USDA moves closer to enterprise architecture, nears completion of VPN effort

USDA moves closer to enterprise architecture, nears completion of VPN effort at service centers

The Agriculture Department next month will set up a prototype enterprise architecture with data sharing as the focus.

'In 2003, we could have a logical architecture in place,' CIO Scott Charbo said. 'It will not be five years before an enterprise architecture comes out.'

Additionally, the department plans to link 2,824 service centers via a single virtual private network next year, bringing a 10-year technology overhaul to fruition, Charbo said. The project took time because the department had to move to a common hardware and software platform, he said.

The two efforts will unite the department's 29 bureaus and make data sharing easier, he said.

For the enterprise architecture prototype, six USDA bureaus will participate in a three-month pilot. The CIO's office is collecting information about what kinds of data USDA's bureaus can share and what kinds of databases they can open to one another.

For the test, Charbo's team is looking at bureaus that have already begun sharing data, such as the Farm Service Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Service and Food Safety Inspection Service.

Charbo said his research this month will identify those bureaus willing to share data, the data available for exchange and reasons why bureaus so far have not shared some information.

'We have to go to every agency,' he said. 'Some folks don't see any reason to share.'

The goal is not to link all USDA databases but to have bureaus swap data when it makes sense, Charbo said. Users of Agriculture's records should be able to query and get answers based on automatic searches across multiple databases, he said.

The technical challenge is bridging the different database software in use within the department, such as IBM DB2, Oracle9i and Microsoft SQL Server, Charbo said. 'Part of it will be an integration project,' he said.

On the VPN front, USDA so far has connected systems at Fort Collins, Colo.; Kansas City, Kan.; and St. Louis. Managers in those cities are overseeing the implementation of the VPN departmentwide. So far, USDA has poured about $400 million into the project.

'It's fairly operational, but now you have to manage it,' Charbo said.

To spread the VPN service to the remaining service centers will require installing routers, upgrading some operating system software and shipping some hardware, he said. 'In a year, all [the centers] will have a common desktop and T1 equivalent,' Charbo said.

Over the last decade, the VPN team has completed a series of smaller projects, such as boosting bandwidth to accommodate VPN service and developing a common network infrastructure for the centers.

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