Army desktops could go thin

Stripped-down PCs could save money at realigned bases

Army officials said they intend to take an economical approach to computing at the service's realigned bases by putting a thin-client device instead of a PC on every worker's desk.

Gary Winkler, director of the Army's Governance, Acquisition and Chief Knowledge Office, said the new policy will save the Army about 30 percent of what it has been spending during the life cycle of standard PCs just at headquarters. The policy will be implemented at 33 bases that the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission recommended for restructuring or consolidation.

"The whole Army is behind this," Winkler told industry executives at a Jan. 19 conference on the impact of the BRAC Commission's recommendations, sponsored by the Information Technology Association of America.

The diskless computers, which have keyboards and monitors, are stripped-down PCs that rely on operating systems and software applications that run on a central, secure server. Military personnel, including soldiers in the field, who need standard desktop or laptop PCs to do their jobs will continue to have them.

Long-term patients at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., are among the first users to receive the diskless PCs, which they use for online learning programs, video communications and entertainment.

Winkler said the Army's interest in diskless PCs could spread to other military services. "I see no reason why you can't have thin clients in all of the services," he said.

The Army will start adopting thin-client computing in a structured approach, said Terry Edwards, director of the Army Architecture Integration Cell in the Office of the Chief Information Officer, in an e-mail statement.

"We want to scale this across the community of users in a systematic approach to ensure we keep in mind the users' needs and requirements," Edwards said.

Linton Wells, DOD's CIO, said thin-client devices eliminate the need for a technician to make configuration changes or install new software on every computer.

Wells said thin-client computing is one of several technologies Pentagon officials are evaluating as they strive to achieve network-centricity, which involves relying on networks for warfighting. "We have to find faster ways to update" systems, he said.

About 55 percent of computing dollars are spent on network administration, an amount the Army expects to reduce when it implements thin-client computing, Winkler said. The approach means fewer technicians will be needed to staff help desks or install new software on desktop PCs.

The Army can also improve network security by switching to thin-client computing, said Alan Paller, director of research at the SANS Institute, a training and education organization for security professionals. The servers will apply software updates and patches, ensuring that the work is done, he said.

Robert Austin, a geospatial IT professional at the engineering firm Michael Baker Corp., said, companies and parts of the federal government are opting for thin-client computing because it costs dramatically less than standard PC configurations. Technicians fix problems at a central location, Austin said.

"The total cost of ownership is less, and you don't have to spend as much time with configuration management," he added.

Marines order Accenture to stop work

The Marine Corps has issued a stop-work order on a $4.5 million contract it awarded to Accenture to design and install a global supply-chain and maintenance system. The Marines awarded the six-month contract in June 2005.

Capt. Jay Delarosa, a Marines spokesman, confirmed last week that the stop-work order applies to the Global Combat Support System-Marine Corps. He described the situation as somewhat sensitive.

James McAvoy, an Accenture spokesman, said the company is discussing the order with the Marines.

Accenture asked for more money, and the Marine Corps balked, according to industry officials familiar with the discussions who requested anonymity. Both spokesmen declined further comment.

The logistics modernization program will be based on Oracle's E-Business Suite, which the Marines selected after evaluating enterprise resource planning products. Accenture subsequently included the Oracle software in its bid.

— Judi Hasson and Frank Tiboni

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