DEA eyes global NT network

The Drug Enforcement Administration, one of few federal agencies that are opening new
offices, has set out to build a 10,000-seat network running Microsoft Windows NT.


Congress and the Justice Department agreed last year on special funding for the
network, said Ned Goldberg, chief of operations and support in the DEA Office of
Information Systems.


"Unfortunately, the business we're in is not tapering off," he said.


Through its contractor, Unisys Corp., DEA is installing about 200 systems a day,
Goldberg said. Besides servers running NT and PCs running Windows 95, DEA is installing
the Tivoli/TME 10 framework management application from Tivoli Systems Inc. of Austin,
Texas, an IBM Corp. subsidiary.


DEA began the infrastructure project in May last year, Goldberg said, and is only now
bringing the Tivoli software online.


"There is a substantive investment in doing that," he said, because executive
managers do not always understand how much time it takes to configure a complex systems
management infrastructure. Nor, he said, are they always willing to invest the time to
define what they want it to do.


Agency officials said investigators sorely need the new infrastructure to help close
cases faster. The global network will let agents gather data from different databases,
Goldberg said.


In the past, such data has been on paper or very hard to locate. "There were
always higher priorities," Goldberg said, such as protecting DEA investigators and
agents.


The cost and difficulty of maintaining 10-year-old Unisys office systems, however, gave
the agency no choice but to upgrade to a modern network, he said.


DEA agents need the power of e-mail and document attachments, Goldberg said. "The
old stuff was limited that way, and it was based on older processors. So, it was
slow," he said.


DEA has dubbed the new information systems architecture Firebird.


One thing DEA will not change is its database architecture on Justice mainframes.
"Our databases are humongous," mostly written in the Model 204 language from
Computer Corp. of America of Framington, Mass., Goldberg said.


Instead of character-based terminal emulators, DEA agents will use their new Pentium
PCs running Win95 and Eicon Access terminal emulation software from Eicon Technology Corp.
of Carrollton, Texas.


A global network of servers running NT such as DEA's would be too costly to administer
without a framework management package such as Tivoli/TME 10, Goldberg said.


The Common Object Request Broker Architecture, on which Tivoli TME 10 is based, is an
open standard, Goldberg said. That means DEA can buy the best security module it can find
and just snap it in, he said.


DEA already owns Tivoli's software distribution, inventory, network management, help
desk and console modules. "We're going to move to the Microsoft Office 97 suite and
push that down" to desktop PCs without having to visit each one individually,
Goldberg said.


The agency now uses Tivoli/TME to reset servers--a weekly maintenance procedure that
keeps them from slowing to a crawl, Goldberg said. "That's one real solid benefit of
Tivoli," he said.


Flaws in NT cause it to lose track of memory once released by applications, Goldberg
said.


"We found if we waited two weeks to reset, we were in trouble," he said.


Because Tivoli/TME is "a malleable, customizable product," nontechnical
managers have trouble understanding it, Goldberg said. The software gathers so much
information from the servers it manages that "you have to build filters to pick out
exactly what you want," he said.


Building a global computer network is only one of DEA's growing pains. New illicit
drugs are always arriving, so the agency constantly has to change and refocus its assets,
Goldberg said.


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