New reasons to get slim

Telecommuting, post-Sept. 11 priorities renew interest in thin-client computing

Two years ago, the General Services Administration Public Buildings Service's New England region assembled its employees in a town hall meeting. Such get-togethers, aimed at uncovering problems and soliciting suggestions, are not unusual for the agency.

But as Jim LeVerso, chief information officer of the region, listened to the proceedings, it occurred to him that this meeting was different. In the past, employees lobbied the administration to allow them to do more work away from the office. "This time, it was the administration that was saying, 'We want you to telecommute. Tell us what we need to do to make that possible,'" LeVerso said.

Telecommuting appears to be changing from merely a convenience for workers to a strategic goal for some agencies. Similarly, the technology that LeVerso chose to enable the telecommuting program — server-based computing (SBC, also called thin-client computing) — is taking on a more important role.

In SBC, software applications — from word processing programs to accounting applications — run centrally on a server, and only the user interface and necessary files and data are transmitted to users' PCs or other Web- connected devices. This approach makes it an effective platform for telecommuting. SBC backers say that its approach also makes it well-suited for two new post-Sept. 11 priorities: enabling more data sharing by agencies and helping agencies to continue running in case disaster strikes.

Catching On

SBC has been available for several years, but David Friedlander, an industry analyst with Giga Information Group Inc., said that the biggest change in government as well as commercial usage is the increase in the size of installations.

"During the past two years, SBC has been moving steadily upstream from its start as a workgroup solution to enterprisewide deployments," he said. He pointed out that more robust management tools and performance enhancements have encouraged agencies with large numbers of users, such as the GSA Public Buildings Service, to consider SBC.

Before choosing an SBC solution, LeVerso and his colleagues laid out the requirements for the future telecommuting program. A good system would enable employees to:

n Access all applications from any PC.

n Run applications at home, on the road or at a client site, even if it meant connecting to the office server via low-speed dial-up lines.

n Start work at one location and pick up where they left off at a different location with no loss of data.

It was already a tall order when GSA officials added, "'Figure out how to make it happen. And by the way, we can't offer you any additional resources or people,'" LeVerso said.

Unfortunately, the office's applications were too resource-intensive to run efficiently on a wide-area network. The plan might work if information technology administrators paid a lot of attention to network resources and required employees to use only high-bandwidth lines. But that did not fit the telecommuting program's "anywhere with any connection" requirements.

What did fit the bill was SBC technology that LeVerso had seen demonstrated by Citrix Systems Inc. of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. With Citrix MetaFrame now installed in their data center, 300 employees of the Public Buildings Service's New England region and some users at the other regions can launch applications from anywhere, just as they would if the applications ran on their PC or a local-area network — by clicking on an icon.

That mouse click launches MetaFrame software on the server, which runs the business application the user wants to access and manages the communications session. To users — even those on a dial-up connection from home — the application runs about as fast as it would on a LAN-attached PC, LeVerso said.

The 128-bit encryption Secure Sockets Layer protocol is used to protect communication between the client and server. And because each user's files are maintained on the server, the machine the employee happens to be using is irrelevant, as long as it can connect to the application server via the Internet or a network.

"For years, the goal of IT was to make computing a utility, like switching on a light," LeVerso said. "With this architecture, I think we finally did it."

New Drivers

Don Leckrone, director of Defense Department accounts at Santa Cruz, Calif.-based Tarantella Inc., sees two new security concerns pushing federal agencies to consider SBC.

The first is disaster recovery. Users who must evacuate buildings can simply go to PCs in other offices and pick up where they were interrupted. And the decentralized nature of the Internet, built that way to withstand an attack, means the network will always be available. Also, the server, the most vulnerable component of SBC, can be protected easily through standard backup practices such as mirroring, which involves creating a replica of the primary system at another site.

Second, new homeland security procedures require new types of collaboration. "Many people are starting to have to work on applications that their agencies don't own," Leckrone said. SBC is an easy way to authorize new users without having to load software on their PCs or even take into account the operating system they are using.

Another driver is the increased popularity of Web portals.

"Workers want more consolidated and personalized access to all their applications," Friedlander said.

In fact, consolidated access to applications is one reason that officials at the Interior Department's National Business Center (NBC) decided to use Citrix MetaFrame to develop an SBC solution for financial reporting.

"We provide a single point of entry to all our applications through a Web page," said Mike Sciortino, a system manager at NBC. That approach "makes it very easy for our users to configure their workstations and connect to the system."

Interior has used MetaFrame since June 2000 to provide access to financial reporting software and other applications, including Microsoft Excel and a text editor. About 250 people use the system.

Sciortino said that before moving to SBC architecture, Interior had problems with large amounts of data clogging its network. As a result, users suffered with poor performance connections and corrupted databases.

Now that program files and data files are centrally located on two side-by-side servers, the applications run more smoothly and data corruption does not occur, he said.

Another advantage of SBC, according to Sciortino, is that software upgrades are much easier to manage. Before using MetaFrame, NBC would have to install full upgrades on each PC that accessed the system and struggle with the inevitable compatibility problems. Now software upgrades only have to be installed on the central application server. As soon as users log off and back on, they're working with the latest version.

SBC may be the right technology at the right time. Security considerations, new collaboration requirements and budgetary constraints are forcing agencies to seek new ways to launch and manage applications.

SBC, which is finally becoming enterprise-ready, may be one solution to those problems.

Stevens is a freelance journalist who has written about IT since 1982.

***

Three other perks The primary advantages of server-based computing (SBC) are reduced costs, easier administration and increased security. But there are other advantages, according to Christa Anderson, author of "The Definitive Guide to Citrix MetaFrame XP." According to her: * SBC helps bring more people into the fold. Many agencies have employees who use non-Microsoft Corp. Windows operating systems on their computers, primarily the Apple Computer Inc. Mac OS or Linux. Those users usually have to move to a Windows machine to access the agency's enterprise applications. SBC automatically extends the applications to all platforms. * SBC delays hardware upgrades. "A hidden cost in any software upgrade is the cost of replacing all the hardware [that] no longer works well with the new application," Anderson said. SBC removes hardware considerations from any upgrade project. * SBC ensures more efficient use of computing resources. For resource-intensive applications, SBC architecture can provide more bang for the buck. An application accessed by, say, five people on a server uses less memory and processing power than the total resources for the same application run on five separate PCs, Anderson said.

NEXT STORY: Officials push for intell, action

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.