Army plans to use thin-client systems

The Army intends to streamline information technology at its bases by using thin-client systems, which do not require a computer at every worker’s desk.

Gary Winkler, director of the Army’s Governance, Acquisition and Chief Knowledge Office, said the plan would save the Army between 8 percent and 40 percent of the service's budget and would be implemented first at the 33 bases the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission and Congress have ordered realigned.

The Army intends to install thin-client computers as it restructures and consolidates bases, Winkler said. The devices, which include a keyboard and a screen, are basically stripped-down computers designed to provide access to applications and information residing on a server.

“The whole Army is behind this,” Winkler told industry executives at a conference on BRAC’s impact. The IT Association of America sponsored the event.

Winkler said Lt. Gen. Steven Boutelle, the Army’s chief information officer, briefed the secretary of the Army about the plan yesterday, and Winkler quoted Boutelle as saying, “We’re going to be Draconian about it.”

“I see no reason why you can’t have thin clients in all of the services,” Winkler said. “I see no reason why [the Defense Department] shouldn’t jump on the bandwagon.”

Thin clients let servers do the processing for multiple users. It eliminates the need for a technician to handle every computer to make changes or install technology, said Linton Wells, DOD’s CIO, who also spoke at the conference.

Wells said thin-client computing is one of several technologies the Pentagon is studying to identify ways to push network centricity to the edge. He said the BRAC Commission’s recommendations are forcing the military to look at new ways of doing things. “We have to find faster ways to update,” he said.

In addition, one of the military’s challenges will be training people because the “management of networks will take a skill set we don’t have yet,” Wells said.

Winkler also said that 55 percent of technology costs lie in network administration, a budget item that would shrink because thin clients require fewer workers to perform technology jobs such as operating the help desk and installing new software one computer at a time.

It will require a culture change, too, because “everyone is used to having their own computer to keep their feet warm,” he added.

The commission recommended and Congress approved 22 major base closings and 33 major base realignments in the next six years after studying how to eliminate unneeded facilities in the post-Cold War era. The commission estimated savings of $35 billion in the next 20 years.

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