SBA plans for fast upgrade

'People were very accepting of the change in their environment because they had time to adjust to the new hardware and software.'

'Larry Barrett, CIO of SBA

The last month of the fiscal year is one of the busiest for the Small Business Administration, as the agency scrambles to help businesses with last-minute loan applications or contract proposals.

With that in mind, Larry Barrett, CIO of SBA, didn't want the first agencywide systems upgrade since 1995 to hamper SBA's ability provide services at such a critical time. So Barrett and his staff devised a plan to replace 2,125 desktop PCs and migrate 160 servers to Microsoft Windows 2000 in six months. They began in March and will complete the project this month.

'This has been difficult, but we have been able to maintain this aggressive schedule,' Barrett said. 'We didn't want to impact the office in making its goals, so we were bound and determined to make the August deadline.'

The $7 million project will give each SBA employee a Gateway desktop PC with a 1.8-GHz Intel Pentium 4 processor and will move agency servers to Windows 2000 from Novell NetWare. SBA also will switch to a Web backup system with digital certificates from LiveVault Corp. of Marlborough, Mass. Currently, the agency conducts tape backups sporadically at field offices, Barrett said.

Barrett said SBA hasn't upgraded agencywide since 1995, when it moved to Windows 95 from MS-DOS.

Planning for the project started in October 2001. Barrett's staff met weekly with contractors and agency personnel.

Barrett said the agency's first step was to take an inventory of every office's equipment and needs.

The migration contractor, A&T Systems Inc. of Silver Spring, Md., wrote a script in Visual Basic that scoured SBA's WAN. The program determined what was on each desktop PC'the amount of RAM, types of processors, versions of software and other information, said Sherry Hill, director of SBA's Office of Communication and Technology Services.

SBA put each office's data into a Microsoft SQL Serverdatabase and used it to decide which PCs to replace and which to upgrade, she said.

Hill said the inventory also provided a sketch of how much data each office would need to transfer to the new servers and when the transfer should be completed.

'Communication has been the key to this project,' she said. 'The database gave us the ability to know what to order and for whom and when it needed to get there.'

'We decided early to manage expectations and tell people what was coming, how it would impact them and when to start the training,' Barrett said. 'People were very accepting of the change in their environment because they had time to adjust to the new hardware and software.'

Time for training

Barrett then started training. Switching from earlier versions of Microsoft Office to Office XP was not particularly difficult, but he wanted to make sure employees had sufficient time to take training courses. SBA hired Element K LLC of Rochester, N.Y., to provide Internet training for employees. Workers received a personal identification number and password to access and take online courses at their own pace, Barrett said.

In addition to online study, SBA set up a testing lab at its headquarters so employees could use the new hardware and software, Barrett said.

'We wanted to make sure there weren't any problems with the system before going live across the agency,' he said. 'Employees also could bring templates and macros and test them on the new software.'

Barrett said the upgrades would help SBA improve its e-government efforts and boost security.

'In the past, when we rolled out a new application, we weren't sure if it would work on everyone's machine,' Barrett said. 'It created a lot of frustration for people. With the new equipment, that shouldn't be a problem.'

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