The Department of Defence will go to tender in November for thin client desktops and infrastructure, to be deployed over two years across the organisation in order to simplify processes and consolidate the agency’s computer fleet.
The “Next Generation Desktops” project, first flagged in April has finalised market solicitation, with Raytheon, BAE Systems, Thales and HP shortlisted as potential vendors to provide the machines. The four companies will vie for the full tender in November this year pending government approval to the agency.
The project is ahead of schedule, according to the department’s chief technical officer, Matt Yannopoulos, with plans in place to see alternative virtualised client options deployed on a Defence frigate by the end of the year. Plans are also in place to potentially see a land base fitted with clients as part of the trial, with up to 500 users offered the chance to access it.
Thin clients are likely to be at the top of the list over other virtualised options in order to present two different security clearances - restricted and secret - to eligible users on the one machine. The project is to affect approximately 15,000 of the agency’s 75,000-strong user base. However, the clients will not grant access to top secret and higher classification clearances.
“We are favouring thin client presentation tools because of the cost reduction that it will achieve in our various bases and sites and regional infrastructure,” he told Computerworld Australia.
The thin client data and applications will be hosted in several data centres, but will have an "offline mode" for roaming users.
The project aims to meet the qualms of the department’s security and IT staff, and particularly Yannopoulos, who described current arrangements as “not best practice” in March.
"There is a desk [in one office] there that has seven computers on it, five monitors and four telephones," he said at the Australian Computer Society 2010 Canberra conference earlier in the year. "It's secure; the information cannot be passed between any of those things. The poor person who has to operate it, though, imagine the complexity they're dealing with in all of the information coming together.
"We expect the humans to do the integration, we've got to move away from that. We've go to present the different information domains - because they are there for very good security reasons - to get it back to one interface."
Yannopoulos has championed the view of a single information environment within the organisation, in which the “difference between a mobile and fixed environment is hopefully just the location”. As well as the next generation desktops, the CTO hopes to implement an entirely new network architecture for defence forces and implement wider security without compromising ease of use.
He countered claims by bank chiefs recently that convenience and security did not go hand in hand.
“Security doesn’t need to be over the top and onerous, and there’s certainly commercial encryption and indeed high grade encryption now that’s more easy to use for users,” he said. “I think we’re trying to come to a more sophisticated view of security which is, it’s not that no one has access, it’s what is the risk, what would the threat level suggest is appropriate to secure and we need to try and balance rather than trade security and useability.
The deployment is part of a wider reform worth $940 million that aims to save $1.9 billion of ICT spending over the next ten years. Other aspects of the reform include the consolidation of 200 data centres to ten and consolidating telecommunications providers.