VMware Horizon

How well prepared are government agencies for the next major natural disaster?

By Pam Takahama, Product Line Manager, VMware View – Federal Government

Lately everyone is talking about the weather–from tornado warnings at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport to 14,000 lightning strikes in Hawaii–severe weather and other natural disasters require an emergency response plan. And, an effective emergency response plan should provide the ability to help first responders make rapid and precise decisions. Living in an earthquake prone area, there are plenty of emergency preparedness classes but the reality is when a major disaster strikes we often rely on local, state and federal government agencies to provide  assistance. Government cuts to emergency response programs are not well publicized but are on the increase.  For example, according to a recent article in the magazine, Emergency Management, thirty three cities did not receive funding for their emergency preparedness programs.  This begs the question in the midst of shrinking allocations–how well prepared is our government for disasters and natural calamities? 

I recently gained a little insight into how one U.S. Federal DOD agency is using a VMware View solution that enables a large emergency response team to help make rapid and informed decisions which can sometimes mean the difference between life and death. Limited by a small IT staff, this particular agency supports emergency responders across the U.S., Europe and Asia with the need to ramp up and provision desktops on the fly.  After all, natural disasters can strike anywhere and anytime on an unexpected scale. With VMware View, their IT staff is able to rapidly deploy highly available desktops complete with legacy and proprietary based applications and full CAC (Common Access Card) support on stateless devices. Don Wiggins of DHDW Consulting, one the prime architects of the solution, stated that it’s much easier and faster for the IT team to deploy and maintain virtual desktops than a traditional environment.

Recently, the solution was put to the test during the natural disaster in Japan. U.S. based emergency response personnel located in the Pacific Rim were using their virtual desktops to monitor the potential of incoming tsunamis when in an unrelated incident the datacenter—located on the West Coast–lost  power. However, with built-in solution redundancy it failed over as planned to a datacenter back east which meant in a moment held with immense consequences the emergency response team was able to seamlessly access their virtual desktops–all the from way from the Pacific Rim to the East Coast–without interruption. In fact, the IT team was unaware of the failover until a week later after reviewing the data logs.

Budget cuts are unavoidable in these lean times but emergency preparedness is an investment in saving lives; it’s great to see how some government agencies can still prioritize public safety yet contain IT costs!