Defence's double desktop could go thin

Summary:Thin client computing and a switching solution from his US colleagues could provide Department of Defence CIO Greg Farr with a flexible solution to the problem of having to run two desktops each for a number of his users.

Thin client computing and a switching solution from his US colleagues could provide Department of Defence CIO Greg Farr with a flexible solution to the problem of having to run two desktops each for a number of his users.

greg-farr.jpg

Defence CIO: Greg Farr
(Credit: Australian Defence)

Two desktop PCs have sat on Farr's desk since he took up the Defence role in November 2007: one to access Defence's Secret Network and another for its Restricted Network.

According to Farr, a portion of the 90,000 PC users in Defence — "in the tens of thousands" — require access to both networks, meaning that those users require at least two desktops. "So there's two computers, two lots of power, air conditioning and all those things," Farr told ZDNet.com.au in an interview.

In April last year, Farr said Defence was exploring how it could better exchange information with Australia's military allies with the use of public key infrastructure as the main form of authentication.

During that period, the question of how Defence staff accessed multiple security domains cropped up. Staff were unable to run both networks off a single desktop simultaneously, said Farr.

"You have to have a switching box to actually switch between whichever network you're in," Farr said at the time.

The problem manifested itself when staff, for example, required access to the Secret Network to support the Defence's military operations. If personnel information was required at the same time, staff are forced to switch over to the Restricted Network, negatively impacting the system's ease of use.

The primary solution to the switching problem was likely to come from the US, said Farr late last year. "We're just going to rely very much on our US colleague's solution," he said.

However, besides the user experience, which would be dealt with through what Farr called its US-developed "multi-security domain solution", the other issue to be tackled is the cost of running two desktops — a challenge Farr said could be overcome with the use of thin clients. "As thin computing continues on, the less number of processes that occur on the desktop the better things will be," he said.

Defence currently has a handful of users trialling the so-called "multi-security domain solution", and Farr hoped the program would be expanded in 2009.

However, it still could be some time before Defence broadly deploys thin computing and the new network switches. Defence's notoriously slow procurement of new technologies has in the past left staff with obsolete infrastructure.

"We've been able to make some significant improvements, but [technology procurement] is still not quick enough. We need to be able to field ICT solutions in a much quicker time than we're currently doing at the moment," said Farr, echoing concerns he expressed shortly after he took up his Defence post.

Topics: Government, CXO, Government : AU, Security

About

Liam Tung is an Australian business technology journalist living a few too many Swedish miles north of Stockholm for his liking. He gained a bachelors degree in economics and arts (cultural studies) at Sydney's Macquarie University, but hacked (without Norse or malicious code for that matter) his way into a career as an enterprise tech, s... Full Bio

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