NORAD finds space-saving solution

In one respect, the North American Aerospace Defense (NORAD) Command's PC management challenges are utterly pedestrian: How do you control the costs of deploying and managing the ever-creeping sprawl of PCs around the office? At the same time, the command's requirements, at least compared to government operations outside the military, are unique. That's because NORAD operates from inside a mountain.

For the command, one answer to this conventional problem in an unconventional workplace is blade PCs, according to Garland Garcia, chief of data networks at NORAD.

"We're inside a mountain, so space is a first concern for any solution," Garcia said. "Right now, most of our users have up to three computers underneath their desk. So [blade PCs] were a means of saving space."

The command had tried to reduce the desktop real estate required for some of its users by replacing PCs with small-profile thin servers but found it an expensive solution. "We had employed a thin server, a 1U server, but the cost associated with it was incredible," Garcia said. "To me, it wasn't a reasonable solution to have so much cost associated with a client-side computer."

Then Garcia learned about the blade PC concept from some colleagues. After evaluating about a half-dozen vendors, he chose PC Blades from ClearCube Technology. "It seemed to be [the] most reasonable solution based on what we were looking for in terms of hardware specs and software functionality already ingrained in [the] program," Garcia said.

He found that, initially, the PC Blades had a big learning curve, including figuring out the specifics of the software and hardware implementation. But things are running smoothly now.

"Once you get them tweaked and running right, you can almost forget about them," Garcia said.

He said he is operating about 300 blades but is considering purchasing more and has planned for more closets to hold the new racks. Garcia hasn't done any official studies on the blades, but he guesses that they cost only about one-third of what it costs to maintain traditional PCs.

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