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Miami-Dade Public Library Patrons Enjoy Secure, Fast Access to Virtual Desktops with F5 Solution

If you haven’t visited your local public library lately, you might be shocked at the wealth of resources available there. Alongside traditional hard-copy “stacks,” DVDs, and CD collections, you’re likely to see patrons using PCs to search the online library catalog, complete projects using popular software like Microsoft Word and Excel, connect to one of hundreds of subscription databases (to search for jobs or take a skills assessment test, for example), or just to surf the Internet or stream a video.

For the IT team at Miami-Dade Public Library System (MDPLS), providing these services for more than 1 million registered library cardholders—and 6.2 million library visitors per year—is no trivial task. Despite having only two full-time networking professionals, the IT team manages nearly 1,647 public access computers in 49 branch libraries and systemwide WiFi hotspots across the 2,400-square mile Miami-Dade county area. If that’s not enough, the team also ensures 447 employees and library staff members have reliable access to the business applications they need to do their jobs. “Our goal is to provide the best possible user experience for employees and patrons alike, but our overriding responsibility is to protect users from security threats,” says the system administrator at MDPLS.

Modernizing on a Tight Budget

To accomplish both of these objectives, MDPLS recently launched a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) pilot project using VMware Horizon View. The library’s virtual desktops provide patrons with safe access to library resources, select software applications, and the Internet. Functioning as thin clients, the library’s PCs are “locked down” to prohibit software from being installed, and users can only save downloaded content on USB thumb drives. Once a user’s session ends, all personal data and Internet history is wiped from the computer’s memory.

 “VMware Horizon View was a great solution to meet the needs of both employees and patrons,” says the system administrator. “But before we could deploy it across all library branches, we needed to ensure we could provide 24/7 availability and that users would get the kind of performance they expected. We needed F5 for that; in fact, we would not have had the confidence to deploy a VDI solution without F5.”

“Everything Goes Through F5 Now”

MDPLS uses F5 BIG-IP Local Traffic Manager (LTM) to intelligently distribute traffic across the VMware View Security and Connection Servers as well as backend application servers. “BIG-IP LTM not only balances our traffic load, it provides an added layer of network security that lets us manage all DNS requests, so we’re protected from threats such as DDoS and other malicious attacks,” says the system administrator. “With thousands of people accessing our website every day, that’s a huge benefit for us. It makes our jobs easier and gives us peace of mind.”

Simplifying Life for a Lean IT Team

F5 lightens the IT team’s burden in other ways, too. The library systems manager at MDPLS adds, “I can’t say enough good things about F5’s iApps,” referring to F5’s unique wizard-based configuration tool that speeds and simplifies application deployment. “Using the iApp template for VMware Horizon View, I answered a few simple questions. Within half an hour, I was able to completely configure, test, and deploy the F5 devices in front of our VMware servers. Normally that kind of configuration would take several hours.”

MDPLS also appreciates the F5 iHealth solution, an F5-hosted diagnostic tool that evaluates customers’ configurations and offers best-practice recommendations for maintaining peak application performance. “iHealth is one of the best tools I’ve seen for optimizing performance,” says the library systems manager. “It’s especially helpful for ensuring that DNS services are working properly.”

Making a Scant IT Budget Manageable

The IT team sees F5’s platform-based architecture as a big plus, too. “In government organizations where budgets are tight, it’s great to be able to add other network and security capabilities onto our F5 devices, for example, a module for managing access policies,” says the system administrator. “This saves us money and makes everything easier to manage for our lean IT team.”

He sums up by saying, “The proof of concept with F5 has been a big success. Now when other cities such as City of Boca come to visit us to see how we’re implementing VMware Horizon View, we make sure to tell them the F5 solution is an essential component in this deployment.”

"BIG-IP LTM…provides an added layer of network security that lets us manage all DNS requests, so we’re protected from threats such as DDoS and other malicious attacks.” System Administrator, Miami-Dade Public Library System