Northcott bolsters disability care with virtualisation and a move to hybrid cloud

The not-for-profit boasts that it has managed to reduce infrastructure costs by 60%.

Australian-based not-for-profit organisation Northcott Disability Services may have been "paying good money" for its on-premise environment but according to the organisation's CIO Paul Herbert, it was not doing its 184 worksites across Australia any favours.

"The sites were unloved; a lot of them were still running on 4G. Our head office had only 30Mbps. At that stage, we probably had 1,100 staff struggling to work that way. So, it was not a great environment," he told ZDNet.

Herbert said the end-user network experience was so poor that staff "weren't even bothering to tell [the IT team] about it" even though it "caused a lot of frustration".

"It wasn't just our infrastructure, it was across the whole environment," he said.

In acknowledging that something needed to change, Northcott has adopted an Equinix hybrid cloud environment, which now allows the not-for-profit to consume its on-prem, private network alongside Amazon Cloud services.

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The organisation has also been investing in Citrix virtual apps and desktops to support a remote working environment, enabling the organisation to introduce a range of applications such as Skype for Business, as well as different devices to its environment that can now be managed remotely. 

"Most of those devices are zero-touch. It goes straight from the manufacturer to the end users. They unbox it and they can just use it. This wasn't possible beforehand," Herbert said.

At the same time, Northcott worked with Bright Tech to develop and install a network-in-a-box (NiaB) solution across its sites over the past 18 months.

"We've now successfully upgraded or commissioned 170 sites -- over 100 completed this year. Our staff now have a great network, giving them great tools to support our customers," Herbert said.

Herbert said this has not only standardised the network at each of its sites, but the organisation now runs a fleet of 530 Dell Wyse thin clients.

"Previously, laptops existed in isolation and connecting to Northcott meant logging in via a public network which created a security risk and a poor end user experience. Staff were stuck behind a computer when they could have been supporting our customers," he said.

The shift to hybrid cloud has enabled Northcott to save 60% on previous costs, Herbert added. 

"We've saved but we're delivering so much more. Our wide area network capacity is now over 8Gbps whereas it wasn't much more than 100Mbps two or three years ago."

Looking ahead, Northcott is looking to shift away from its current on-prem version of Microsoft Office 2016 and adopt Office 365 over the next 18-24 months, as well as introduce Salesforce into its environment.

Additionally, Northcott plans to roll out Apple TV to all its group homes so that digital content can be delivered remotely to individuals residing in those homes.

"During COVID where people couldn't meet, Northcott developed a program to deliver relevant content to our customers but found it was really hard to share that information because our group homes didn't have a smart TV and they'd often have to watch the content on a DVD or on a small laptop screen," Herbert said.

"What we've done is received a large donation so we can deploy 135 Apple TVs across our networks. We've made every TV smart so that it can be commonly managed through a unified platform … not only does it mean we can deliver new content, but it can be used by our therapists and we can offer a range of entertainment opportunities that may have not been there previously."

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