VA's thin clients cover a lot of territory

VA's thin clients cover a lot of territory


The Veterans Affairs Department has begun installing about 2,000 thin-client terminals at eight medical facilities in the Pacific Northwest.

The terminals replace PC clients for access to servers hosting databases and Microsoft Windows applications. By mid-May, the first 250 terminals had gone in at medical centers in Spokane and Walla Walla in eastern Washington.

'We're starting deployment of about 375 in Roseburg, Ore., and then another 450 in Portland,' said Craig Castonguay, network administrator for VA's Northwest Veterans Integrated Services Network.

VA chose thin clients to save money and simplify networking tasks.

'Like most of the VA, they have a very small information technology staff,' said Marc Mangus, chief technology officer for contractor Ryno Technology Inc. of Benicia, Calif. 'Thin clients virtually eliminate desktop support.'

VA chose the TC-5000 thin client from Acute Network Technologies Inc. of San Jose, Calif., which lists for $399 with monitor, keyboard and mouse.

Another reason for the VA's move to thin clients was the sheer size of the Northwest VISN, which includes facilities in Alaska, most of Idaho, Oregon and Washington. Medical centers and clinics are 150 to 500 miles apart, and Anchorage is 1,500 miles from Seattle.

A final reason was to make the Computerized Patient Record System databases, part of the Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture, accessible to all medical personnel.

Thin Clients Diagram

CPRS records are stored in eight miniclusters of old Digital Equipment Corp. servers in Washington, Oregon and Alaska. Each cluster has a front end of two to five PowerEdge 2450 servers from Dell Computer Corp., running Windows 2000 Terminal Services software. The servers run MetaFrame software from Citrix Systems Inc. of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to provide thin-client access to the CPRS databases.

A single server farm in Vancouver, Wash., hosts the office automation software used in the VA medical centers and clinics.

The TC-5000 terminals incorporate a small operating system in firmware to make the server connection.

From the server, a browser launched in kiosk mode displays icons for VISTA applications. A second browser window gives access to other applications.

The users work mostly with VA medical records and 'aren't using the traditional Windows desktop at all,' Mangus said.

Avoids multiple log-ins

No desktop log-in is required, because the server must authenticate each user to access patient records. Any authorized user can see any record from any terminal, which is convenient for doctors and nurses who are constantly moving about the VA facilities.

'It's fast, it's simple, and it avoids multiple log-ins,' Castonguay said.

The Seattle medical center will have one of the largest installations of thin clients.

'We're slated to get about 450,' chief information officer Glenn Zwinger said.

'You don't have all of the personalized things you enjoy with the PC,' Castonguay said. 'The thin client is not for everything. But for the majority of the things we do, it is faster, cheaper and simpler.'


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