Intelligence Agency Thinks Thin

Case Study: DIA deploys Sun Rays, trusted Solaris.

Secure access to information is vital when it comes to Department of Defense intelligence data.

This is why the Defense Intelligence Agency—a DOD combat support agency that produces, analyzes and disseminates military intelligence information—launched thin clients in an effort to allow intelligence analysts to view data across several classified and unclassified networks from one PC.

This network-based computing initiative for the DIA is known as the DODIIS (Department of Defense Intelligence Information Systems) Trusted Workstation program and is managed at the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory in Rome, N.Y.

Trusted Workstation staffers are shifting thousands of intelligence analysts thick-client desktops to Sun Microsystems Sun Ray thin clients and Trusted Solaris. Ten thousand people are currently using the Sun Ray clients, and 8,000 more will be moved to Sun Rays by late 2008.

The Sun Ray thin clients, combined with Suns Trusted Solaris operating system, will not only improve workflow but also reduce management and administrative costs, said Ryan Durante, Trusted Workstation program manager.

As late as 2004, intelligence analysts were using thick clients to access as many as 11 networks, depending on the analysts security clearance. Those 11 networks required an enormous number of servers and leased lines to sites all over the world.

Facing server sprawl and phenomenal costs associated with managing those servers, leaders of the Trusted Workstation program began looking at thin clients to provide a way for analysts to access multiple networks from one desktop. A trusted operating system was also a requirement, imposed by the DOD.

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Program leaders decided on a setup comprising Suns Trusted Solaris Server running Sun Ray Session Server software connected to Sun Ray 1 thin-client desktop systems.

Trusted Solaris allows the DIA to reduce the need for separate hardware systems for dedicated access to classified networks by enabling users to access multiple security levels on a single computer. Each thin client is connected to a Trusted Workstation server that has the physical connections to the networks running at different classification levels.

The size and potency of the servers being used depends on the size of the location (such as a military base). All the servers are Sun SPARC-based, ranging from a Sun Fire V240 server for a small site to a fully populated Sun Fire E25K, which can scale to as many as 72 processors and 144 threads, for the largest sites.

The Sun Rays allow U.S. intelligence analysts to work more effectively by enabling them to share information on the same network. Data that once resided on multiple networks is now stored on a secure server providing material to individual desktops. The equipment also creates a smaller hardware footprint while improving workflow and reducing security risks, Durante said.

Each Sun Ray device can present the user with either a Microsoft Windows or Sun Solaris desktop environment, taking advantage of terminal services to virtualize a Windows session. With the Unix desktop equally available to any user, however, Durante is exploring multiplatform options such as Suns StarOffice.

"Microsoft is still the primary desktop, but were trying to throw little things in there and explore the Unix OS concept a little more," Durante said. "There is no mandate [to migrate off Microsoft systems], but [Microsoft] Office is pretty expensive. Now we have the best of both worlds."

Now that the Sun Ray 2FS has been released, Durante said the Trusted Workstation group will begin deploying it to the 8,000 users who have yet to be migrated to thin clients.

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The Sun Ray 2FS native ability to support dual monitors will come in handy because intelligence analysts do a lot of imagery work, Durante added. This capability will also allow the DIA to purchase fewer thin clients.

Durante said the DIA is now consolidating servers at about 900 sites worldwide to five regional data centers: in Stuttgart, Germany; Tampa, Fla.; Colorado Springs, Colo.; Makalapa, Hawaii; and DIA headquarters in Washington.

"Weve had phenomenal cost savings since we started using the Sun Ray as our primary desktop," Durante said. "At the same time, much of it was indirect in terms of [things like administration], management, power, HVAC—all the things you dont think about."

Senior Writer Anne Chen can be reached at

Case File

* Program DODIIS

* Location U.S. Air Force Research Lab, in Rome, N.Y.

* Challenge The DODIIS, which is managed out of the U.S. Air Force Research Lab, needed a way to collapse its networks while providing intelligence agents with secure access to classified and unclassified networks

* Solution The DODIIS decided to deploy Suns Sun Ray thin clients, along with Suns Trusted Solaris operating system; the thin clients allow the DODIIS to deliver fiber to the desktop, and the newer Sun Ray 2FS allows end users to have dual monitors

* Tools Trusted Solaris, Sun Ray thin clients, Sun Fire E25K, Sun Fire V240 and Microsoft Windows

* Whats next The Defense Intelligence Agency is now consolidating servers at about 900 sites worldwide to five regional data centers; the combination of consolidation and thin clients will allow the DIA to save even more money by eliminating the need to have multiple leased lines running to each site

Source: eWEEK reporting

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