Letters to the editor

FirstGov Affirms Availability

The General Services Administration's FirstGov staff and AT&T's Web hosting and technical staff applaud Federal Computer Week and Keynote Systems Inc. for the Government 40 Internet Performance Index.

We believe the index will provide a degree of technical- performance benchmarking for federal Web sites. We were pleased with the responsiveness of the FirstGov site as revealed in the inaugural index [Web ticker, FCW, Oct. 29], but we were puzzled by the statistic that showed the FirstGov site was available only 70 percent of the time.

Surely, if FirstGov were available only seven out of 10 attempts, we would have heard loudly and quickly from the millions of citizens and others who access the site. Fortunately, the 70 percent availability rating was due to the high level of security that has been put in place to protect the FirstGov site.

Our investigation of this puzzling performance revealed that Keynote Systems runs its tests using 58 automated probes from 25 locations across the country. To FirstGov's security system, these probes appeared to be denial-of-service attacks. When presented with such anomalous repeated inquiries, the site defeated those apparent attacks by completely blocking further queries from 17 Keynote sites. The result was that 30 percent of Key.note's probes were timing out 100 percent of the time as they tested FirstGov — not because the site was unavailable to the rest of the world, but because it was operating exactly as it was designed to do by blocking inquiries from specific Keynote sites.

Further investigation of Keynote's statistics reveals that if the results from the 17 sites that consistently timed out are removed from the analysis, FirstGov's availability rating jumps to an index-leading 99.9 percent.

The FirstGov and AT&T teams continue to work with Keynote, which will result in a more accurate representation of the site's availability in future installments of the index in Federal Computer Week.

One of the great temptations in this age of computers, facts, figures and instant analysis is to draw conclusions from "irrefutable" statistical samplings in the belief that they accurately represent the entire population. This is a case where the numbers were right, but the interpretation was wrong. This should be a lesson for all of us as we evaluate Web performance and statistics in the future.

Deborah Diaz
Deputy associate administrator, FirstGov
General Services Administration,
and William Pulsipher Jr.
Director of enterprise integration and FirstGov program manager
AT&T

Collaboration at Work

In response to your Nov. 12, 2001, {/fcw/articles/2001/1112/fcw-edit-11-12-01.asp} editorial calling for more information sharing and collaboration on projects among federal, state and local public health agencies, I agree that "the rules must change."

I would like to point you and your readers to an example program in which many public and private agencies work together to improve the infrastructure for public health and the access to information for public health professionals.

Please visit the Partnership in Information Access for Public Health Professionals' Web site at nnlm.gov/partners for more on this initiative.

Marjorie Cahn
Head of the National Information Center on Health Services Research and Health Care Technology
National Library of Medicine

IT Workers for Homeland Security

After 23 years with U.S. Air Force security operations and serving a tour in Vietnam in 1968, I have fought for America and I am proud to be an American.

Regarding the new Office of Homeland Security, I feel all government or federal employees in the information technology sector should work under its director, Tom Ridge. Why? We deal with networks, the Internet, firewalls, etc. Our level of responsibility is very heavy in the security field. This is especially true in the coming age with computers: Everyone will have one, for better or for worse. I like to think that the Internet is a tool that can be harmful or helpful.

Make us all monitors of the Internet system. Place IT professionals under your department, and we can sound any alarm coming across our communication lines. This includes in-house or outside the United States.

John De Hoyos
Bureau of Indian Affairs

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