How the UK's Centrica simplified its desktop infrastructure for 18,000 employees

The need for greater flexibility and scalability largely drove the change, according to Patrick Babic, service owner for Centrica's End User Computing.

7 phased migration

Founded in 1997, Centrica plc has been providing electricity and gas to customers throughout the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland and North America for more than 20 years. It is now the largest supplier of gas – and one of the largest suppliers of electricity – to domestic customers in the UK.

Across the company's office locations, Centrica has always used virtual desktops, be that a remote desktop or terminal, a terminal service or a VDI platform. However, as the business grew, it became clear that traditional on-premise solutions were not delivering the flexibility or cost-efficiency needed. The shortcomings were especially pronounced in the winter, when demand on services was greatest.

“It was very difficult to scale,” said Patrick Babic, service owner for Centrica's End User Computing. “It came to the point where we decided we needed to look at things from a different angle.”

Choosing the right partner

As on-premises hardware approached its end of life, Centrica decided to look for a new way to simplify and standardise its desktop infrastructure whilst eliminating limitations forced on the company by relying on physical servers.

Ultimately, Centrica opted to move into a fully virtual world, working with Fujitsu and Microsoft Azure to roll out Citrix Cloud Services; Babic described the move as an “obvious choice” because the company already had strong relationships with both companies.

Choosing the right vendor as a partner is vital to the success of a project, he said. And while such a migration might seem straight forward, the reality is that large-scale moves like this are very difficult to pull off.

“Many companies do this over a period of months or years,” he said. “We did it in literally a matter of weeks.”

Babic estimated the migration, from proposal to deployment took, around 15 weeks, during which time the system was designed, delivered and moved. To do so in such a short time, it was crucial to be both agile be able to work collaboratively with all of Centrica’s business and technical partners.

The end result: two completely new, standardised desktop solutions, collating and simplifying 1,200 different apps that could be rolled out to 18,000 users around the world.

Reaping the benefits

For Centrica, the benefits were almost immediate. The project quickly became cost-neutral and Centrica now expects to save money during the new solution’s first year. The company also managed to reduce 44 management servers to a simple, single URL and it can now spin resources up and down per region as needed to meet seasonal demand.

As the world continues to struggle through an unprecedented global pandemic, Babic said Centrica would probably be struggling to provide necessary services to its customers if it had not migrated. “We would not be able to deliver [this level of service] on our legacy platform,” he said. “So, for us, the advantages have been absolutely incredible and our business is delighted that an investment was made in this platform.”

In the past, any such migration involving a legacy platform could take between three to four months, due to the paper work, the purchasing of physical hardware and moving the data. Now, seeking approval is the longest part of the process, with migration able to take place with the click of a button.

With the project now fully rolled out in the UK and Ireland, Centrica is now looking to replicate its success by deploying the same solutions in its North American contract centres. Babic had expected that project to be complete in the next two to three months. But the effort has seen delays because of the ongoing coronavirus epidemic.

For Babic and Centrica, the hard work can be boiled down to one ultimate goal. “The biggest driver [throughout this project] was to have the scalability and flexibility we needed.”

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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