DOT develops a WAN to support temp move

The Transportation Department will complete this month a year-long effort to move thousands of employees from a so-called "sick building" to a temporary office then back again - giving them reliable access to their data the whole time.

Last year DOT's headquarters building was declared a sick building forcing the department to move its employees including Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater and his staff one floor at a time to a new location downtown. Once each floor was renovated and cleaned those employees were moved back and workers on another floor were moved out so that floor could be cleaned.

The move was a daunting task particularly because phones and computers had to be installed and working as soon as employees showed up for work.

DOT's Office Automation Systems Integration Services (OASIS) project office part of the Transportation Administrative Service Center managed the move and it fell on the OASIS staff to provide continuous computer support to the 5 000 DOT employees involved in the move.

Many agencies are faced with similar challenges of moving employees whether it is to renovate and modernize systems such as with the Pentagon renovation project or to temporarily relocate employees. Jonni Burnham OASIS project manager for DOT's move said her group is offering its services to the rest of the government faced with these scenarios.

When the move began last year OASIS chose not to move all the phone and computer equipment from DOT's headquarters office on Seventh Street Southwest Washington D.C. to its temporary location in the TechWorld building just north on K Street. Instead DOT bought 250 Pentium PCs two servers and several printers off of Government Technology Services Inc.'s General Services Administration schedule and installed them in the new building.

OASIS staff downloaded software to the new desktops and configured them based on the user's desktop in the headquarters building. Employees accessed data in servers in the headquarters building through their new PCs via wide-area links.

"We wanted to give people the same services they were used to" in the headquarters building Burnham said. "If they shared their information in the old building they would have the same server connections at TechWorld."

Users logged onto the new system in the same manner as when they logged onto the old system and used the same passwords. They could use the same phone numbers and have calls either roll over to voice mail or forwarded to the new building. When each group of employees left TechWorld usually after one month the desktop hard drives were erased and reconfigured for the next group.

Roman Ferrer group manager of product marketing at GTSI said the challenge with the order was to meet the department's short deadline. "We had to integrate the hardware and software and ship the Nexar [Technologies Inc.'s] PCs out within five days of the order " he said.

Bell Atlantic installed the new phone system and set up four T-1 lines that equally distributed the traffic going back and forth between TechWorld and the headquarters building. "The WAN link made it look like employees were still on a LAN " Burnham said. "We want to make people feel comfortable and safe rather than revolutionize the office automation environment."

Some employees brought applications on a CD-ROM and a few applications such as those for statistical analysis would not work over the T-1 lines and had to be installed locally.

Addressing the needs of each agency was one of the many challenges. "For example the Coast Guard the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration Boating Safety - all had different requirements " Burnham said. "We had to figure out what their requirements were and configure each new desktop the same way."

For a project of this scope to succeed it was important to plan ahead and make clear plans Burnham said. "Things go smoothly when we can do advance planning and testing and when people have time to go over things ahead of time " she said. "The hardest part is to get people to cooperate. You need to have clear goals and clear deadlines."

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