Sep 13 2011

From Virtual Desktops to the Cloud

Federal agencies aim to make the transition from client virtualization to full-blown client computing in the cloud.

Client computing in the cloud moves forward in the military at a gradual pace. The U.S. Army uses Citrix XenApp over a private cloud at headquarters to deliver desktops with personalized profiles for each user, including files and standard office applications. Users can access their office desktops via a web browser from a telework center, home or anywhere they can find a web connection.

Deploying client computing in the cloud throughout the Army will take time. The Army is a complex operation, with more than 300 data centers and 20,000 servers, as well as a huge inventory of applications, many of which won’t work in a cloud environment.

“The virtual infrastructures would have to be able to support real-time services and highly graphics-intensive applications, and those applications need to be ported and written to those environments,” says Col. Gary E. Langston, chief of the Army’s information infrastructure integration division. “That can mean rewriting, modernizing or replacing applications, which is a matter of time and money.

“I believe that the capabilities exist, but they have never been deployed on the scale the Army would need, with the security the Army would need,” Langston says, adding that the Army will move further down the cloud path when the infrastructure can support its 1.4 million common access card (CAC) smartcard users.

Challenges aside, Bob O’Donnell, vice president of clients and displays for market research firm IDC, believes that eventually, all organizations will be cloud-ready.

“It’s a natural next step from client virtualization, because it provides the flexibility users need, and the customer service that organizations want to provide for users who no longer have one primary computer to work from, but several devices,” O’Donnell says. “We’ll get to the point where users will essentially log in to a Windows desktop in the cloud hosted through something like VMware, Citrix or Microsoft.”

Leap Ahead

Adrian Gardner, CIO of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, hopes to leap past the client virtualization model directly to client computing in the cloud.  

And he’s not talking about administrative personnel only — he’s talking about scientific and engineering staffers, many of whom use complex applications and collaborate with colleagues across geographic boundaries.


The percentage of IT decision-makers who say business agility is their organization’s primary reason for adopting cloud computing

SOURCE: Sand Hill Group

“I envision our users accessing their desktop, including applications and files, on iPads or netbooks equipped with a minimum level of antivirus, because the security will be embedded at the application level, very similar to the iPhone and Google Apps available today,” Gardner says. “Basically, the desktop would become one more application.”

As for security, Gardner says keeping the desktop as a service (DaaS) model in NASA Goddard’s private cloud will help. But for data with a high confidentiality rating, he expects users will still need a traditional fat client, at least for now.

“Within the next five years, I can see it becoming at least 50 percent of the way we do computing,” he says. “It lets you access files from anywhere, anyplace, using any device, which is the direction we must go in order to meet the needs of our customers.”