Virtual desktop key piece to NASA Goddard's future in cloud, mobile

Tuesday - 6/5/2012, 5:12am EDT

Adrian Gardner, CIO, Goddard Space Flight Center, NASA

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CAMBRIDGE, MD — NASA is trying to make it easier for foreigners who work with the space agency to access critical data.

The current clearance process takes months. But with new technology, NASA could give foreign nationals the information they need in days, and in turn also make it easier for their employees to be more mobile.

NASA Goddard Space Center is launching two pilot programs this summer to test a virtual desktop initiative (VDI). The VDI effort would remove the need to hook into a specific agency network and give access to data to foreign nationals or employees more easily.

"They not only come, but we go there and we build things in partnership with other space agencies. It has to be part of the solution going forward," said Adrian Gardner, the NASA Goddard chief information officer in an interview with Federal News Radio at the Management of Change Conference Monday sponsored by IAC and ACT. "We are definitely working toward bring-your-own-device."

Adrian Gardner, CIO, Goddard Space Flight Center (NASA)

Under the VDI effort, Gardner said he could create a foreign nationals' desktop where all foreigners could access the specific data they need to do their job.

"We need to do an evaluation and assessment of what they would need, what they would need access and what we, as NASA, are comfortable with and that's where we are headed," he said.

Gardner said the VDI pilot also will include about 350 interns and one other scientific organization.

"We are focusing on the interns, saying if a certain portion of them would participate in the pilot, and they are fulfilling various roles across the center, anything from scientist to engineers to more administrative types, there is an opportunity to take advantage of them coming in this summer," he said. "Many are probably more versed in using VDI than we are. It's probably commonplace to them and there are a number of free opportunities out there that they could gain access from their college experience. So we are looking at how do we know match up against what their expectations are."

Moving from thick to thin clients

The intern pilot will last through the summer, but the scientific organization for NASA Goddard employees will continue into the fall.

"It's really tailoring that desktop to the needs of the scientists and engineers. A lot of them have a very thick client and a high usage of actually hardware and software," Gardner said. "So building actually a configuration that would be virtualized and meet all their needs would be huge."

He added from any device, tablet, smartphone or laptop, the employee could see his or her desktop, access their applications and data and get their work done.

"We also are looking at it from a standpoint of persistence, where they shutdown their desktop during the day, but load it up on the way home on the train or when they get home and actually then the desktop picks up right at the same point where the cursor was on the word they were working when they shutdown their main desktop at work," Gardner said. "We are looking at all those capabilities which are enhancements to the workforce."

The VDI pilot and many other cutting edge technologies are coming through NASA Goddard's Innovations program. Gardner said his center is running a test and development platform in the cloud.

He said Goddard has a technology roadmap that describes the capabilities needed, which range from software that helps manage mounds of data to security to data analytics.

"The ability for our scientists and engineers to come into a space to actually experiment with the cloud and look at their applications from the standpoint are they cloud ready is huge," Gardner said. "For us, it has to be part of the path going forward. It's not really an option. The budgets are declining and cloud is one of those solution sets that we should look at from a business perspective in order to realize where we want to go to support the scientists and engineers."

Testing emerging IT in the cloud

NASA Goddard will test all of the technologies in the test and development platform.

"For me, it's really holding the service provider to task. If they say that something has a certain capability, now letting them demonstrate it and demonstrate it against their competitors," Gardner said. "It allows us to be a more of an informed consumer of the technology and innovation as they mature."

All of this is leading to a bigger effort. Some parts of NASA are testing how well their employees can work outside the office for an extended period of time.

Gardner said NASA Goddard is not part of the pilot yet. The goal of this effort is to how VDI and other emerging technologies could show concrete savings or cost avoidance.

"You have to have a structured approach toward telework. If it's sort of an option where not everyone exercises the option, it's difficult to get to a return on investment. But if we move toward a standard where 50 percent of our workforce will telework, then we could get to a place where we could measure and gain metrics around the ROI of going toward the complete mobility approach toward supporting our workers."

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