Middleware anchors INS’ information architecture

The Immigration and Naturalization Service views middleware as the linchpin in its strategy to integrate the nation's border control systems.

INS officials, including associate commissioner for IRM and deputy CIO Scott Hastings, emphasized that the service’s use of middleware is part of its plan to eliminate stovepipes that divide data used for tasks such as inspections, border control and in-vestigations.

In its architecture, INS has identified about 300 categories of technology that will come into play as it integrates border control systems. The service has been reviewing middleware technologies and is set to choose one by fall.

“There are industry standard models for middleware” that include synchronous and asynchronous means of linking databases, said William McElhaney, director of the agency’s Technology Architecture Branch.

“There are people who think we can just put all this in a data warehouse,” Hastings said, which would delay access to the information. “There are others who want immediate access.”

Hastings said the enforcement and immigration benefits functions of INS “are absolutely dependent on the information” that both groups collect. “The border control people need to know when the bad guys apply for a benefit of some kind,” he said.

By the same token, the benefits arm of INS, which grants privileges such as student and work status and citizenship, depends on information from border enforcement activities, said Virginia McKinney, assistant commissioner for data systems.

The service is building a systems architecture based on an integrated approach to immigration, though the time line for construction will depend on a review of IT projects at agencies slated for inclusion in the proposed Homeland Security Department.

“That proposal is not to stop what needs to be done but to maximize the resources that agencies have available,” Hastings said. “There is great concern that it is a halt, but it is meant to be a measured evaluation.”

Improve interoperability

INS has created an Enterprise Information Task Force whose focus is improving interoperability, McElhaney said. The service’s databases rely on Oracle8i and Computer Associates International Inc.'s IDMS, he said.

One of the middleware tools INS is testing is IBM WebSphere MQ, McKinney said, which appears useful partly because it ports to dozens of hardware platforms. WebSphere MQ can work in real time, or in asynchronous or synchronous modes, she said.

“It will satisfy the requirement for middleware but not all the business requirements” of the enterprise architecture, McKinney said. “It may not be our full middleware solution.”

As INS officials can access information from multiple databases via middleware, they increasingly will need guidance as to the data's reliability, the INS officials said.

One of the most important functions of the enterprise architecture INS is building will be to furnish users with metadata about information. The metadata, for example, might help INS employees evaluate the reliability of information relating to whether an individual should be allowed into the country.

“That metadata has to reside within the enterprise and be integrated with the information,” McElhaney said.

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