The government plans to move to thin client computers to help tackle security issues, according to the new Whitehall chief information officer (CIO).
In his first public appearance since taking the Cabinet Office role, John Suffolk said the public sector spends £1bn a year on PCs and questioned the security implications of the technology.
‘The best way to secure a network is to make the end points at stupid as possible,’ said Suffolk.
‘Thirty per cent of all worldwide sales of PCs are thin client and that is the way the government will go.’
A move to a thin client architecture will have major implications – Whitehall alone uses more than 250,000 PCs and there are an estimated five million across the whole public sector.
The savings in software licensing costs alone would be huge, says Jim Norton, senior policy adviser at the Institute of Directors.
‘Existing models for processing power are inefficient so thin client would also need fewer chips and lower power,’ he said.
But the cultural challenge may be hard to overcome, says Butler Group senior analyst Mike Davis.
‘The reason thin client has never had a big following in the public sector is that decision-makers like big fat PCs that they can control themselves,’ he said.
Suffolk’s statement is important evidence of a new approach, says Eric Woods, government practice director at analyst Ovum.
‘The government is starting to look at broader, strategic requirements across the sector,’ he said.
Suffolk moved to the CIO position after two years leading the Criminal Justice IT Unit. His new job is to implement the Transformational Government strategy developed by his predecessor Ian Watmore. He will also be responsible for improving the performance of government IT projects.
The current refresh of the Gateway Review monitoring process should be welcomed, he says.
‘A gated process should be exactly that – the gate should be firmly locked until all the questions have been answered and all the items needed for success are in place,’ said Suffolk.
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