Jul 17 2013
Data Center

Feds Lean on VDI to Go Mobile

Agencies say the technology gets information into people’s hands faster and helps cuts costs — plus it’s easier to manage and more secure.

The U.S. Army Medical Command needs its doctors and nurses to move around quickly during the day. There’s nothing more precious than time with patients.

That’s why a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) was the perfect solution for MEDCOM’s doctors and nurses because it gives them a direct connection to data. “In the past, doctors and nurses would have to log on to the system,” says Albert Dickson, chief of the core technology division for the U.S. Army Medical Information Technology Center. “Now they can get right to the information. It’s a major timesaver.”

Dickson’s group deployed VDI pilots at eight sites to serve roughly 4,000 medical providers, using a mix of Citrix Systems XenDesktop and XenApp. The Army hopes to ultimately support 10,000 providers with VDI.

“For most users who launch some medical apps and use Microsoft Office and Internet Explorer, XenApp is fine,” Dickson says. “We went with Citrix because the military health system already made a significant investment in Citrix, and we looked to leverage that.”

Along with delivering information to doctors and nurses faster, Dickson says VDI improves overall manageability and IT security. “If a device is lost or stolen, no data is stored locally,” he says. “It’s also been a great bridge from our legacy system to a bring-your-own-device program, which is the direction we’re headed.”


The percentage of IT managers surveyed who attribute VDI success to the ability to enable easier maintenance and support

SOURCE: The State of VDI Web Market Survey (Dimensional Research, January 2013)

Brett Waldman, IDC research manager for client virtualization software, says VDI serves as the perfect transition technology for organizations looking to move to BYOD initiatives.

“Many employees want to take advantage of their mobile devices, but organizations are very worried about data loss prevention,” Waldman says. “While it doesn’t have the same user experience as a native mobile app, VDI allows these organizations to deliver legacy Windows applications to any device without having to rearchitect each app.”

VDI in the Cloud

The Health and Human Services Department has deployed a cloud-based VDI pilot that’s used by 200 people. Currently, employees from the IT department, HR and finance are testing the technology, but the agency hopes it can eventually scale the program to 10,000 users, says Matthew Shallbetter, acting director of IT infrastructure and operations for HHS’s Office of the Chief Information Officer.

Shallbetter says one major goal in moving to VDI was to promote mobility in support of telework and BYOD. Deploying VDI also gave HHS the impetus to upgrade its operating systems and migrate to Windows 7. “We were also looking to save money,” Shallbetter says, adding that HHS worked with contractors Lockheed Martin and Amazon to move user data and its Citrix XenApp VDI application to the cloud.

“When a user connects to XenApp, he or she connects through our network, but in reality all the data and the VDI application resides on the Amazon cloud,” Shallbetter explains. “By doing it this way, we hope to use our resources more efficiently, including software distribution, image maintenance, patching and antivirus support.”

Shallbetter says HHS will run the pilot for the rest of this fiscal year and expects to get the green light in the next few months for the next fiscal year.


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