Florida, it was a 120-mph Category 3 hurricane, the most powerful to hit the Fort Lauderdale area since Hurricane King in 1950.

No one was hurt when Wilma blew the roof off the Broward County courthouse, where most of the area's FLGAL employees work, White said. But the employees were displaced for some time.

About 10 desktop PCs were ruined, in addition to some furniture, and power was out in parts of Fort Lauderdale for as long as 12 days.

Some of the FLGAL employees worked from the public library, and some worked from home.

This was possible because the FLGAL office had recently migrated to a network environment based on products from Citrix Systems. The displaced FLGAL workers in Fort Lauderdale could access files on the main FLGAL server located safely inland in Tallahassee, thanks in part to Citrix Presentation Server Version 4.0 and Access Gateway.

Citrix Access Gateway is a Secure Sockets Layer VPN that gives users secure access to any kind of application, said Bert Wakeley, director of state and local government and education at Citrix. It can scan and read the user's device and tell if it's a laptop or a personal digital assistant and if it's part of a secure network or on a Wi-Fi connection at Starbucks.

If Citrix Access Gateway indicates the user is accessing information at a Starbucks or other less-than-secure environment, it will only let the user read information, not download or modify it.

'For security purposes, it's wonderful,' Wakeley said. 'If somebody steals your laptop, they can't do anything but read what's on it.'

FLGAL has special security concerns, Wakeley said. The agency's data has to comply with tighter security restrictions than many other government agencies.

FLGAL's Access Gateway setup requires two-factor authentication based on something the user knows, such as a password, or something he or she has, such as a fingerprint.

The network 'knows that you're the person you're supposed to be when you sign on and allows you to sign on once for all the applications you need to access,' Wakeley said.

Citrix Access Gateway ensures that only authorized users can access the statewide systems, protecting the security of the government information.

Citrix's Presentation Server ' the other Citrix product that kept FLGAL employees working ' let users 'access any client/server application from any technology over any kind of network,' Wakeley said.

And the FLGAL staff needs to access a lot of information. Caseworkers and lawyers in 20 judicial circuits access 25,000 FLGAL case files.

'Not to say anything bad about lawyers, but they are not necessarily the most technically savvy users,' Wakeley said. 'This technology allows them easy access, and they just have to remember one password.'

The FLGAL employees working from Fort Lauderdale just needed a telephone line and a laptop PC to access the files they needed. The Citrix products provided access to Microsoft Office documents, timesheets and case management files.

'They can have a very comfortable experience with the technology, wherever they are,' Wakeley said.

FLGAL officials see Citrix products as an essential piece of their continuity-of-operations planning, White said. Floridians are accustomed to taking hurricane precautions, and Wilma was a test of their plans.

Using the Citrix product suite is the FLGAL office's COOP plan, White said. 'We got a double benefit, because it's how we do our business every day anyway.'

About the Author

Trudy Walsh is a senior writer for GCN.


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