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Since the passage of the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010, the numbers of Federal employees teleworking and agencies offering telework options have grown. With the influx of teleworkers and mobile workers come new and innovative information technology (IT) solutions to accommodate remote work. What new IT solutions are available to agencies and remote workers to enable telework? What does the future hold? 

This month our “Ask the Expert” column addresses the topic of enabling secure and productive telework in the post-PC era. Bryan Salek, an end user computing solution architect from VMware, answers your questions:

Q: What are the main criteria or characteristics for IT solutions used to support agency-wide telework programs?

A: In my experience, security is the number one criteria for government agencies when implementing virtual desktops. Many Federal agencies embark on the virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) journey because of security, but regardless of the motivation, security is always critical. Virtual desktops can improve data security significantly by centralizing and controlling the movement of data, improving backup performance and accuracy, simplifying virus scans and mitigation, and improving the security of the data that must leave the confines of the agency’s network.

Other characteristics include lowering total cost of ownership, simplifying management, continuity of operations, improving application performance, and adding new capabilities for users. Many agencies realize other benefits after deployment, such as new disaster recovery capabilities that never existed, the improvement in user morale from eliminating the commute and gaining new flexibility in their schedule, and even an increase in recruiting quality and retention rates.

Q: For teleworkers who do not have government-issued laptops, what other telework IT solutions are available to access resources within a network?

A: Users can leverage their own computer or laptop to securely access their government configured desktop image without installing software on their personal device. Additionally, teleworkers can access network resources from personal devices through virtual private networks (VPN), which have been used for some time. They require expensive licensing and expose risk to the network by allowing internal access to devices of unknown security posture. Desktop virtualization can be used to provide secure access to the user’s agency desktop from outside the network, from almost any device (Windows, Linux, Mac, iPad, Android tablet or zero footprint thin clients) without the need for a VPN tunnel. Further, because all processing is done on the centralized server, and the only data ever leaving the network is screen pixels, there is no risk of data at rest.

Q: What advice can you give end users/teleworkers to ensure good speed/quality when working in a virtual environment? What advice can you offer agency IT departments to ensure optimal performance from outside the network?

A: For end users, the most important thing to understand is what impacts performance. For example, in a VMware View deployment, the only traffic that transits the network from the user’s location to the datacenter is pixel changes, audio, and universal serial bus (USB) data, if redirection is authorized. For the user, this means that degradation in service is likely due to the amount of traffic they are trying to send across the wire, which can be reduced by discontinuing audio or video use and stopping file transfers to/from a USB device. For teleworkers with broadband connections, network throughput is not typically a constraint, and if it is, it is likely because of other traffic, such as a teenager streaming HD video from Hulu or Netflix.

Performance monitoring may include basic resource monitoring, such as over-commitment of processor or memory capabilities, or saturation of the shared storage. Most IT organizations already have tools and expertise to manage this aspect of performance, but network administrators may not understand how the display protocol works and what tools are available to optimize it. My advice to my customers is to get familiar with the tools available to them, and experiment in the lab to master the skills of tuning the environment for different conditions.

Q: One of the requests we hear from the government side is employees who want to use their own devices (or, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)). What are key considerations when implementing a BYOD policy, and what advice can you offer to manage employee devices? ­

A: There are quite a few, the most common of which are device support, legalities, security, and cost model. For example, most agencies express concern over supporting users on myriad devices with which the help desk staff is not familiar. This is a valid concern, but has been successfully mitigated by policies and procedures that clearly articulate that the user is responsible for ensuring the virtual desktop client runs properly and they have a properly functioning network connection, including name resolution. Some agencies actually provide an approved list of Internet service providers they are able to support and willing to reimburse service fees for.

Security is obviously a concern, but leveraging a virtualized environment to deliver desktops offers a significant advantage because users can connect securely over PC-over-IP (PCoIP), through the PCoIP Secure Gateway server without the need for a VPN that exposes the network to any potential security vulnerabilities existent on the personal device.

There is no right answer on the cost model, but organizations should consider options and their impact on their budget process and on their end users. Options include government furnished equipment, which is still prominent, though many organizations are seeking to move from this model. Many choose to provide a purchase stipend once every three to four years and provide users with minimum requirements the device must meet, such as specific operating systems or capabilities. Typically, these models also require the purchase of the vendor’s top warranty service contract to ensure the device will be supported for its expected lifecycle. Other organizations mirror their mobile phone model and reimburse users monthly. Again, they typically provide minimum standards and require warranty support or have someagreement regarding downtime and many maintain a pool of loaner laptops to accommodate outages of personal devices.

Q: Are agencies leveraging cloud computing to support mobile employees, including teleworkers? If yes, for which programs/applications? If no, why not?

A: Absolutely! Most agencies are developing their cloud strategy and many are already deploying. In many cases, this strategy is focused on a private cloud initially, where the agency still maintains tight control of their resources but gains the elasticity, automation, and improved visibility and management. The inclusion of desktops in this private cloud is a natural extension and this is the most common deployment model we are seeing today within the Federal government. In addition, a cloud-based approach to application entitlement, like VMware’s Horizon App Manager, provides delivery and secure authentication to provide user access to individual applications across any device.

Q: What is the difference between public and private cloud models? Which has higher adoption in the Federal government and why?

A: A public cloud is an infrastructure made available to the general public or a large industry group and is owned by an organization selling cloud services. A private cloud is operated solely for an organization, usually onsite (internal). Private clouds definitely have a higher adoption rate among Federal agencies at this time because they give agencies total control over the configuration, management, compliance, and security necessary to ensure high performance of mission-critical applications and associated levels of security assurance.

While private cloud currently dominates, most Federal agencies are leveraging a combination of both private- and public-cloud architectures. Industry refers to this as a hybrid-cloud model. Many cloud service providers are evolving cloud architecture models to mitigate security and other data-centric concerns. Agency adoption of these "cloud providers" is underway and made easier with standards such as the Desktop Management Task Force (DMTF) and International Standards Organization (ISO) standard Open Virtualization Format 1.1 (OVF) and Application Programming Interface (API) inter-connectivity, like VMware's vCloud API, that allows for extended management and control into the service provider. Virtualization is the foundation of any version of cloud because it delivers the flexibility, agility, and resilience that cloud promises.

Q: What steps should agencies take as they consider cloud applications for teleworkers?

A: As discussed in some of the other answers here, the biggest concern about cloud applications is security. Within that broad category, two major concerns are password management and access controls. Specifically, what most organizations have experienced, and you can probably confirm from your personal experience, many applications have different authentication mechanisms and even those using standard username/password credentials have different policies for password complexity and change frequency. This leads to users recording their passwords in an application or encrypted file, in a text file on their desktop, on sticky notes, or in a notebook. More critically, in many cases, these accounts are created directly by users, and even if they are provisioned by IT, there are no access controls, and the deprovisioning process is manual and error prone. For example, users may have an enterprise account at Salesforce.com, Google Docs, or Dropbox. If employment is terminated, there is a manual process for IT to disable or remove the accounts. If this isn’t done in a timely manner, that user could maintain access to sensitive information contained in their account for days, weeks, or even months.

That was a long introduction to the answer; that the security model of the application and the account management capabilities must be evaluated carefully. The cost model of the application should also be considered to determine if it makes financial sense to use the cloud application instead of a legacy application that can be run internally. Data backup and archiving options should be evaluated as well. Once a decision is made, IT must revamp its account provisioning and deprovisioning procedures to ensure proper access.

Q: How does use of the cloud differ for teleworkers and non-teleworkers?

A: One of the advantages of moving to the cloud is that the application experience is the same regardless of the user’s geographic location. In many cases, the form factor of the end-user device can affect the usability of an application, but as the prominence of mobile devices continues to increase, the user interfaces for these apps are becoming more independent, with the exception of screen size limitations on smart phones. For example, Horizon App Manager enables users to use their domain credentials to authenticate to the IT-controlled application store and all app authentications are performed using secured token exchanges. This eliminates the risk of users writing down passwords to apps that could contain internal information and allows IT to automate the access and deprovisioning of accounts when a user no longer requires access to an application or leaves the organization.

Q: What programs are in the cloud, and which will move to the cloud in the next 12 months?

A: That depends on whether you are referring to a private or public cloud. In the private cloud, any service that can be virtualized is a candidate. As for the public cloud, at a minimum, you can expect to see movement of document management, email, collaboration tools, web services, etc.

Q: What mobile access or technology trends do you believe will have the greatest impact on Federal telework/mobility in the next five years?  

A: Secure single sign-on technologies, such as the use of Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML) tokens, will enable Federal agencies to maintain central control of application user accounts and improve the security of user credential transmission over basic Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) web, the form of authentication used most commonly today. The reality of secure single sign-on to all enterprise desktops, applications and data from any device, in any location is a reality today. IT can leverage policy-based management to limit access to certain applications from specific devices or network locations to adhere to data management policies. This will change the way we access applications and data for all users, regardless of location.

Other contributions will come from the increased availability of high speed data networks and devices which are more capable and less expensive, promulgating our personal and professional lives.

 

About the Expert:  Bryan Salek is an end user computing solution architect on the Federal team at VMware, who works with customers and partners to successfully deploy desktop solutions. He has been with VMware for more than four years and formerly worked as a technical account manager for both commercial and Federal customers. Prior to VMware, Bryan worked for a large systems integrator on several IT service contracts for DoD organizations, after leaving the U.S. Air Force in 2002.

Comments
Laura Davis Mar 20, 2012 3:43 pm

Hi, I am a teleworker without a laptop and hope to have one by the end of the year. I live rurally and my online access at home is using a cell phone modem. Will this pose a problem for me at home with my supposed Government laptop?


Bryan Salek Mar 20, 2012 10:53 pm

Laura, I connect to my desktop in Palo Alto often over a 3G Mifi device. I've demo'd many times while tethered through my old Blackberry on ATT's EDGE network. You certainly won't be able to watch videos with any decent experience, but you should have a usable desktop.


Elizabeth Mar 24, 2012 6:56 pm

Hi,
I am a teleworker. I am a customer service professional for a mail order company. Unfortunately, the pay is low and the hours are not steady.

I am trying to find a better job. Working at home is best for me. I have a private office, quiet environment and new(ish) equipment, I also have 20+ years in Customer Service and administration and I am proficient in Microsoft office. (Well, I am a little rusty on Access.)
Where can I go to find real, legitimate tele-work?

Is there an effective website such as Monster or Careerbuilder that are specifically for telecommute jobs that doesn't charge an arm and a leg to job seekers to join? I'd love to find a great Concierge or assistant position, I am very helpful!
I just don't know where to look anymore.


Bryan Salek Mar 30, 2012 9:27 am

Elizabeth,

I haven't seen a job board specifically for telework positions yet, but a quick google search reveals they exist. I don't know how heavily they are used, because it seems like it would be more difficult for recruiters to separate positions across their regular and telework-specific services. Also, in my experience, telework is frequently something that is offered as an incentive to get the perfect candidate that isn't willing to relocate.

In any event, Google and your personal/professional network (i.e. LinkedIn) are your essential tools. Best of luck in your search!


Anonymous Apr 10, 2012 9:42 am

I am an Air Reserve Technician with the Air National Guard. I am often expected to work while away from the traditional work site, (for example: on Sick Leave while recovering from surgery, TDY at schools, etc...). 80% of my job can be done from a workstation anywhere in the world. No approved plan for teleworking is in place. I'm simply expected to "do it".

Why is the military, and especially the National Guard, so slow in accepting the mandate?


Bryan Salek Apr 19, 2012 9:15 pm

Why they are slow isn't exactly my place to answer :)

DoD doesn't typically have a need for telework in the traditional sense, but work at a distance is actually being implemented in several Commands and the Services. I haven't been involved much with the Air Guard, but several states' National Guard units are deploying virtual desktops to address telework and some other problems unique to them, like connectivity for their remote armories and CoOP, especially when weather prevents soldiers from getting to the office.

So, long answer to your question, but progress is being made, maybe just not your state. I'll reach out to my team that covers the Air Guard units and see if we can help them pattern the work at the National Guard sites.

Thanks for your question.


Edward May 2, 2012 11:32 am

My office has dragged its feet for over the year while my application to telework remained pending approval/disapproval. My position should be approved for telework since in effect I am already "teleworking" from the office - I am in San Antonio, my closest client is hundreds of miles away. Virtually all work is done over the phone or email. Recently, the office published its internal policy so perhaps something will break. The policy, however, could not be drafted in a more negative tone. It is a stark contrast to all the pronoucements from the federal government and DoD which promote and encourage the practice. Any suggestions how I can bring pressure on the Neanderthals?
Thanks
Edward


Anonymous May 3, 2012 11:01 am

Bryan, thanks for your answer to my question of April 19th.

The new DOD/Air National Guard telework policy calls for both teleworker and supervisor to have telework training before agreeing to a work schedule. I don't know about your experience but I've never been able to make any of my supervisors do anything that they didn't want to do in the first place. No training. No telework.

It seems clear that DOD/ANG have concluded that telework is just another productivity fad that isn't a realistic "fit" for their operations. And just like with previous initiatives, they feel that if they can just drag their feet a bit longer; this too shall pass.

Sorry for the jaded opinion but that's how I see it.


Bryan Salek May 12, 2012 5:53 am

Anonymous,

That is a bit disheartening. I wouldn't say that telework is on fire across ANG, but VDI certainly is and, especially in states with frequent inclement weather, telework/DR is one of the more significant use cases states are using to justify the project. It is true that your options are limited in terms of making your supervisor see the light, but hopefully, as the success stories continue, you will get some help from the top down to enable telework as an option. It is very common for managers without confidence in their ability to lead their people, to resist work from home options. Best of luck to you!


Bryan Salek May 12, 2012 6:14 am

Edward,

As I just mentioned in the previous reply, there isn't much you can do to make a supervisor support telework. Many organizations are focused on the DC Metro area first because that is where the most benefit is realized in terms of employee quality of life, carbon impact, and cost reductions. It is possible that technical architecture limitations, costs, or political pressures are preventing/delaying your application, so be careful not to point fingers. Most organizations, especially in Federal government, realize the benefits, at least at the senior leadership.

If you are certain your issue is related to local management, remember that resistance is commonly a concern that they will be unable to lead effectively enough to be successful with a remote team. Pointing this out to them is seldom beneficial. I recommend you stay involved with the Telework Exchange, and leverage the success stories being promoted to encourage increased participation in your organization. You'll get there!


Nage May 30, 2012 3:49 pm

Does managers/supervisors requirement to have teleworkers keep a log on what the teleworkers are doing, violate the intent of the trust issue when they don't ask that of non teleworkers? After all if the manger/supervisors dosen't trust the employee why is the employee teleworking? Besides, it is the manger/supervisor that assigns work. Public law 111-292/5USC 6503(a)(3) teleworkers and nonteleworkrs are treated the same for the purposes of (A-D). DOI handbook The supervisor should establish clearly defined performance standards and use existing quality and quantity statndards to evaluate work performance of a teleworker. Therefore, management for the teleworker remains the same as for employees in the traditional worksite in that performance is measured by results without daily, direct observation.


Tiffany Jul 20, 2012 8:20 am

What is the algorithm used to calculate the environmental savings in your commuting costs calculator? I'm performing some research for my organization, and I was curious as to what the assumptions were, as well as the formula used.

Thank you!


Bryan Salek Jul 23, 2012 3:26 pm

Tiffany, send me a note at bsalek at vmware.com. I'll be happy to get you in touch with someone from the team that works on the TCO/ROI calculator.

Bryan


Luis Alonso Feb 11, 2013 10:58 am

I just have a simple question about the definition of Telework.
Does working from a different office than the employee's head quarters office is considered teleworking? Thank you!


Bryan Salek Feb 13, 2013 4:17 pm

Telework can take on many forms and the actual definition is typically based on your specific organization's policy. I typically use "telework" to describe employees working from home, but for many organizations, telework is anyone that doesn't sit in an office in one of the main sites.


Anonymous May 3, 2013 8:27 pm

Can your supervisor tell you if your computer goes down for more than a certain amount you either have to request leave for the amount of time computer is down or either come into work.


Bryan Salek May 11, 2013 3:29 pm

Anonymous,

Sorry for the delayed response. The notification went to my spam folder.

Your supervisor can tell if your virtual desktop is down, just like they can tell if your physical desktop is down. In practice, virtual desktop environments provide significantly higher availability than physical desktops ever have, but they introduce a new variable your employer has no control over ... your internet service.

VMware Horizon Suite now offers both online and offline desktop support, so even if your ISP failed, and so did your local Starbucks, you could still use your desktop without a connection, and have the work you performed offline sync into the datacenter when the connection issue is resolved.

Technology aside, if it is a requirement for you to take leave if you have a computer issue, it is probably not a good role (or a good supervisor) for teleworking. I have yet to see a study that doesn't prove that teleworkers are actually more productive and work more hours than their office-dwelling peers. And if the leave becomes an issue as a result of repeated outages, then the first question I would ask would be why does the network keep failing.

Have a great weekend!
Bryan


Bryan Salek May 11, 2013 3:30 pm

Anonymous,

Sorry for the delayed response. The notification went to my spam folder.

Your supervisor can tell if your virtual desktop is down, just like they can tell if your physical desktop is down. In practice, virtual desktop environments provide significantly higher availability than physical desktops ever have, but they introduce a new variable your employer has no control over ... your internet service.

VMware Horizon Suite now offers both online and offline desktop support, so even if your ISP failed, and so did your local Starbucks, you could still use your desktop without a connection, and have the work you performed offline sync into the datacenter when the connection issue is resolved.

Technology aside, if it is a requirement for you to take leave if you have a computer issue, it is probably not a good role (or a good supervisor) for teleworking. I have yet to see a study that doesn't prove that teleworkers are actually more productive and work more hours than their office-dwelling peers. And if the leave becomes an issue as a result of repeated outages, then the first question I would ask would be why does the network keep failing.

Have a great weekend!
Bryan


Anonymous Jun 3, 2013 3:31 pm

I am a full time teleworker who recently took delivery of a replacement GFE laptop with the latest security policies installed. One result, which I doubt anyone in IT thought about, is that I can no longer communicate wirelessly with my GFE pinter/scanner because I can't join my laptop to my home wireless network's Homegroup. (The older GFE laptop that was replaced could do this.) So now, every time I need to scan a signed government charge card statement, or print anything, I have to carry the laptop to the printer and hook up via a USB cable connection.

Not exactly elegant, and over time, it elevates the risk of accidental hardware damage. Surely there are ways to protect content on the GFE laptop through file sharing settings without disabling all wireless hardware connections. I see such settings in Windows Group Policy, but only my system admin can change them.

Also, please use caution when recommending cloud-based computing. I telework in an area subject to broadband and power outages during severe winter storms. Can't access any cloud-based work when this happens. And the contract Gmail system we are now using makes it very difficult to save email locally -- no one thought to require Google to make it possible for us to print (PDF) multiple emails, e.g. to create a pdf portfolio of messages with a given tag, again to facilitate work when the cloud is not accessible. My smartphone can only access a small share of my Gmail.

I strongly suggest you do what my department hasn't really done: get some input from actual users like me. This exchange seems top-down, driven by vendors and managers. Lack of information about end user needs and the unforeseen consequences of security policy settings is affecting my telework productivity, and I'm sure others are having other problems.

Thanks!


Bryan Salek Jun 4, 2013 10:49 am

Anonymous,

That is a great point, and exactly the reason that I encourage customers to invest in professional services to do a formal assessment of their use cases and ensure that EUC solutions are rolled out in a manner that improves (or at least doesn't detract from) the productivity of the end users.

Also, your unpredictable weather is just one example of why VMware chose to build its EUC portfolio with the tools it has. Using a combination of virtual desktop infrastructure to offer the best security and performance at the lowest price point, combined with offline access and native delivery of apps and data, ensures that end users get the best possible experience, while IT still retains complete manageability and security of the environment. '

I hope that you have voiced your concerns to the people running the program. I telework, but since I use a virtual desktop, my corporate laptop is connected to my home network without IT policies, so I can redirect my wireless printer to my desktop in California without issue. I only know of one Federal organization that is continuing to issue GFE laptops for reasons including those you've mentioned.

Thanks for the comment and best of luck to you!

Bryan


Anonymous Jan 10, 2014 2:36 pm

I am also an Air Guard Technician. Before I took this job I worked as a Fed employeee in another agency where I pretty much made my own schedule and had telework one day a week along with ADHOC where I was able to utilize the telework option on days I had an emegency or the weather was extremely bad. The ANG does not offer any kind of telework, despite 90% of my job could be performed from home, and the base has its own schedule. Although most of the employees on base are technicians we are unable to take advantage of a lot of the benefits offerred to federal civilian employees. I have been applying to every opportunity on USAJOBS, whether it be a promotion or lateral so I can leave here and move to a traditional civilian agency in order to take advantage of these benefits which make a huge difference, especially when you have children. Move forward with the times ANG!!!! Your employees work/life situations will improve drastically and production will increase.


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