Military tests software streaming

Officials from the U.S. Air Forces in Europe (USAFE) are testing a new software-streaming platform that will allow them to centralize information technology management, lower costs and improve security.

Jeff Hibbard, vice president of Waltham, Mass.-based Ardence, said the company’s technology will stream the operating system and applications across 5,800 terminals in USAFE’s project. He said the potential exists to expand the technology to tens of thousands more PCs.

Hibbard said Ardence’s approach is a new way of providing software that requires no pre-installation of the host operating system on a computer. He added that the technology is used in the FBI, CIA, National Security Agency, Energy Department laboratories, schools and commercial sector.

“It makes managing a PC as easy and as dependable as managing a TV,” he said.

Hibbard said that if a computer has no operating system or applications, there is nothing to maintain. Users simply plug in their PCs, which then request an operating system and a set of applications from the network.

USAFE officials had been testing a Hewlett-Packard blade-based technology called the Consolidated Client Infrastructure since November 2004, but they found latency problems and maintenance issues, including software upgrade and electricity costs, Hibbard said.

He said Dell, which has a reseller agreement with Ardence, heard about the project and approached USAFE officials about the software-streaming technology. The project began in November and uses diskless Dell clients. The cost of the project was not disclosed.

Hibbard said Ardence’s technology has several advantages. PCs don’t require disk drives because the operating system and applications are streamed from centrally managed servers. Data is stored on a storage-area network or network-attached storage. This greatly improves security and reduces computer maintenance and associated costs, he said.

“There’s no state left, there’s no fingerprint, and there’s no trail of data of what went on in that PC,” he added. “Once you turn that PC off, all the data that was there has disappeared.”

For added security, another capability, called port blocker, allows administrators to disable specific ports or devices, preventing users from attaching printers or local storage devices, he said.

Another benefit is load balancing. He said servers can be tuned on the fly, much like changing a channel on a television, to help a set of servers that has reached maximum usage.

“Rather than reload software, which can take up a whole day on a server, you can literally change the channel and redeploy servers and eliminate denial-of-service problems,” Hibbard said. Ardence’s technology complements Citrix products and thin-client environments, he added.

The company also recently announced that Version 3.5 of its software-streaming technology will support Linux operating system distributions from Novell and Red Hat.

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