Census decamps army of silicon

Census decamps army of silicon

For count, it mustered 10,000 systems

By Patricia Daukantas

GCN Staff

Many of the 10,000-plus computers that powered the Census 2000 head count are now going the way of other great but temporary edifices.

Along with the DecennialNet WAN that once connected them [GCN, Sept. 4, Page 41], the computers at remote Census 2000 sites are going out of service as the focus shifts to data analysis at Census Bureau headquarters in Suitland, Md.

Census' Kenneth Prewitt says he is pleased with the work of the contractors who captured forms data at four centers for Census 2000.

Leased machines will return to the integrators that supplied them, and bureau-owned systems will be redistributed among Census and other Commerce Department offices, said J. Gary Doyle, Census 2000 manager for systems integration.

Statisticians and demographers are still analyzing the results of the decennial head count.

They face deadlines of Dec. 31 for delivering results to President Clinton and March 31 for providing detailed analyses to the 50 state legislatures for congressional redistricting.

During a webcast press conference last week, Census director Kenneth Prewitt said employees wrapped up virtually all field work during August and operations remain on schedule.

Bureau officials mustered a silicon army of more than 10,000 computers, from desktop machines to a supercomputer, in support of the once-a-decade job [GCN, Feb. 7, Page 1]. In a separate effort, temporary workers carrying specially equipped notebook computers hit the streets to recount selected blocks for verification purposes [GCN, March 20, Page 1].

All 520 local Census offices have finished data collection, and about 250 of them have been disconnected from the WAN, Doyle said.

Bureau officials had closed 10 local offices by Sept. 1 and expect to shutter another 160 by midmonth, Prewitt said.

The bureau had outfitted each local office with 15 PCs and one server, all from Dell Computer Corp., and five Hewlett-Packard Co. printers.

Unisys Corp., which held the contract to install the systems at the local offices, is responsible for picking them up, Doyle said.

Census employees synchronized the local servers nightly with a master Dell PowerEdge 2300 server in Suitland, Doyle said. No hacker attacks were detected during the work.

Back to a pumpkin

Twelve regional centers supervised the local Census 2000 offices. The centers were temporary, but their 24 Compaq AlphaServer 4100 clusters will revert to the 12 permanent Census regional offices in the same cities, Doyle said.

Permanent staff members in the regional offices will use the four-way AlphaServers to work on the bureau's Master Address File and mapping projects before the next decennial tally, Doyle said.

All the completed census forms wound up at four data capture centers designed specifically for the decennial project. The centers' performance exceeded expectations, Doyle said.

As of Aug. 1, the four data capture centers had made images of 146 million forms, Doyle said. Of those, only 2.96 million, or about 2 percent, didn't scan well and had to be keyed in manually.

The four centers processed an average of 3.3 million forms per day, or 23 million per week, Prewitt said.

The centers have finished processing the questions that appeared on both short and long forms, Doyle said. They are now rescanning the long forms to pick up what's known in Census parlance as sample data'the extra socioeconomic and housing questions that one out of every six households was asked to answer.

The centers in Phoenix and Pomona, Calif., were in leased buildings with leased equipment, and the integrators will simply tear down and pick up the hardware, Doyle said.

Indiana wins hardware

The center in Jeffersonville, Ind., that also houses the bureau's permanent National Processing Center will acquire most of the hardware from the East Coast capture center in Essex, Md.

Prewitt said he was extremely pleased with the work of prime integrator Lockheed Martin Corp. and subcontractors such as TRW Inc., which ran day-to-day operations, and Electronic Data Systems Corp., which managed the telephones.

Another project deliberately kept separate from the rest of the Census 2000 effort, the Accuracy and Coverage Evaluation, recounted 314,000 housing units nationwide, Prewitt said. ACE gave Census officials an estimate of how much the main tally undercounted the population.

Doyle said he has not heard of any problems in retrieving the HP OmniBook 900 notebook computers from the ACE field workers.

Bureau staff now will upgrade the notebooks' MS-DOS 6.22 operating system and redistribute them within Census or other Commerce agencies, Doyle said.

At Suitland headquarters, demographers and statisticians are processing the captured data with software tools from SAS Institute Inc. of Cary, N.C., along with Fortran and C programs developed in-house.

Part of the analysis, Prewitt said, involves linking the head count to the Master Address File. The task would be vastly simpler if the bureau merely produced a head count, but the geographic distribution of that count determines the allotment of House of Representatives seats.

'To fulfill our constitutional obligation, we have to take 275 million people and put them someplace,' Prewitt said.

Statisticians will perform increasingly fine-grained computer matches between the main Census 2000 tabulation and the ACE results, Prewitt said.

The state-by-state response rate will be announced later this month; otherwise, the bureau will not release any preliminary Census 2000 figures before delivering the final count in December.

'We take a lot of care and attention with those numbers, and we simply do not want any of them out until we can be as certain as we can that we have done everything we can to make them accurate,' he said.

Early next year, the bureau will post the Census 2000 results on its American FactFinder Web site at factfinder.census.gov. Doyle said his staff is now testing the performance of the IBM RS/6000 SP supercomputer that powers the site.


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