Defence delays thin client tender

Shortlisted suppliers sit in waiting as government approval sets back project

The Department of Defence has delayed releasing a request for tender for its “Next Generation Desktops” project until January, pushing its thin client deployment back by two months.

The project, which will see 15,000 thin clients rolled out across the department, was initially planned for tender in November among a shortlist of four providers - Raytheon, BAE Systems, Thales and HP - following market solicitation earlier in the year.

In October, Defence chief technology officer, Matt Yannopoulos, told Computerworld Australia the department was yet to gain approval for the project from government.

“We are still consulting the business case with government and will seek approval this year before we issue the RFT,” Yannopoulos said this week.

The delays have also affected a planned trial deployment on a Navy frigate for 500 users from multiple vendors. The first trial is still expected to begin before the end of the year, but a second trial in an operational theatre of war is not expected to be attempted until sometime next year.

The thin client and virtualisation deployments form part of an attempt by the Department of Defence to consolidate and simplify business processes, by allowing users to access multiple levels of classification through one endpoint rather than two or three. However, the clients will not grant access to top secret and higher classification clearances.

“We are favouring thin client presentation tools because of the cost reduction that it will achieve in our various bases and sites and regional infrastructure,” Yannopoulos said in October.

The thin client data and applications will be hosted in several data centres, but will have an "offline mode" for roaming users.

Yannopoulos described current arrangements as “not best practice” in a speech given in March.

"There is a desk [in one office] there that has seven computers on it, five monitors and four telephones," he said at the Australian Computer Society 2010 Canberra conference earlier in the year. "It's secure; the information cannot be passed between any of those things. The poor person who has to operate it, though, imagine the complexity they're dealing with in all of the information coming together.

"We expect the humans to do the integration, we've got to move away from that. We've go to present the different information domains - because they are there for very good security reasons - to get it back to one interface."

Yannopoulos has championed the view of a single information environment within the organisation, in which the “difference between a mobile and fixed environment is hopefully just the location”. As well as the next generation desktops, the CTO hopes to implement an entirely new network architecture for defence forces and implement wider security without compromising ease of use.

Thin clients form one of several projects embarked worth $940 million adopted in an attempt to save the department some $1.9 billion of ICT spending over the next ten years. Other aspects of the reform include the consolidation of 200 data centres to ten and consolidating telecommunications providers.

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