Treasury to set virtual benchmark for government agencies

The Department of Treasury hopes to a have a virtual desktop environment up and running by next year to replace its existing desktops.

Borrowing Microsoft's mantra of "what you do, not where you are", the Department of Treasury plans to have up and running, by the first half of the next calendar year, a computer environment that runs on a virtual desktop, CIO Peter Alexander said.

Nicknamed the "treasury flexible computing" project during the current tender process, which is due to end in a "couple of weeks", Alexander told the Gartner IT Infrastructure Operations and Data Centre Summit 2014 in Sydney yesterday that Treasury's existing desktop computers — that are coming to the end-of-life after an extended five years from the normal three-year life span — will be replaced by an environment where all staff will eventually be able to bring their own devices, and access the necessary applications they need at work.

"What our network is, and what our desktop is, is a bunch of applications. And the applications are the things that people want to use when they want to use them to do particular things, whether it's email or office applications, or a budget application, and we thought shouldn't we just make them available on whatever device or endpoint people want to get on to work. Desktop is an irrelevant concept," he said.

To start, Alexander said the department will run a trial for the rest of the calendar year where it will provide 50 staff with mobile devices that will be able to access a purpose-built virtual delivery system, which "may be a desktop or an individual application, depending on the device".

As part of the virtual desktop, there are plans to virtualise 200 of its 300 applications, Alexander said.

"We've got a plan to virtualise all of our applications that we think we need to virtualise and it's not all."

Alexander hopes that by creating this virtual delivery system, it will set a standard for other government agencies.

"The beauty is once we've got it running, and because we've got the infrastructure, turning this on a larger scale will mean we just need more grunt," he said.

"We will then have by first half of next calendar year, a completely evolutionary computing environment where we're running virtual desktops, but not delivering it the same way if we replace our desktops. We'll have a cohort of staff walking around with tablets."

Getting a Wi-Fi connection up and running in the department's building is a working progress, too, and is one of its "building blocks" that is currently being trialled.

"This is a really 'sucky' one for us. We can only use two type of Wi-Fi routers at the moment to deliver protected Wi-Fi. Unclassified is not an issue, but to get that kind of experience where someone walks place to place and doesn't have to re-authenticate; we want to provide protected Wi-Fi."

This plan comes despite Alexander admitting that the agency too is feeling the pressure of budget cuts, having seen nearly a 30 percent cut to its budget in the last four years.

"Everyone looks at Treasury and say you guys control the money and don't do too badly. One of the thing that has driven some interesting behaviours in Treasury over the last number of years is, we hit a funding peak in March 2007, where Treasury had about 1050 staff, we're down to about 890, and down 15 percent on that peak and we've got a fair bit to go in the next few years."