Forest Service shuns PCs and NCs, buys X Window terminals instead

The Agriculture Department agency is bucking the PC LAN and client-server trends, but
not by buying NCs. Instead, it is going with an X Window System terminal upgrade for its
35,000 employees.


The service's 900 offices are migrating from a 1980s Data General Corp. minicomputer
system with dumb terminals to IBM Corp. AIX 4.1.5 Unix servers and X Window terminals.


Employees can use the terminals for common desktop applications such as e-mail,
spreadsheets and word processing, said Dennis Keaton, deputy director of IRM at the Forest
Service.


But the main reason for staying with Unix is the service's Arc/Info 7.0.4 geographic
information system software from Environmental Systems Research Institute Inc. of
Redlands, Calif.


"We do a tremendous amount of natural resource planning analysis," Keaton
said.


IBM contractors are testing the most recent Arc/Info 7.1.1 version with AIX, said Alan
Flesh, trail boss at the Forest Service. Even field employees such as rangers and forest
supervisors make extensive use of the GIS software, Flesh said.


For example, the University of Vermont and the Forest Service use Arc/Info to determine
the quantity of wood to be sold from government-owned forests in Vermont.


Officials can model wildlife habitat, visual quality, access to timber and other
considerations to determine how much timber can be harvested.


The Forest Service oversees 190 million acres of forest. About 80 percent of its
employees work in offices with fewer than 50 people, Keaton said.


The ViewStation terminals will come from HDS Network Systems Inc. of King of Prussia,
Pa., under the $276 million, eight-year Project 615 contract held by IBM's global
government industry group.


The service could choose to upgrade the ViewStations to full network computers capable
of running Java applications and World Wide Web browsers, said Mike Kantrowitz, executive
vice president of HDS Network Systems.


He said industry analysts have renamed the $500 million X Window terminal market as the
NC market, even though terminals such as the ViewStation do not run Java applications or
Web browsers without upgrades.


He said none of the Project 615 bidders pitched a PC LAN system for the Forest Service.


"We did not restrict bidders" on what they proposed, he said, as long as it
was "based on open systems and had servers as a central point for storing and
maintaining files."


Flesh said the Forest Service made the award in part based on the "total lifecycle
cost of deliverables under the contract."


Keaton said installation of the X Window terminals is set for completion by January
1999. As many as 15,000 agency employees will have the terminals by the end of this fiscal
year, he said.


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