Feb. 9, 2001

Integrated Desktop Model will streamline support

One of the major challenges for a chief information officer, in any enterprise-computing environment, is improving efficiencies in desktop computing support. At LLNL, this challenge is compounded by a heterogeneous computing environment composed of three predominant computing platforms: Macintosh, PC and UNIX systems.

Lowering the total cost of ownership for such an environment is a complex undertaking. However, there are common sense approaches that greatly aid in the effort. One such approach is the Integrated Desktop Model (IDM) and its supporting components that have been developed by the System Administrator Resource Center (SouRCe) in the Computation Directorate’s Systems and Network Department. The Integrated Desktop Model is a systems approach to integrating newly procured computers and the existing computer systems in use at LLNL.

As you are aware, the events of the past two years in the cyber security arena have placed a great emphasis on keeping our systems up to date with compliance requirements in the area of operating system patches, software application revision levels, electronic banners, etc. LLNL can go a long way toward lowering costs associated with supporting these systems by defining, maintaining, and developing a core operating environment (COE) comprised of operating system and related patches, prevalent software applications (Microsoft Office, Netscape Communicator, Meeting Maker, Eudora, etc.), and security settings for each type of computing platform. This will allow the programs to allocate more of their funding for science and less on computer infrastructure support. It will also allow system support personnel to focus more of their time on programmatic requirements.

The Integrated Desktop Model will support and maintain the COE through two main projects, namely, (1) disk imaging of newly procured hardware, and (2) automated software distribution (ASD) capability. The SouRCe group will focus on implementing these two projects for Apple Macintosh and Microsoft Windows platforms for the remainder of FY01. UNIX systems will be addressed in FY02.
Disk imaging

Each fiscal year, LLNL purchases nearly 5,000 new computer systems. In the desktop arena these are primarily Apple Macintosh and Dell PCs. These 5,000 new systems require a few hours per system to set up for the user. Institutionally prevalent software (that is, the COE) must be installed, security fixes applied, network settings configured, and user data migrated from their old machines.

An approach used by industry is to "image" the systems prior to delivery to the user with the COE pre-installed. The labor savings from this procedure are substantial and it will improve the quality of service users receive as their systems are brought on line faster. During FY00, the SouRCe has already demonstrated this disk imaging capability on Macintosh systems that were sold through the Computing Resource Center. In FY01, Windows 2000 Professional images will be provided for PC systems in the same way that they have been provided for Macintosh systems.

Another related effort under consideration by the CIO is to solicit bids from value-added resellers to provide bundled Macintosh and Dell systems to LLNL users. The bundled systems could come with the SouRCe-developed images pre-installed and the computer delivered by the reseller to the user’s desk. An on-line ordering system with a Web-page interface to purchase these systems is proposed in an attempt to streamline and improve the ordering experience for the user. A decision to award a contract will be made after analyzing the bids and soliciting appropriate management endorsement.

Automated Software Distribution
While the Disk Imaging Project will address newly procured systems, the ASD Project addresses the other 15,000 to 20,000 computers currently operating on our unclassified networks. The SouRCe has evaluated several software products that provide the capability to automatically upgrade operating systems and applications on computer systems. Since LLNL has a diverse computing environment, a product is needed that can handle Macintosh, Windows and UNIX systems.

The result of the evaluation was the selection of Novadigm’s Radia software. This product allows for either software "push" initiated by the support staff to upgrade target systems, or a user-initiated "pull" to accomplish the same task. The labor savings from this type of capability are tremendous, and our ability to respond to the need to push out security patches or other compliance-driven upgrades is also greatly enhanced. It will free up the bulk of our support staff for more crucial programmatic priorities. It will also allow programs to "push" or "pul" other software packages to their users that might be unique to their program.

In FY01, ASD efforts will concentrate on Macintosh and PC systems. The Novadigm software also provides a client for Solaris and Linux that will be implemented in FY02.

In conclusion, the Integrated Desktop Model with its Disk Imaging and Automated Software Distribution Projects will streamline computer support, ease the labor burden on existing staff, and improve the quality of support that the user experiences.
Dave Cooper is the Lab’s AD for Computations and the Chief Information Officer.