Sandia Combustion Research Facility

Sandia Labs unifies security, mobility, comm for next-gen researchers

Sandia National Laboratory officials have a growing interest in “presence awareness” -- finding out the security status and location of mobile devices before granting them access to applications -- as they safeguard the U.S. nuclear arsenal and protect the nation from biological, chemical and cyber threats.

"Presence awareness -- that is going to be huge in the future," said John Zepper, director of computing and network services at Sandia Labs' Albuquerque, N.M., facility. If a device is not secure and is being used in an unsecure location, administrators want to restrict the types of applications the device can access, he said.

The Lab is using Microsoft's Lync 2013 to address presence awareness and provide instant messaging, conferencing and telephony tools that can integrate with Microsoft SharePoint and Outlook as well as third-party software.

Sandia also needs communication tools that "scale and operate in a unified way remotely," Zepper added during a presentation at Microsoft's U.S. Public Sector Federal Executive Forum on March 4 in Washington, D.C.

Sandia is spread out over campuses in California, Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas and Washington, D.C., setting up  the challenge of providing researchers a way to collaborate remotely and securely in a secure way. And, as with many federal agencies, retirees at Sandia are being replaced by a new, younger workforce -- over a third of the staff are new researchers -- who expect to apply mobile technologies to their daily tasks.

As a result, the Lab deployed Microsoft Lync 2013 last year, connecting 50,000 people to the platform and now plans to add 60,000 more users. Lync is an enterprise unified communications platform provides a consistent, single client experience for presence, instant messaging, voice, video and online meetings. 

Lync 2013 is built upon the Energy Department/National Nuclear Security Administration's RightPath IT modernization strategy, which includes ONEvoice, a comprehensive collaboration solution that will include desktop video, voice, instant messaging, Web conferencing, desktop sharing and presence capabilities across geographic boundaries.

Other RightPath features include a secure network for encrypted communications and a cloud brokerage service. By linking Microsoft Lync 2013 with the RightPath strategy, Sandia researchers can interact with partners across the DOE/NNSA complex in real-time.

Sandia developers have also built innovative applications on Lync 2013 that provide new ways of extending videoconferencing and collaboration.

For instance, to hide staff members’ Secret Internet Protocol Router Network (SIPRNet) addresses, a Web-based video conferencing room can be viewed as a person. So instead of inviting a person into the video conference, a room is invited. Within that room, users can see who is present, schedules for the room and other pertinent information, Zepper said.

Developers have also made it easier for managers to act on urgent items without digging through hundreds of emails via a “corporate workbox.”  The application reaches back into Microsoft Exchange and presents a single view of messages managers have to act upon, such as expense reports or approvals for purchase orders or tax information.

To enhance security at the Lab,  developers wrote a script that flags outgoing Microsoft Outlook emails that should be encrypted.  The script, Email Market Assistant or EMA, tags messages before they are sent out, and if they are not encrypted the messages are picked up by the data loss prevention tool.

“Over the last 30 days, we have caught over 1,900 people trying to send something out that wasn't encrypted that should be encrypted,” Zepper said. “We call it ‘catch and release’ because we catch before we release it.”  The email is sent back to the senders to encrypt, and they are told to do better next time, he added.

The move to a unified communications platform has given Sandia the opportunity to derive value out of existing systems, develop a bridge to new technologies and save costs via Web conferencing, Zepper said.  

About the Author

Rutrell Yasin is is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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