Sun sets up government test bed

John Marselle, Sun global government vice president, does not carry a laptop. Because of iForce, "I know I can have the same session here as in California.

Rick Steele

Sun Microsystems Inc. this month opened an iForce Government Solution Center in McLean, Va., inviting systems integrators and federal officials to view thin-client interoperability demonstrations and test proof-of-concept applications.

"We can run almost anything you can think of," said John Marselle, Sun global government vice president.

Sun operates many other iForce centers at sites worldwide for software testing and partner demos, but this is the first designed for the government market and close to agencies' Washington headquarters.

Sun officials said they hope to build up to "full utilization of the center for the government's back-room problems" within a few months. About 15 percent of Sun's $11.19 billion revenue for its fiscal 2004, ending in June, came from government agencies.

The center cost $1 million to build. Its resources include several conference rooms and labs, Sun Fire servers and Sun Ray thin clients linked by a Gigabit Ethernet network, demonstration kiosks, four 52-inch plasma monitors, whiteboards and 12T of storage area network space. The conference rooms are named for U.S. presidents.

To isolate users' test systems, the two proof-of-concept labs are on different subnets of the Gig-E network. All rooms and the thin clients are secured through Java card access.

Solaris 9 and Sun's Secure Network Access Platform support the center's resources. The Sun Fire servers are running a beta version of the Solaris 10 operating system, which will be launched officially Nov. 15. One of the center's first user groups was Science Applications International Corp. of San Diego, which tried out Solaris 10's security zone containers.

Anton Mahowald, the center's systems architect and engineer, said users can test applications running on one to 24 CPUs. A T1 Internet connection is available as well as a virtual private network link to another executive briefing center in Menlo Park, Calif., for testing applications with remote resources.

"As long as the connection is clean, it runs like it's local," Mahowald said. He said extra storage or servers needed for customer testing can be brought in as needed.

Sun partners GTSI Corp. of Chantilly, Va., and AC Technology Inc. of Dulles, Va., are planning demos at the center, which their executives called a "neutral ground."
GTSI intends to contribute an identity-management solution, said Steve Ferry, Sun's technology director.

The center's schedule of about 15 demos per year will include biometrics, network intrusion detection, networked "hot desking," benchmarks, data transfer and clustering.

"Solutions providers are interested in just getting ID management in the door" at agencies, Sands said.

Future biometrics demos from the company will test voice recognition and iris scanning. Sands said Iridian Technologies Inc.'s patent on iris-recognition technology, used at many airports to identify travelers, will expire in 2005. He said he expects about 15 new patent holders to enter the iris-scan biometrics market.

Fingerprinting standards already exist, he said, "and iris will be next. I think the government will establish its own templates for a heterogeneous environment."

Sands said the center could serve as "an infinite bench," with technical resources supplied not only by Sun but also by its partners.

On view now at the center, in addition to the $100-per-user Java Enterprise System, are multiple Sun Ray thin clients that have no internal drives and can access remotely any Java cardholder's desktop and files.

Many of Sun's 400-member federal sales staff work at home or on the road, and touch down in McLean only occasionally by reserving a cubicle with a Sun Ray thin client and signing on with a card. The clients come in three designs: without monitor, with a 15-inch LCD or with a 17-inch all-in-one monitor.

"I don't carry a laptop," Marselle said. "I know I can have the same session here as in California."

When agencies submit their online test plans to the center, they can expect a two- to four-week turnaround. "The length of time depends on the complexity and logistics," center manager Kathy Sebuck said. Sebuck can be reached at 703-204-4168 or by e-mail at n

Closer look

Demos scheduled at the iForce center in McLean, Va.:

AC Technology Inc. of Dulles, Va.

Fingerprint biometrics

DeepNines Inc. of Dallas

Network attack prevention

General Dynamics Corp. of Bethesda, Md.

Trusted Network Environment

Sun Microsystems Inc. of Santa Clara, Calif.

Full reference implementation of the Sun Infrastructure Solution for Secure Network Access Platform using Trusted Solaris

Susan Menke of Government Computer News can be reached at

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