Wyatt Kash | Tipping point

Editor's Desk

Wyatt Kash

Every so often, government steps forward on a stubborn issue and, by its leadership, sets the stage to potentially benefit millions of workers ' in and out of government.

That may prove to be the case with the Office of Management and Budget's recent decision to have agencies adopt a standard desktop configuration for Microsoft Windows ' and recommendations that federal IT contracts require vendors to assure their products work with that configuration (GCN.com/763).

Much of the credit goes to the Air Force for taking the lead.

For too many years, computer software makers have been able to deliver products that were incomplete and prone to security risks, often creating the impression that the customer was at fault when systems went awry.

For organizations the size of the Air Force ' with hundreds of PC software baselines, a multitude of platforms and users able to install software ' maintaining more than half a million desktops and laptops is a massive challenge.

Keeping them secure is an even bigger challenge. As recently as 2004, it took 100 days or more, on average, to test and install security patches because of the difficulty of predicting what impact each patch might have on all those platforms.

The breakthrough came when Air Force officials began leveraging their enterprise licensing and service agreements with Microsoft to engineer a new, more concerted approach toward standardizing desktop and server configurations. The outcome: Today, Air Force guidelines and software ensure every 90 minutes that nearly every laptop or PC connected to the network has the standard configuration. And the plan is to have real-time enforcement by 2008.

As more agencies establish common configurations ' and set new contracts requiring software suppliers to ensure that their upgrades won't compromise those configurations ' it's easy to envision a tipping point.

The time may be at hand when software suppliers will no longer find it so easy to make their customers do so much of the work of testing the impact and integrity of upgrades on their systems. At very least, the savings in time and reduction of security problems that will likely stem from OMB's decision and the Air Force model could be enormous.

Wyatt Kash, Editor in chief

E-mail: wkash@1105govinfo.com

About the Author

Wyatt Kash served as chief editor of GCN (October 2004 to August 2010) and also of Defense Systems (January 2009 to August 2010). He currently serves as Content Director and Editor at Large of 1105 Media.

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