USPS looks to travel light via Web

GCN Photo by Henrik G. DeGyor

'We want to get the client to a basic Microsoft toolset and an Internet browser on their workstations. We will have greater control and more security. This is just a more efficient way of providing support.'

'USPS' Larry Wills

Each day Postal Service IT officials face the potential for 110 trillion combinations of failures.

USPS has one of the five largest IT infrastructures in the world, with 40,000 to 50,000 users.

So when officials decided to upgrade desktop and notebook PCs, hardware and software, Robert Otto, the Postal Service CIO, figured there had to be a way to reduce the potential for problems and save money.

Otto is spearheading a computer upgrade of massive proportions. USPS is replacing its distributed computing environment with a Web environment in which all applications are located on the Internet, and servers and help desk support are centralized. The service sees moving away from a client-server environment as a way to reduce potential problems and save money.

Web apps, fewer servers

The upgrade will make more than 150 applications and the agency's e-mail program accessible through the Web, and reduce the number of servers to 1,500 from 13,000. When the Postal Service is finished with the project in 2007, more than 570,000 devices will be upgraded, Otto said.

'We are taking the older part of our technical infrastructure and figuring out how to bring it up to standard,' Otto said.

He said USPS expects to save about $200 million through the project over five years.

The Postal Service hired Compaq Computer Corp. in October to provide hardware and software upgrades, consulting and integration services. The contract could be worth $1 billion over 10 years, Otto said. EDS Corp. and Northrop Grumman Corp. also are working on the project. EDS is providing help desk and integration services, while Northrop is supplying contract workers.

E-mail migration

One of USPS' first projects is to migrate its e-mail operations to Microsoft Exchange Server with Outlook from Lotus cc:Mail. About 3,000 users have made the switch, and Larry Wills, USPS manager for the distributed computing environment, said he hopes to move the remaining 130,000 by Dec. 31.

'We are about three years late in moving to another e-mail program,' Wills said. 'The biggest thing to overcome is training 130,000 people on how to use the program.'

Wills said the 60 Exchange servers would be located throughout the country at facilities operated by WorldCom Inc. The servers would be accessible through the Postal Service network, enabling employees to get their e-mail from any postal facility.

The programs will reside on Compaq servers running Microsoft Windows NT or Unix, Wills said. Employees also will receive a standardized set of desktop applications from Microsoft. He said employees have been using about 800 different software products, which is 'a nightmare to manage.'

By moving applications to the Web, Wills said the need for support will decrease. USPS plans to consolidate 85 regional support operations into a main help desk with a toll-free number that is staffed all day.

'We want to get the client to a basic Microsoft toolset and an Internet browser on their workstations,' Wills said. 'We will have greater control and more security. This is just a more efficient way of providing support.'

Wills said users could just plug and play on the Web instead of having to configure new computers.

'In our environment, which is so large, it is difficult to deploy new applications, especially if they run on workstations, and most do,' Wills said. 'We've been developing business plans, project plans and pilot implementation of the new programs over the past 12 months. We really are attempting to drive down costs for the organization.'

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