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NEWS | Nov. 22, 2019

Workforce stands to benefit from compact computing technology

By Ms. Jacqueline Boucher

A new pilot program at Tobyhanna Army Depot is making it possible for employees to access online information without using a desktop computer.

Information specialists are testing the capabilities of virtualization technology before transitioning the installation's computing environment to a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI). VDI refers to the process of running a user desktop inside a virtual machine that lives on a server in the data center. Testing ends this year and a full roll-out to the general population is scheduled for the second quarter of 2020.

VDI requires the installation and deployment of a small black box called a Thin Client, a less expensive device that will replace desktop computers. Typically, users will experience little to no maintenance disruptions since there are fewer moving parts.

"Tobyhanna is taking an integral step with implementing VDI because it will transform the data infrastructure from an expense to a strategic asset," said Cathy Fulk, chief of the Installation Services Directorate's Information Management Division. "It will change the way end-user information technology services are delivered, which means fewer interruptions from patch updates and decreased workstation slowness."

Fulk explained that in most cases it takes two to three weeks to get computers patched with the latest security controls, but with VDI, routine upgrades and patches can be accomplished within 24 hours.

VDI allows for a much more secure computer user environment because the data doesn't reside at individual work stations, according to Information Technology Specialist John Nemeth. When an individual logs in a clone of the master image is created. When updates are made to the master image, all users have to do is log off and then back on to obtain the most up-to-date version. Users will still see their personal desktop and have access to all the shared drives.

"Personnel will be able to access their files from any workstation at any time," Nemeth said. "There will be a few new quirks, but at the end of the day, employees will be able to perform their daily duties in the same way as before."

Throughout the transition process, artisans came to realize there would be several benefits to implementing VDI.

At the top of the list is the creation of a safe and secure, centralized environment to store information. Cost savings was another positive aspect of committing to the VDI transition. The smaller devices have a longer life span, require minimal maintenance, and cost considerably less than the desktop computers in use today. Officials also believe using the Thin Client will contribute to reducing the depot's energy footprint.

"Since information will reside in the data center and not on the device, loss of data due to a Thin Client malfunction is mitigated," said Al Lyons, IT project manager. "If the device malfunctions, the user simply moves to another desk to pick up where they left off."

The first 2,000 devices will be installed at workstations where employees use basic software to meet mission requirements. Specialized software used by organizations and individuals will have to be tested to see if the Thin Client is compatible. Future phases will link the data center to personnel who telework, are on temporary duty assignment, or are assigned to a forward location.

"What we do is not changing, just how we do it," Lyons said. "This is how we're shaping the future for Team Tobyhanna."