Virtualization, already a major trend, can help with BYOD
Of all the technology enablers for BYOD, virtualization may be the most important. Virtual desktops are increasingly seen as a necessity for the introduction of BYOD and the cloud could prove a major asset, though there are homegrown agency solutions that may also apply.
A range of technologies are enablers for a bring-your-own-device environment, but arguably none is as important as virtualization. The good news for government organizations is that, because it’s something most of them are grappling with now through server consolidation and virtual desktop initiatives, BYOD could be a relatively easy fit.
It’s something that Daniel McCrae, director of the Service Delivery Division at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of the CIO, sees as a necessity for NOAA. He pointed to the highly mobile and dispersed workers that the agency employs to track the weather and what BYOD would mean for them. The biggest challenge will be replicating the virtual work space of those workers and bringing that to the BYOD environment.
“Virtualization in general is really critical to the way we will carry out the mission in the future because that’s where you really begin to leverage some of the advantages of IT, whether it’s on traditional desktop computing, notebooks or other mobile platforms,” he said. “Being able to virtualize your work space and then deliver that is when you can really start to see the major improvements in productivity.”
One of the case studies included as an example in the Obama administration’s BYOD Toolkit is that of the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, which, like NOAA, has a widely dispersed workforce with many people working from home full time. More than 80 percent of its workforce regularly teleworks.
The bureau spent about $2 million every four years or so to refresh the desktop and laptop computers for its workers, with the added cost of the several months of disruption that caused to the organization’s IT program and business users. To get around this, officials decided to go with a virtual desktop solution that centralized all the computing power, data and applications, and simply allow users to access them through a thin client.
It saved the bureau $1.2 million, more than paying for the virtual desktop implementation. It also laid the foundations for the agency’s eventual introduction of BYOD.
“Because no data touches the BYOD device and no work is physically accomplished on the BYOD equipment,” according to the case study report, “all requests for discovery of information from a user’s computer can be satisfied without having to recover anything from the user’s device.”
Virtualization also centralizes the security and access policies an organization develops for all its IT users, said Jeremy Sherwood, product manager of virtualization and cloud at ScienceLogic. That mitigates the risk across the board because if the server, desktop and BYOD interactions are all virtualized, “this builds a nice, pretty umbrella of security around all of these assets.”
“They are all in the same place and under the same set of rules,” he said, “and then the systems interfacing with them are irrelevant because the security controls are a part of the virtualized infrastructure.”
The process of virtualization, which most agencies are involved with, makes BYOD “an easy plug-and-play,” he said.
It also makes the cloud a potentially important enabler for BYOD, though it’s not a critical must-have, said Tom Simmons, area vice president for the U.S. public sector at Citrix Systems.
“There are technologies today where I can authenticate and gain access to the infrastructure needed for the virtual work space,” he said. “The savings and flexibility of hosting that virtual work space or virtual app in the cloud [are] more of a cost component in considering the cloud and so [are] more of an option than necessity for BYOD.”
So it comes down to what solution fits best. The cloud is there if agencies feel the need to cut costs even more, but there are technologies widely available on the market today that can deliver a similar service, with all the relevant security controls, directly from an agency’s own data center.