Moving to XP: SBA adopts the app suite before the OS

The Small Business Administration's recent decision to standardize on Microsoft Office XP but not upgrade to Windows XP illustrates the cautious approach agencies are taking to secure data at the desktop level.

The Office XP move, along with a migration from Windows 95 to Windows 2000, is part of a $7 million technology overhaul at SBA that includes more than 3,000 new Gateway Inc. client PCs.

'We need to be compatible with financial institutions,' said Lawrence Barrett, the agency's CIO. 'We have to stay pretty compatible with people we work with in the private sector.'

Headquarters as well as field offices are migrating to Win 2000. By August, SBA also will consolidate its servers and move to secure off-site data storage.

Barrett said the agency had been losing ground technologically even while urging its small-business partners to adopt advanced productivity tools. 'We could see that we were two and three generations behind,' he said.

SBA decided against the latest Windows XP operating system because of security risks, said Sherry Hill, director of communications and technology services. But SBA did choose the XP versions of Word, Excel, Access, PowerPoint and Outlook.

The agency is replacing all desktop computers slower than 400 MHz with 1.8-GHz Gateway Pentium 4 systems that have 256M of RAM, 20G hard drives, sound cards, speakers, nVidia GeForce2 video cards with 32M of RAM, 17-inch monitors, CD-ROM drives and Intel Pro/100 network interface cards.

Systems and services

A&T Systems Inc. of Silver Spring, Md., will carry out the migration, and Baystate Computer Services of West Springfield, Mass., will install the hardware under a General Services Administration's Federal Acquisition Services for Technology contract.

Half of the $7 million is going toward the hardware, 25 percent to software, and the remaining quarter will cover training, travel services and other project costs, SBA officials said.

The agency's use of Office XP 'is the largest deployment to date in a single federal agency,' said Quazi Zaman, advanced technology manager for platforms in Microsoft Corp.'s government group. So far, civilian and Defense Department agencies are deploying XP products only in specific divisions or decentralized organizations while running application migration pilots, he said.

Standard environment

SBA tested its OS migration in January at headquarters. 'We simulated the entire SBA environment,' Hill said, from reporting software to mainframe financial applications to older applications with embedded spreadsheets.

Certain things needed tweaking to run under XP, she said. 'This is our first major upgrade since 1995 when we went from MS-DOS to Windows 95.'

As for the agency's hardware, 'we had machines that were 100-MHz Pentium up to modern ones,' Barrett said. 'We needed to come up with a standard environment.'

Headquarters also is consolidating 48 133-MHz Compaq ProLiant ML-370R servers down to six that will function as print servers, Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol servers and domain controllers.

'We're up to gigahertz' servers now, Hill said. 'We wanted a more robust configuration.' That includes an 850G FileStorm 4200 network-attached storage cluster from Inline Corp. of Dulles, Va.

All agency data will be continuously and automatically backed up over the Internet, Barrett said. 'The security level is high,' he said. All data is encrypted through the Virtual Backup and Recovery Network service of LiveVault Corp. of Marlborough, Mass.

The vaulting service will send a tape each night to another facility, Barrett said. 'Before, we had to do nightly tape backups,' he said. 'You always run the risk of having a bad tape, and this service takes all that out of the equation. If we were to have a systems failure, we could recover within an hour.'

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