Interior goes for Windows XP departmentwide

CIO W. Hord Tipton says Interior's enterprise switch to Windows XP will improve efficiency and security, and support new services.

Henrik G. DeGyor

In a bid to bring order to its IT infrastructure, the Interior Department has signed an enterprise agreement with Microsoft Corp. under which it will adopt Windows XP Professional and the Office XP Professional applications suite for almost all its desktop systems.

Microsoft also will provide the Windows 2000 operating system for the department's servers.

'It's not a change because all but 15 percent of our systems already were running Microsoft' software, Interior CIO W. Hord Tipton said.

But Interior's previous method of purchasing operating systems and applications for its PCs was inefficient and insecure, Tipton said. Last December, Judge Royce C. Lamberth of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia severed the department's links to the Internet on the grounds that poor security jeopardized Indian trust accounts. Some Interior systems in the Bureau of Indian Affairs still are offline.

'These agreements are quite complicated,' Tipton said. Eight Interior bureaus had to agree to the change, and overcoming administrative opposition to the project was a major chore, he said.

The cost savings from the enterprise agreement likely will amount to about $18.5 million over the three years, Tipton said. The contract itself will amount to about $20 million for the three-year period, Tipton said.

The contract provides for 30,000 PCs to be upgraded from Windows 95 to Windows XP Pro. The department will also receive Microsoft Systems Management Server for managing desktop systems and Operations Manager to oversee server software.

'This would put practically all of Interior's employees on the same software standard,' Tipton said. 'We will have some Unix machines, primarily for research.'

PKI and smart cards coming

Interior's contract specifies Windows XP with all its upgrades for three years, as well as the Office suite, including database, presentation, spreadsheet and word processing applications.

Interior will use Microsoft Active Directory to standardize systems across bureaus.

'We will have one address book and one area for registration,' Tipton said. 'It will be the basis for public-key infrastructure' security. Eventually, Interior systems managers expect to implement a system for smart-card access.

'This is a big change in culture for 80,000 people,' Tipton said. Directors of Interior offices have had wide latitude to purchase software. 'That is not a bad situation if you are an individual office,' he said. 'But I need to know what is going on and make sure we are not duplicating' expenditures.

'Security has been a driving force for doing this,' Tipton said. 'Take patches, for example'you have to have people trained to apply and test patches. It only takes one or two open doors to have access across the board.'

The department did consider standardizing on other software packages, but the cost of switching from Microsoft was prohibitive and the conversion would have been risky, Tipton said. 'The workers know the software so there is less of a training issue,' he said.

'In a perfect world we would be on an open standard, but that's not how the world works,' Tipton said.

With the standard software, Interior will have a much easier time installing systems on PCs and conducting scans of software for asset management purposes, Tipton said.

Interior has been using four e-mail systems: Novell GroupWise, IBM Corp. cc:mail and Lotus Notes, and Microsoft Exchange. When the transition is complete, the department will rely on Exchange and Lotus Notes. 'The users are very possessive about e-mail systems,' Tipton said.

Interior's deputy CIO, Sue Rachlin, said, 'The dust has just settled from awarding the contract'our next big effort is to come up with a plan for deploying the XP software and the Enterprise Active Directory across the department, which will be a tremendous geographical challenge.' Interior officials plan to complete the tasks by December 2004.

Interior's decision generally received endorsement from other CIOs. Alisoun Moore, CIO of Montgomery County, Md., said, 'I think it is a good idea to standardize on a standard desktop because it is less maintenance and you get volume discounts because you are concentrating your buying power.'

Otto Doll, CIO of South Dakota and former president of the National Association of State CIOs, said, 'The scenario is much the same in South Dakota,' where the state had standardized on Microsoft Windows NT and now is moving to Windows XP.

'We do not have an enterprise agreement with Microsoft,' Doll said. 'There are the usual pros and cons. You are making a large commitment to one vendor, but it gives you the ability to manage your costs.'

South Dakota also has found that standardizing on Microsoft products has reduced maintenance costs. 'Folks don't have to figure out five different operating systems,' Doll said.

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