DHS virtualization project could lead to mobility strategy

The Homeland Security Department is trying out a virtual desktop strategy, and if it successful it could form the basis for mobility as well.

A virtual desktop demonstration project at the Homeland Security Department this summer could eventually be the foundation for the department’s mobile strategy, according to Richard Spires, chief information officer.

Spires spoke at the TechAmerica industry group’s annual federal CIO conference on May 3. Other federal CIOs also spoke about their activities in providing mobility to their workforces.

Several DHS components are testing out a workplace-as-a-service concept as a cost-cutting measure. The agency would pay for access to computing power in the cloud, allowing reduced investment in computing power in desktop computers.

“Providing and supporting personal computers is a big cost-driver,” Spires said. Virtualization and cloud computing would reduce those costs, he said.

Personnel at DHS headquarters, Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement will participate in the demonstration project.

At the same time, if the virtualization is a success, it could form the basis for a “data-first” mobile strategy, Spires added.

The idea is that once there is an effective system in place to manage, secure and control access to data in the cloud, the data can be delivered anywhere, including desktops or mobile devices. The system would be architected based on the types and amounts of data involved, and the types of access to be allowed, making it a “data-first” strategy, he said.

“You can make the data accessible to devices,” Spires said. “It is a way to move us to a mobile strategy.”

At the Defense Department, mobility for the workforce is “a major challenge,” said Teri Takai, CIO, adding that about 50 mobility pilot projects are currently taking place.

For mobile access to classified data, the DOD is preparing to put together a proposal on how to secure such data and the networks it operates on, Takai said.

For unclassified data, the department is moving to develop a “secure, multi-device environment” that sets the parameters for operation of mobile devices within the department, as well as a “federated mobile app store” that provides applications for the devices, she said.

Takai said she is moving speedily on the mobile environment. “I have got to get it up quick,” she said.

At the Veterans Affairs Department, CIO Roger Baker said he “banged his head against the wall” for two years trying to get Apple to implement federal-level security tools within their tablet computers.

Even when he told Apple executives he was considering placing a large purchase order for the VA if the devices could be made secure, “they did not care,” Baker said.

The VA has been piloting use of tablet computers for clinicians at the department’s medical centers. The department recently implemented a mobile device management system.

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