May 04 2010

A Turn Toward Consolidation

Consolidation is a no-brainer. As Joseph Klimavicz, CIO at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, puts it: “You are never going to find anybody in IT who says consolidation is a bad thing.”

But his caveat, which he notes in the “FedTech Interview,” is equally telling: You have to do it strategically.

There are several pressures fueling technology consolidation efforts: flat budgets, increased user demands, security, efficiency and sustainability. In addition, the White House has directed CIOs to move with alacrity on data center consolidation.

One way that federal IT organizations are striving to thrive under these pressures is through the strategic overhaul of their technology infrastructures. As equipment comes to the end of its life, agencies weigh their options carefully. An equipment refresh today offers an opportune time for business process re-engineering and future-proofing systems for tomorrow.

The Right Fit

For many agencies, thin-client architectures mesh well with efforts to consolidate and virtualize servers in the data center. IT can derive benefits both in equipment savings, processing efficiencies and management overhead.

Troubleshooting users and rolling out patches proves much easier for IT when the servers and data reside in the data center and the users access what they need through thin-client devices. “We don’t need to send [IT] people to users’ desks,” points out Sanjeev Verma, IT project manager for the Army Human Resources Command. “Instead of 500 desktops, I have 10 servers that I need to update.”

Equally compelling are the security advantages. “If someone stuffs a Sun Ray under their shirt and walks out, who cares? We’ve only lost a $300 box and no data,” explains Ryan Durante, who has been involved with the installation of 20,000 thin clients in the Defense Department by the Air Force Research Laboratory.

Plus, notes Verma, there’s the ability to pull down a system quickly if a breech occurs, and you can do so without disturbing a single user. “Say 60 users get hit by a virus,” he says. “You just take the server out of the loop, and you still have other servers available to maintain availability of the applications and data.”

Serving far-flung users securely is a chief allure for the State Department and Defense Intelligence Agency. Meanwhile the Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station appreciates being able to deploy full PC services in cramped spaces such as those in the offices within the granite mountain. In “Ready to Serve,” you can read more about these thin-client deployments and learn some best practices to guide your own infrastructure overhaul.

During the approximately 15 years since Oracle founder Larry Ellison first began toying with the notion of a thin device on the desktop, some permutation of this technology has been in use in pockets across the IT landscape. But the consolidation and virtualization movements, coupled with network connectivity expansion, have made it a widely desirable approach to IT, says IDC Government Insights analyst Shawn P. McCarthy.

Now, the next wave of thin-client computing is on the horizon: mobile thin clients. The Veterans Affairs Department is a front-runner, deploying them in its healthcare organizations. To learn more, read “A Healthy Approach.”

Ryan Petersen