USDA Farm Service Agency Wants to Consolidation 2,384 AS/400s
January 15, 2007 Timothy Prickett Morgan
According to a request for information seeking proposals from IT experts put out by the United States Department of Agriculture, the Farm Service Agency, which operates a network of 2,384 AS/400 Model 170 servers that host applications to help the farmers of America, is looking to simplify its IT infrastructure. And rather than just call IBM Global Services, the USDA posted a request for information to solicit ideas from the world at large to help the farm agency solve its unique problem.
The FSA network has 2,384 service centers, which host a variety of System/36 RPG, COBOL, and assembler programs that run in the S36 Virtual Machine environment and which support over rural 8,000 counties and 10,000 end users. These applications, which were originally written in 1984 and subsequently maintained and updated over the years, do not run in the System/36 Emulation Environment, but the S36 VM environment, which was last supported in OS/400 V4R4 and which provided a binary compatible System/36 environment for both programs and data running on OS/400 V4R4 machines. Because the applications are accessing the S36 VM, and have not been updated, the USDA is trying to figure out how to consolidate the machinery in all of these field offices into as few as six regional data centers. The reason why USDA wants to do this is because the machines have sensitive personal information on them, but the physical security of the offices is not up to snuff; it is far easier to secure six offices and use telecom to connect users than to try to secure thousands of sites. However, the nature of the file formats used in the applications and the use of the S36 VM environment makes consolidation tricky. USDA is willing to consider recompiling the applications, of course, and given the nature of the problem, this seems unavoidable.
In any event, the RFI makes for interesting reading, even if the format of the document is not exactly optimal. You can read it here. The USDA really doesn’t want to stop coding in the System/36 environment it knows so well.