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California Agency Embraces Mobility, Cloud Computing

The state's Public Utilities Commission is using the Open Campus application to give employees wireless access as well as virtual desktops and diskless laptops to ensure data security.

The California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) has adopted a wireless approach to mobile end-user computing to unleash employees from their desks and allow travel between offices. At the same time, it's giving them the chance to collaborate in the cloud.

The commission's Open Campus application made its debut at the Conference on California's Future in Sacramento, May 11-14. Open Campus is aimed at freeing up 1,200 PUC employees to work on the road, from home, or wherever they otherwise find themselves disconnected from the wired network, said CIO Carolyn Lawson.

At the conference in Sacramento, the show catalog billed Open Campus as: "No doors, no cubes, no kidding. Open Campus is the link between thought and action."

Some public utilities commission employees need greater flexibility in carrying out essential state functions, such as inspecting rail safety in California's back country desert or checking the water content of the high Sierra Nevada snow pack. For part of their workday, they can't be connected, said Lawson. So over the past year, she and her staff have sought to come up with ways to increase employee accessibility and productivity through a wireless connection, while holding down costs.

The answer was a service, Open Campus, which can authenticate end users through a browser window and let them log in to their own desktops. The desktops are either application services, served up through Microsoft Terminal Services, or VMware virtual machines, depending on complexity of need. Software developers and Web administrators, for example, work from VMs. The average PUC office worker gets Terminal Services.

Interactions are sent by wire when possible, but via wireless when the user is disconnected. The VM's user display is shown on a standard thin client -- a diskless laptop -- either an HP 6720T or Lenovo model. Users may connect via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. The IT staff wants to add WiMax as soon as it’s available. Once authenticated, user interactions with PUC applications are over a Barracuda Networks-controlled VPN. All the data they're working with remains on the data center server.

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