Success story, the Norwegian Directorate of Labour

On October 1st 1999 the Norwegian Directorate of Labour, their systems intergrator, Cinet, and the suppliers, including Gallagher & Robertson (Glink, Gmail, Ggate, Gspool and Guft), could celebrate the successful and timely conclusion of a project that has brought 4.000 users at 235 different locations, from Mandal in the south of Norway to Mehamn in the north, on-line using exciting new technology.

For those of you who don't know Norway's geography, Mandal in south Norway is about 58 degrees north, and Mehamn is near NordKapp (North Cape) at about 71 degrees North. It's about 2.400 kilometers from Mandal to Mehamn. By comparison, Mandal to Rome (Italy) is about the same distance.

The project was planned August thru October 1998, the 'master copy' was built and qualified in a laboratory test site from November 1998 to February 1999, and the roll-out was accomplished between March and June 1999. At the hight of the installation period new equipment was installed at 25 offices in a single week. A corps of 65 instructors from within the organisation trained the 4.000 end users on-site with a one day course and some individual instruction, in addition to computer based training programs (WIT).

The Directorate of Labour has always been at the forefront as regards use of data processing. In the previous environment they used UNIX servers in the offices, with remote-booted diskless Windows PCs. When planning for new systems they quickly realized that in order to take into use the newest 32 bit office support products they would have to upgrade a great many PCs. They chose the alternative, and decided that they would keep most of the existing PCs (replacing only the very oldest), but use them as remote-booted diskless 'thin clients' and run the new office support products on Windows NT servers, using WTS (Windows Terminal Server) and MetaFrame.

The backbone network was replaced with a frame-relay network from Posten SDS (a state owned data bureau), leaving the local LANs intact and establishing a Virtual Intranet for the Directorate. The voice telephone system was replaced simultaneously. The NT servers installed at 195 offices run new 32-bit versions of all the Office support products (MS Office 97 Pro), and also Glink and Gmail on behalf of the thin clients. Forty offices with
three or less users are equipped with NT workstations that boot from their hard-disk, but are connected to larger offices using ISDN, and still use thin clients to access the applications running on the NT servers.

The NT servers also act as access ports to the central systems. Ggate gives the Glinks access to the 'Total' system running under TP8 on GCOS8 at the Posten SDS data bureau. Total is a transactional database system developed in-house by the Directorate for client case handling. Gmailer provides for movement of Gmail withing the Department's internal network, and also to the central Ginet Internet gateway. The Directorate is currently investing in their own Ginet gateway in order to speed e-mail access to the Internet. Gspool accepts print output from the Total system, and Guft is used for file transfer between GCOS8 and the NT servers. All GCOS8 communication is done using RFC1006 (TCP/IP instead of OSI).

There are also Java clients giving access to new Oracle based applications running on central database servers.

The Directorate has also centralized user support with a 'single point of contact' office manned by the Directorate. They are using the 'shadowing' possibility of Metaframe in order to be able to follow exactly what is being done by the user with a problem.

The deployment of this new technology was not completely trouble-free. In particular the Windows NT servers had problems with the printing service. These were eventually corrected by Microsoft. We also had problems with Gspool print. In our case the problem was finally duplicated in-house, and turned out to be a case where an intermediate file could be closed twice in exceptional circumstances. Closing a file twice under Windows NT is documented as giving 'unpredictable' results. In this case it completely destabilized the Windows NT I/O system..... We were able to correct this by adding a great deal of extra logic to be sure that we never close a file twice, regardless of timing considerations. The newest NT debugger detects this if it can be reproduced while running under the debugger, but not the production operating system, it simply destabilizes. The systems
integrator, Cinet, and the Directorate's operations people were very helpful to us in tracing this particularly elusive error, especially in the early stages when we were unable to reproduce the problem in-house. We also owe our thanks to the very patient users who had to live far too long with this problem before we were able to replicate and correct it.

The print problems were the only serious problems, and as they were resolved, the project is regarded as a complete success. Various other small problems were cleared up under way by a close cooperation between the Directorate's infrastructure group and the the systems integrator, who then interfaced to the suppliers, including us.

The Directorate's end-users are especially pleased with the speed of the new infrastructure, and the Internet access it gives to all. They already offer services to the public over the Internet, including a virtual employment office. They have also established a library of standard letters and forms available to all the offices over the intranet.

The Directorate is now consolidating this new infrastructure, and doing some capacity planning. They have ambitious plans for new applications using the central database servers.

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