An ambitious technology modernization effort is under way at the Pentagon. Over the last year and a half, the Joint Staff at the Pentagon has been converting to a virtualized desktop environment, which provides a more maintainable, less costly and far more secure desktop delivery model. Making it happen is the U.S. Army Information Technology Agency (ITA), directed by Gregory Garcia, which manages IT for the Pentagon and the Washington Headquarters Service. Garcia tells Federal Times Editor Steve Watkins his sights are now set on delivering virtual desktops throughout the Department of Army headquarters.

What is the current status and next steps of your ongoing desktop virtualization initiative?

We started this with a pilot with Joint Staff probably about a year and a half ago. And their desire was to have a more maintainable, less costly desktop capability for all the Joint Staff, both on the classified and unclassified side here in the National Capital Region. We're now in the final production run, trying to get their goal of 80 percent of the Joint Staff having VDI [virtual desktop infrastructure] capability.

Thomas Sasala, CTO of the Army's IT Agency, will provide an update on DoD's virtualization efforts in a special free webcast on March 10. Click here for more.

One of the things we've learned in the pilot was that it's a change of culture and process. And how we partnered with them [was by developing] a clear statement of requirements and expectations. Many of the ITA staff were actually also pilot users, so we could know exactly what Joint Staff was going through in their day-to-day operations. That's one of the things that really added benefit: being in the same boat with your customer as far as performance and expectations.

And what are the demonstrated benefits so far?

Three main things. One that I really like is the ability to patch a desktop or application almost instantaneously and do it once. You can imagine with a population of 20,000-30,000 computers in the Pentagon that will take days, weeks and months. So when I was in the Air Force, we were able to go from 27 days to patch to three days by doing it on the network. What you can do with VDI is to go to minutes and seconds. And that's a huge benefit in terms of labor and cybersecurity.

VDI actually lets you reduce the consumption of critical power. So, in the Pentagon one of the things that we try to manage as a commodity is the availability of power, to make sure it's used for the most essential purposes. VDI lets you reduce power consumption by about 70 percent. So not only do we get faster and safer computing, but we also are consuming less energy to do that same experience.

The third thing is the technology refresh. There's a lot of people that buy laptops, desktops and then you'll have this holding inventory. You can kind of get rid of the technology obsolescence issue by being able to refresh that image, refresh the server back end of that, without having to go and touch all those individual machines. So, it saves labor, increases security and really reduces the energy consumption of our footprint.

You mentioned the 80-percent goal for the Joint Staff. What's your time frame for reaching that?

We're very much at the end of that. Now we're rolling into a Headquarters Department of Army pilot and production rollout in 2015. So we ended calendar year 2014 with about 200 VDI Headquarter Department Army users. We are beginning to work out any kind of bugs that there are for Army applications or unique requirements. And our goal is to roll that out to about 14,000 people in the Department of Army through calendar year 2015, and that will be based upon our multitenant cloud on-premise infrastructure. We have a hyper-converge, compute and storage backend that we prototyped with and went into production with Joint Staff. We're going to reuse that architecture and that multitenet pod structure so we can roll that out right to the Army.

Thomas Sasala, CTO of the Army's IT Agency, will provide an update on DoD's virtualization efforts in a special free webcast on March 10. Click here for more.

One of the things we're examining is how to perhaps collapse the number of images that the DoD manages. So the Joint Staff has an image, the Headquarters Department of Army has an image. Is there space to reduce that to a single image, to have less multitenants to a single tenant, to leverage and increase the efficiency of that infrastructure?

Do you see this rolling out to the entire Army desktop population?

I'll say probably not, but this could roll out to every single user in the Pentagon, whether they're Joint Staff, Army, Air Force, Navy, OSD [Office of the Secretary of Defense] or Fourth Estate folks. Because one of the things we learned in the rollout of VDI is the importance of throughput and making sure that all the issues of latency are addressed. One of the things we found out in the Joint Staff prototype is that we had an architecture that was not really conducive for quality of service. There were various hops that each one of these signals had to go through. So when you moved your mouse, that little signal had to go through 17 different little stops, and when it came back, of course, you get the nonproductive mouse movement. So what we tried to do is reduce, re-architect and ensure quality of service.

Thomas Sasala, CTO of the Army's IT Agency, will provide an update on DoD's virtualization efforts in a special free webcast on March 10. Click here for more.