Modern client computing relies on centralized management, control
The very nature of centralized computing is changing
A growing reliance on mobile technologies — along with new federal mandates, virtualization and the ever-accelerating pace of change — is forcing government IT organizations to strive to meet user demand for greater access to information resources from any location, at any time.
Against this backdrop, client computing is evolving from personal computers linked to servers to agencies working to deliver virtual client functionality — including running and storing software, data and personal settings — from centralized servers housed in data centers. Deltek’s research division estimates that 90 percent of federal agencies are already using some kind of virtualization. While the vast majority of those agencies have invested in server virtualization, as government organizations strive to centralize the control and management of client computing operations, they are learning how virtual client alternatives can help enable the secure access end users desire for telework, continuity of operations, and generally improved mobility and productivity.
Since late 2011, federal agencies and departments have also received new mandates, in the federal mobility strategy and the follow-on digital government strategy, to revamp their previously decentralized, PC-based client computing infrastructures to embrace more modern, secure client computing delivery models.
Agencies understand that they must be able to securely provide all users with access to government networks and information resources. Gartner, for example, has predicted that the worldwide market for hosted virtual client systems will expand from $1.5 billion in 2009 to more than $65 billion in 2013. Increasingly, organizations in the public and private sectors have learned that unlike server virtualization, the true cost savings associated with virtual client computing comes from reductions in the total cost of ownership of client systems and other operational benefits, such as improved centralized control of end-user computing resources, along with enhanced security.
“No matter whether government organizations are working to secure sensitive information, boost emergency preparedness, standardize client systems and applications, or enhance access to allow users greater mobility and meet requirements of the Telework Enhancement Act, a more modern form of client computing is taking hold governmentwide,” said Paul Schaapman, a data center solutions architect at CDW-G.
The Energy Department, for example, is working with the National Nuclear Security Administration to deploy virtual desktops as part of a secure hybrid community cloud that will be offered this fall. That cloud environment will allow government organizations to purchase and deliver computing services for users on nearly any mobile device. Meanwhile, other large government organizations are also exploring virtual client operations. The Homeland Security Department and the Health and Human Services Department have already invested in client virtualization pilot programs. And the Census Bureau and Defense Information Systems Agency have also started work in this area as early adopters of client virtualization in the federal arena, according to industry observers.
Organizations throughout federal, state and local governments are finding that modern client computing, delivered via virtualization and cloud-based services, can help overcome hefty IT security challenges and allow them to more easily maintain control and consistency across client devices of all kinds agencywide.
In the current budgetary climate, the days of throwing money at any problem are gone. “As agencies learn to get more creative [and] innovate more with less, they are expanding their use of cloud computing, wireless connectivity, telework and other remote work initiatives to empower government employees to work from wherever they are, without forcing them to be bound by an office’s four walls,” said Tom Simmons, area vice president of Citrix Systems’ U.S public-sector division.
Costs and clouds
In any examination of costs, agencies are finding that centralized virtual client infrastructures are less expensive, once all costs are measured. In fact, “the more desktop computers an agency has, the easier it is to show [a return on investment] on client virtualization,” said Paul Schaapman, a data center solutions architect at CDW-G.
Research firm IDC estimates that the total cost of managing a PC can be as much as $1,000 per year, making it easy to see how support could eat up an IT budget. PC replacement, support, software distribution and break/fix costs are just a few of the areas that are typically less expensive in client virtualization scenarios, Schaapman said.
Client virtualization is also considered a necessary step in the migration to cloud computing. “As agencies start to move more of their server operations to private cloud services, for example, it no longer makes sense to leave control of client operations to local branch offices,” Schaapman said.
One caveat: Client virtualization should not to be considered to be just like server virtualization. It’s much more complex than server virtualization, which typically involves a virtual server running a single application. Because clients typically run an entire operating system with 50 or more applications, agencies must keep in mind that some applications will be better suited than others for virtualization.
The migration to centralized virtual client computing also requires change management and typically more time than server virtualization, largely because IT organizations must work to overcome user realizations that PCs are no long personal and satisfy their application requirements in the new environment to be delivered to them. Recent research from Gartner contends that 1990s-style client server computing will likely make a comeback “in support of highly interactive mobile applications that take advantage of local processing, graphics and sound on high-end smart phones and tablets.” In Gartner’s “Mobile Applications and Interfaces” report, the research firm noted that by 2015, half of enterprise applications will be mobile.