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Energy Department shows off bold new mobile strategy

Sep. 23, 2012 - 02:40PM   |  
By NICOLE BLAKE JOHNSON   |   Comments
Melinda Proctor, at NNSA's PantexSite Office in Amarillo, Texas, videoconferences with Mary Helen Hitson, at the agency's Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tenn., using Microsoft Lync software.
Melinda Proctor, at NNSA's PantexSite Office in Amarillo, Texas, videoconferences with Mary Helen Hitson, at the agency's Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tenn., using Microsoft Lync software. (National Nuclear Security Administration)

The Energy Department is planning an ambitious information technology makeover that will connect a mobile and far-flung workforce to a super-modern virtual infrastructure.

When the plan is rolled out in 2013, thousands of DOE employees and contractors will have access to a customized internal social network, a unified communications system, cloud computing services and virtual desktop capabilities that allow employees to access work documents and applications from any device.

“Our charter today is to enable a virtual workforce for the 21st century — work anytime, anywhere, on any device — which is very different than how we work today,” said Travis Howerton, chief technology officer at the department’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), who is spearheading the project.

And once capabilities are in place at Energy, the department plans to invite other agencies to use its cloud services, as well. “Several agencies are in discussion to formalize MOUs [memorandums of understandings] with us to partner on these capabilities,” Howerton said.

The department is not saying how much it expects to spend or save under the plan.

The envisioned IT infrastructure will feature collaboration tools that enable employees to send instant messages, join an audio, video or Web conference, or make phone calls from their computers. Those tools will be connected to a cloud-based social network that supports crowd sourcing, virtual town hall meetings and online communities of interest.

“Over time, for internal things, it will be more the preferred method [of communication] than email and phone,” Howerton said.

The crowd-sourcing feature will allow the agency to more quickly gauge employee sentiments about proposed plans or upcoming changes and later host town hall meetings to share those results, as opposed to mass emails.

Energy plans to roll out the new capabilities at NNSA first.

The new IT services are designed to be installed quickly and deployed in 90-day increments.

Besides ushering in new, modern IT capabilities for the department’s workforce, DOE officials say they expect the plan will reduce infrastructure costs, hardware and software needs, and energy use.

The planned modernization, called RightPath, will provide new, consolidated IT infrastructure for DOE employees and contractors.

Components of RightPath include:

ONEvoice: A package of collaboration and social networking tools that will be a key component of RightPath and come online at NNSA by spring. With ONEvoice, employees will be able to send instant messages, join an audio, video or Web conference, or make phone calls from their computers.

YOURcloud: A cloud computing service managed by Los Alamos National Laboratory, N.M., that will host RightPath applications. YOURcloud will provide an online portal for DOE employees to request and use — within minutes — servers, desktops and IT services. The lab’s infrastructure will serve as a shared resource across the department and for other agencies as they consolidate data centers. The cloud service will also provide users with a green IT smart meter to track energy costs and cloud savings.

The department plans to roll out the ONEvoice and YOURcloud services later next year, said Energy spokeswoman Niketa Kumar.

Energy plans to use existing small-business and management and operation contracts, as well as in-house IT expertise and infrastructure to consolidate IT and support the transformation initiative, Kumar said.

Employees will gradually use virtual desktop technology, based on their job functions. Rather than data, operating systems and software being stored locally on desktop computers, they will be stored and accessed in the cloud. For now, they will be accessed on government zero clients — hardware that has no memory or software card and is a connector between users and applications running in a data center. The goal is to replace 80 percent of desktops with zero clients.

Currently, several hundred people are involved in a departmentwide virtual desktop pilot, and in the next few months that will increase to several thousand. Howerton said virtual desktop infrastructure opens a path for “bring your own device” because employees can access data on their personal devices that traditionally has been stored on desktop computers at work.

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