Lucas Metropolitan Housing Authority Turned to the Cloud to Get Its House in Order

The Ohio-based housing authority partnered with Microsoft and Citrix to upgrade its technology and better serve clients.

The Lucas Metropolitan Housing Authority (LMHA) is not the largest housing authority Craig Patterson has ever worked for, but it certainly needed some serious technological refurbishing when he started working with it last year.

Patterson, acting IT manager of the LMHA, is the owner of Patterson & Associates Consulting, a technology consulting practice that has been working with state governments and the federal government for more than 25 years. Patterson has previously served as vice president of the Housing Authority of the City of Houston and vice president of housing and operations for the San Antonio Housing Authority.

In an interview with StateTech at the Citrix Synergy conference in Las Vegas, Patterson noted that five years ago his firm created a strategic plan for LHMA, including an IT strategy that embraced the cloud. At the time, it was opposed — the IT staff thought the cloud was still an emerging technology, he says, and they were skeptical of its utility.

Last year, Patterson says, the LMHA brought his firm back in after the authority’s IT director died. “Their in-house servers and software solutions were failing,” he says, adding that the LMHA had no migration plan.

By partnering with Microsoft and then later Citrix, Patterson was able to bring the LMHA’s technology into the 21st century, cut costs and improve services for the residents it serves.

Modernizing a Range of Technologies

The LMHA, like many local housing authorities, administers federal funds to provide affordable housing in Lucas County, Ohio, which includes the city of Toledo. The LMHA administers 2,800 owned housing units as well as 7,000 rental units, according to Patterson.

Patterson says LMHA provides housing for more than 10,000 families, with millions of dollars per month flowing into the community through the authority.

When Patterson took on the task of handling the LMHA’s IT in March 2015, he found a mishmash of outdated technology. The authority still had Windows XP running on all of its desktop computers, with old versions of Citrix software, a Windows NT environment and Compaq servers.

Patterson says his team assessed the LMHA’s technology roadmap and what it would take to get the authority out of the business of managing hardware, especially because of a lack of staff due to government budget cuts.

“I approached it with a cloud-first ideology,” Patterson says. In the middle of last year, the LMHA started using Microsoft’s Azure cloud, and in November it began using Citrix Workspace Cloud (now known as Citrix Cloud)

Moving to the cloud allowed the authority to virtualize desktops and adopt an agnostic approach to mobile devices. Patterson says the LMHA can now deliver the Citrix virtualized desktop on any mobile device that has an adequate Internet connection, enabling the authority to deliver Windows 10 on an Apple iPad tablet.

Patterson says that migrating to the cloud required convincing an IT staff that had grown accustomed to on-premises servers that the cloud was “secure enough for us to move our data.” The LMHA holds a variety of sensitive data, including Social Security numbers, criminal background checks and credit check information, Patterson says. The authority used Microsoft’s Azure Government offering, which requires that the servers be in the contiguous United States, and that any technician servicing the servers be a U.S. citizen subject to a rigorous background check, according to Patterson.

The LMHA also became the first government agency in the world to put the Citrix NetScaler cloud gateway in the government cloud, Patterson claims.

The authority had an existing Citrix license, and Patterson explored what it would cost to upgrade from a standard on-premises deployment to the cloud. As a result of the cloud moves, the LMHA went from 20 servers down to just two.

The Benefits of Moving to the Cloud

As a result of the migration, the LMHA’s costs have dropped dramatically, because the authority can now construct and spin up virtual servers in a fraction of the time it would have take to procure physical server hardware. The authority also no longer needs a hardware technician to replace hard drives or other hardware-related maintenance tasks. Patterson says that after a storm there was a leak in the authority’s server room. “I no longer worry about that,” he says.

The LMHA has also gained agility. Patterson notes that if the authority hires new staff, it can spin up the services it needs for those workers in hours.

There are more tangible benefits for the LMHA’s staff and those it serves. As a result of the Citrix Cloud, the authority can deliver secure mobile applications, and it can do so to employees’ existing mobile devices.

“They can take their office to the field, which they couldn’t do before,” Patterson says. Provisioning secure mobile apps on employees’ existing devices also means that there are fewer outlays for secondary devices, which might break, and the LMHA does not need to train workers to learn new devices.

The Citrix Cloud also lets clients or tenants log in remotely to make secure online payments and schedule inspections online. “We can provide secure, web-based apps through this environment,” Patterson says.

Additionally, he says, if the LMHA is teaching clients in an online learning center, it can provision just the two apps the clients will be using; after the session, those virtual machines will be refreshed.

The LMHA has been working with the Citrix customer experience team to help implement the software in the most optimal way possible, and has also worked extensively with Microsoft engineers on the Azure deployment.

Ultimately, however, Patterson says, “the technology supports the people” who work at LMHA.

“And what they do for the community — you always ask yourself, why?” he says. “Just being cool is not beneficial. It has to have a tangible impact on the community that allows services organizations to deliver services easier, faster and simpler.”

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May 25 2016