November 29, 2004

Defence Delays Citrix Roll-Out

THE Defence Force has delayed the roll-out of thin client operating system Citrix to the majority of staff till after it conducts a major military exercise in March or April next year -- a year later than originally envisaged.

It is understood performance issues accessing data stored on Defence's EMC mass storage system have held up the project.

A meeting was held to chart the way forward on the same day that Capital Coast DHB announced a $4 million cost over-run on its Citrix implementation last week, sources say.

Despite the delay, an upside from the multimillion-dollar implementation at Defence is already evident, says chief information officer Ron Hooton.

The 2500 Defence staff who already have Citrix on their desktops are making about a third to a half fewer helpdesk calls than those with standard PCs, says Mr Hooton, ignoring requests generated by the switch to Citrix itself.

In addition, a few dozen servicemen who had been deployed at 10 datacentres at military bases across the country have been able to return to service, he says. The Defence Force has cut the size of its IT shop by about a quarter to 150 by centralising its servers in two centres.

Citrix is designed to let users access computer applications running on cheaper, mass-produced servers from "dumb terminals" or stripped-down personal computers.

Commonly cited benefits include lower running costs, easier administration and improved security, but Citrix implementations are rarely completely trouble-free. It can be hard to predict where the bottlenecks in getting data to and from Citrix terminals will be.

The Defence desktops that are switching to Citrix are attached to the main Defence Force network, the Defence Information Exchange Service.

There are other more secure networks for handling intelligence and for command and control.

Mr Hooton says the Defence Force decided to "pause" with about a quarter of the roll-out complete so it could make its back-end infrastructure more robust and update its EMC storage systems.

It will wait till after Joint Kiwi 05 -- a major military exercise involving most parts of the Defence Force -- before completing the roll-out to minimise the consequences of any disruption.

Mr Hooton says the implementation has gone "more or less as we expected" despite "a few niggly issues".

"One of the things we might have underestimated was the level of diversity across the camps and bases; how networks are configured, where devices were mapped."

The Defence Force has got its SAP enterprise resource planning, human resources and standard office software Citrix-enabled, along with another 25 to 30 more heavily-used applications.

Mr Hooton says the Defence Force has about 1600 applications in total -- including different versions of software such as Autocad, which are only used by small groups of people.

Citrix-enabling all the applications will be a long job, so some staff will need Microsoft XP desktops for a while, but Defence is also taking the opportunity to rationalise the number of applications it uses, he says.

Mr Hooton says once the infrastructure change is complete, Defence's IT agenda is likely to shift to mobility -- working out how better to support servicemen away from bases.