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Benefits for all

Crisis brings efficiencies and cost savings to Crisis at Christmas campaign by moving apps & data to the cloud

Every Christmas since 1967, Crisis has supported the most disadvantaged in society by setting up temporary residential and day care centres where rough sleepers can get a hot meal, socialise and access vital services, from medical and dental care to counselling and financial advice.

For the last 15 years, the Aimar Foundation, a charity founded in 2005 with a mandate to help other not-for- profit organisations with IT, has supported the Crisis for Christmas campaign as its primary technology partner.

For 12 of these it has partnered with IGEL, provider of a managed endpoint operating system (IGEL OS) for secure access to any digital workspace and (until recently) a range of thin client devices.

In the past, hundreds of IGEL OS powered endpoints connecting to Citrix virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) were installed in temporary Internet Cafes and used by guests to access a hosted desktop running Microsoft Office through which they could surf the web, send emails and communicate with loved ones. The same equipment was also used by Crisis’ operational staff.

Member getting advice from a volunteer

A new approach

In 2020, the Covid pandemic caused a complete rethink of the Crisis for Christmas project’s IT requirements, as Aimar Foundation CTO and Project Director Chris Riley explains.

“COVID-19 prompted a thorough review and re-engineering of the whole IT environment. A range of new technical innovations were introduced, not only to guarantee a practical way for guests to contact Crisis for help, but also to enable team collaboration and remote working. This was important to ensure help could still be provided in the event that one worker got sick and the whole shift had to self-isolate.”

As a result of this review, Crisis at Christmas has implemented a unified communications and cloud strategy built on a number of key elements.

Internet Cafes: Internet Cafes are again being set up at various locations this year. However, the Aimar Foundation has decided to migrate away from Citrix VDI, following year-on-year increases in the price per desktop.

“We could scale the solution easily, but the costs would have increased, too, so we’ve taken a different approach,” explained Aimar Foundation CEO Simon Clark. “Rather than having a desktop in the cloud, we’ve shifted apps and data to the cloud (for guests) and migrated to Office 365 and Teams for volunteers.”

All Internet Cafes will use pre-owned Lenovo mini-PCs, repurposed to run IGEL OS, which are being supplied by Tier 1 Asset Management, a specialist in the ethical refurbishment of technology assets.

Staff & Volunteers: For Crisis staff, IGEL has loaned its powerful UD7 endpoints. Featuring the latest AMD Ryzen processor and 8GB of RAM, these enable client apps for both Office 365 and Zoom to be run natively on each device.

Because the multimedia-ready endpoints allow direct access to the Internet, there is no need pay to connect to a VDI environment. Crisis volunteers also benefit from being able to collaborate on one platform, Teams, and make phone calls via a software-based VoIP platform from 3CX, hosted by Gradwell Communications, saving the expense of mobile phone calls.

Backend Infrastructure: Crisis at Christmas’s back-end infrastructure has shifted to Microsoft Office 365 and Azure, with three separate tenants: one just for the Christmas campaign; one for Crisis to use for operational purposes all year round; and one for the Aimar Foundation to run its own applications and monitoring and management tools fuly segregated from data and applications hosted on the Crisis tenants.

Riley said: “An IGEL UMS server runs on the tenant, which sits behind cloud VPNs to ensure maximum security. A major benefit is the ability to use UMS in Azure to deploy a site from scratch in literally 3 or 4 hours, with no requirement for a local server.”

In addition, Crisis has:

  • updated its primary operational application, C-Log, which underpins the Christmas campaign and records all advisor interactions with guests, migrating it from Microsoft Access to Microsoft Dynamics 365 and integrating it with the 3CX phone system; and
  • introduced a PowerApp built by the Aimar Foundation to manage the whole logistics process, including integration
    with Teams, slashing order processing times by 60% compared to the old paper- based process.

Printing: Printing has traditionally presented multiple challenges, from having to source devices at short notice
to practical problems such as whether machines have network cards and the right drivers installed.

To counter these difficulties, the Aimar Foundation has invested in its own MFPs, backed up by the loan of 33 Bizhub C3531 and C3831 colour devices from Crisis at Christmas sponsor Konica Minolta. A hosted, Azure-based print solution from PaperCut offers guests and volunteers easy printing from/scanning to their email addresses.

Summing up, Ian Richards, Head of Crisis for Christmas, said: “The logistical challenges are massive and the shift to the cloud really helps us: it’s an ideal technology approach given that we set up services for a short period over Christmas and then turn them off in the New Year. Without the IT support we get from all our partners, particularly the Aimar Foundation and IGEL, we just wouldn’t be able to deliver the project like we do.”

To donate to the Crisis at Christmas campaign, visit donate-to-crisis-at-christmas/

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