Software // Information Management
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5/2/2005
11:07 AM
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County In Washington State Expands GIS Capabilities

Pierce County, Wash., installs IBM blade servers and storage systems to boost capacity and lower maintenance costs.

Pierce County, Wash., has deployed blade servers and storage devices from IBM to run its geographic information system. The deployment, disclosed Monday, will yield savings of $3 million in maintenance costs over the three-year life cycle of the equipment's lease while providing municipalities and agencies with access to GIS data.

The county has been using the GIS, from software company ESRI, since the mid-1980s. It provides county residents with neighborhood crime statistics, polling locations, property-tax information, and property-surveying reports via the Web. Law-enforcement and emergency-services personnel access the GIS via wireless devices to locate crime offenders, analyze crime patterns, and view maps and floor plans of public facilities. Overall, the GIS is accessed by 35 county agencies spanning law enforcement, natural resources management, land development, and utilities, as well as several municipal governments.

For all its utility, though, the GIS is quite a resource hog. The county had to purchase an additional 3 terabytes worth of storage just to support Light Detection and Ranging, or Lidar, an ultra-high-precision technology used for mapping terrain and contours. "All local governments are turning to Lidar as a way to generate high-accuracy terrain models, but the storage requirements are enormous," says Linda Gerull, Pierce County's GIS manager.

Over the years the county also had to invest in additional computing capacity, to the point where it had two dozen Unix and NT servers dedicated to supporting the GIS. Each new server brought another set of maintenance tasks--configuring; updates of operating systems, databases, and applications; and servicing. "Our ability to grow the [GIS] app was being consumed by maintenance expenses," Gerull says.

The county decided to cut the Gordian knot, replacing the servers and storage devices with an IBM infrastructure composed of a 6-terabyte TotalStorage DS4500 storage server, four eServer xSeries servers to host databases and run IBM's Tivoli Storage Manager software, and four IBM eServer BladeCenter HS20s. The county took delivery of the equipment in April 2004 and went live three months later.

The blades, which are housed in a single rack, provide not only server consolidation, but database redundancy and ease of maintenance as well. "We can just configure one blade and copy it across the system," Gerull says.

What's more, the county now has plenty of spare computing capacity, with 90 CPUs compared with 48 CPUs in the older setup. That provides the foundation needed to build out the GIS. Says Gerull, "When we consolidated, we didn't just want to stand still; we wanted to plan for the next three years."

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