GCN INSIDER: Trends and technologies that affect the way government does IT

Citrix is the real attraction

Agency users wanting to test out applications before buying can do so online at the new Microsoft TestDrive Center. You don’t need to load software on a local machine, just go to www.microsoft.com/government and click the TestDrive Center link.

But TestDrive Center may not be what’s notable here. As of the launch last month, there weren’t a ton of applications to test—several Office programs (not surprisingly), a forensics case management solution and a records system portal, among them. What’s notable is that by testing the applications, you get first-hand experience with an underlying technology that could really come in handy. When you’re sitting at your computer playing with, for example, Microsoft Project, the program acts like it’s running on your hard drive, but it isn’t. Citrix Systems’ Access Suite is delivering the program to your screen over a secure connection.

Citrix vice president of government systems Mark Goldman seemed genuinely surprised when it was suggested the new Microsoft site was a better showcase of Access Suite’s abilities than the demo apps’. At a time when thin-client computing sounds like an attractive way of connecting government users to applications, Access Suite may be a good fit based on its ability to quickly and securely transmit virtually any program to any computing device.

Last month Citrix released Version 4.0 of Access Suite, including its components Citrix Presentation Server, Access Gateway and Password Manager. The new suite includes what Citrix calls SmartAccess technology, which senses things such as where a user is accessing an application from and over what network. With that information, Access Suite can control what the user is allowed to do, such as edit a document but not save it.

Systems in action

For more in-depth testing of Microsoft-based products, agencies and their contractors can now visit the Microsoft Technology Center in Reston, Va. Designed for prototyping and validating computer systems, it’s the sixth such center the company has opened but the first geared toward government solutions. The Envisioning Center is an MTV-like studio where customers can see demonstrations of Microsoft products—as long as they don’t entail wireless communications. Center director Joe Bennett told a visiting GCN editor this is because there’s a secure room below the Envisioning Center for discussing defense and intelligence programs.

The data center is impressive, with a 10T storage area network, Cisco switches, a pair of Unisys mainframes and racks holding 54 Dell and Hewlett-Packard servers—none of them running Linux, not surprisingly. But Bennett said Microsoft recognizes that agency customers will want to architect cross-platform systems at the test center.

“We had an engagement that wanted to test Oracle so we planned to roll in a system for that,” he said. The Reston center can also reach back to Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Wash., to access IBM AS/400 systems running WebSphere.

Ultimately, Bennett said Microsoft is there to lend expertise and resources, but will normally step back and let agencies’ chosen contractors build the systems they need. When fully ramped up, Bennett said he expects to host about 150 projects a year.

Juniper touts better network security

On the same day last month that a financial analyst’s report crossed our desks saying Juniper Networks’ 2004 acquisition of NetScreen Technologies was paying off, a couple of former NetScreeners in Juniper clothes stopped by to preview plans for what Juniper calls Enterprise Infranet solutions. In short, the networking company (and fierce Cisco competitor) is mixing in NetScreen expertise to push security further out into the network infrastructure.

Juniper officially unveiled the Infranet Controller and Infranet Agent a few weeks ago. The Controller is a network appliance that gives conditional access to network resources based on user authentication and an evaluation of a system’s security posture. The Agent runs on end user devices and checks to make sure a device adheres to agency policies. It can also perform authentication and encryption.

Dave Flynn, Juniper’s vice president for security products, said the Infranet tools can operate in heterogeneous network environments and cost less than port-based access control. The products will be available next quarter.

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