For GSA, virtual desktop opens the door to more cost savings

Thursday - 4/3/2014, 3:43pm EDT

Sonny Hashmi, acting CIO, GSA

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By the end of 2014, the General Services Administration expects half of its employees to use a virtual desktop interface (VDI) as a path to using their personal smartphones and tablets on the network.

By end of 2015, 75 percent of employees could be using VDI, which would expand the bring-your-own-device approach to GSA.

"Everything we are doing moving forward is mobile first or at least mobile enabled. Everything we deploy, we are getting to the point, but we are not quite there yet, there still are some more complicated issues such as HSPD-12 integration for a higher assurance app and things like that, but most of what was are doing can be done by mobile device," said Sonny Hashmi, GSA's acting chief information officer, who spoke recently at an AFCEA Bethesda, Md. Chapter breakfast in Bethesda. "The VDI is one of the biggest drivers to help us get there."

He said employees will connect to the guest wireless network, go through a two- factor authentication verification process and then get connected to the VDI.

"Once you are there, it's all sandboxed away and you can access the whole suite of thick client, thin client, legacy and non-legacy applications and you will be fully productive," he said. "Mobility is beyond just the Public Building Service play for us. It's actually how we will operate in the future. It's saving us $24 million every year. If you look at our business case for moving to headquarters, opening up the walls, moving to a fully sharable space, it's hard dollars. It's $24 million a year and it's leases we don't have to pay for anymore because everyone is using the shared space. That's real money — $24 million would let me do a lot more cooler things for my business than just paying the rent."

Hashmi said the ultimate goal of VDI is to reduce the complexity of the network and IT, and make services such as helpdesk more standard and less expensive.

"When you have a problem, you're not asking someone to come by your desk side, you are calling, having a video chat with somebody who may be in a different region, but has full access to your image. VDI helps us get there," he said. "It also helps us to be more secure because all the patching and so forth is happening on the back end, done once and done well rather than every desktop some may be out of the network, some may be inside the network and have to be updated."

Hashmi said GSA hasn't decided yet whether the VDI will work through thin clients or some type of Web browser or app based model.

"Ideally, I'd like to go to a BYOD model rather than thin client. There's a lot of complexities that come with BYOD and we are working through those," he said. "I think thin clients are fantastic and in some cases they make sense. But if you are going to be an agency that doesn't have assigned work stations and requiring people to come in every day, then you want to develop an environment that is device agnostic and thin client is still a device and we want to get rid of devices from the mix instead of adding a device to the mix."

New open data policy

The move to VDI coincides with GSA's effort to focus more on mobility and open data.

Hashmi said GSA Administrator Dan Tangherlini issued a new open data policy in February outlining seven principles that promote and mandate how the agency makes information available to the public and other agencies.

Tangherlini made the CIO responsible for storing, managing and protecting all agency data.

"The OCIO will be responsible for facilitating relationships between GSA services and staff offices, as well as external Agencies and stakeholders, in order to allow inter- and intra-agency data sharing in a secure, compliant and timely manner," the memo stated. "The OCIO has the authority to authorize certain employees within GSA, who meet technical, security and other criteria developed by the OCIO, to have access to GSA data to conduct analytics, even if the data has not completed the adjudication and review process set forth [in the memo]. The results of the analysis will be shared and discussed with the relevant policy and staff offices to ensure the data is being used in context."

Hashmi said his team is developing an inventory of high valued datasets.