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Law enforcement ups its VDI game

The FBI is among a growing number of agencies turning to VDI to help boost user productivity—which also means better use of taxpayers’ dollars.  

IT systems administrators don’t get the starring roles in Hollywood police dramas.  But in real-world law enforcement agencies, they’ve been drawing praise for boosting the productivity of workers in more familiar jobs, from beat cops to special investors and supervisors.

The Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, the FBI and numerous county sheriff departments have recently adopted VDI. The agencies are looking to enhance mobility and streamline systems management for their workforces. So far, VDI is enabling those benefits and more, such as better security and lower costs.

“For every person we gave it to, three more wanted it,” said Anthony Olivieri, chief technology officer for Montgomery County, a populous county in suburban Philadelphia that recently deployed a VDI system for its juvenile probation office and sheriff’s department. VDI was selected for its central administration and management benefits, especially important as the county supports more than 200 software vendors.

The probation team was one of the early beneficiaries of VDI: the group was relocating to temporary offices and needed a system for remote access. After a short time, the number of daily in-person visits by probation officers increased by 40%, as staffers were now able to input and access data on the road rather than returning to the office. The county sheriff’s department reported a ten-fold increase in warrants served per day, from detectives gaining anytime remote access to databases and case information.

Two thousand miles away, one of the nation’s most populous counties is using VDI to help 911 dispatchers. Arizona’s Maricopa County, which covers the city of Phoenix and environs, upgraded to VDI two years ago during a move to a new dispatch center with approximately 100 desktops. The county wanted to reduce downtime, cut maintenance costs and increase data security, says Chip Lemons, senior systems administrator for the county. Previously, the county was using standard PCs for its dispatchers.

Maricopa decided to implement two virtual desktops per dispatcher: one dedicated to the dispatch application and another for office productivity apps, such as email and Internet. The dual desktop setup is a better way to protect sensitive data in the 911 system from web-based attacks, according to Lemons. The VDI deployment has also enabled the county to be more secure, by installing new software and updates from a centralized location; that’s also cut labor requirements and eliminated interruptions for dispatchers.

At the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) in Glynco, Georgia, IT administrators oversee a network serving around 60,000 students per year. FLETC decided that VDI would allow for faster classroom setup and better information security. Today, a typical classroom has 30 to 45 computers, all networked with the instructor’s projector-connected PC. Students access course material with a log-in ID. After class is over, administrators can quickly reset computers for the next training session.

The most extensive law enforcement adoption of VDI is at the FBI: a massive deployment for 55,000 employees to the tune of a $28 million investment. The virtual desktop infrastructure assigns information access according to an employee’s security clearance. 

During testimony to Congress in October 2015, FBI Director James Comey cast the VDI adoption plans as part of a broader strategy to design information technology that “provides information to operational employees rather than forcing employees to conform to the tools available.” IT equipment must be reliable, accessible and as close to where the work is performed as possible, Comey says.

Underwritten by HPE, NVIDIA and VMware

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