Department of Defense Replaces Printers With NT Servers

Eye On: Report.Web

To cut costs and boost efficiency, the accounting branch of the U.S. Department of Defense stopped printing some of its financial reports and instead is distributing them via a network of Windows NT servers and an intranet.

In the past, the Defense Finance Accounting Service (DFAS) used to send its financial reports to a series of high-speed printers at one of its operating locations. The reports, which are generated by a mainframe computer, provide the accounting staff with standard accounting information and reports.

DFAS replaced those high-speed printers with 23 Windows NT servers. Today, DFAS sends its reports to Windows NT servers running at one of its operating sites. Users log onto these servers via an intranet to view the contents of the reports.

"We have taken the high-speed line off the back of the printer and plugged it into an NT server," says David Banton, a systems analyst with DFAS infrastructure services organization. "When the print files come down from the mainframe, they are published on a Web page on the NT server."

To make it possible to view the reports, DFAS runs Report.Web from Network Software Associates Inc. (Arlington, Va., on its servers. Report.Web publishes the reports in a compressed format, offering a rough 15-to-1 compression ratio. The software also allows administrators at each site to create a model or index of each report. This model, which resembles the file manager feature found in Windows, helps users find the information they need in the report more quickly than if they were viewing it on paper.

Banton says DFAS decided to use NT servers for report distribution because the technology is robust enough to handle the reports, many of which can be thousands of pages long. "Probably 80 percent of the reports are less than 10 MB," Banton says. "But we have had some that are in excess of 200 MB."

While the largest reports have not taken down the server, he adds that a few of the sites have yet to process reports that have the potential to be a million pages long.

Windows NT Server also was chosen because of its scalability, according to Banton. The network's smaller servers use a single Pentium 200-MHz processor with 384 MB of RAM and 30 GB of hard disk space, while the larger servers can run up to four processors with up to 1 GB of RAM and an unlimited amount of storage space through external disk drives.

The system also has proved easy to administer. To set up the new network of NT servers, DFAS held classes for the administrators who run the department’s local sites. The administrators were given hands-on training in configuring the servers and were walked through the responsibilities of maintaining the server and using the Report.Web software. Once they were done configuring the server, they mailed it back to their office.

So far, the solution has helped DFAS cut costs. One site in San Diego that was printing about 30,000 reports annually is expected to save about $1.3 million per year, Banton reports.

But just as important, distributing the reports over the intranet improved efficiency. "One of the sites had a report they called the 6-foot report, because it was basically 6 feet of paper," Banton says. "As people looked through the report, it would become littered with yellow Post-It notes where people had marked their place. Now that we have eliminated that 6 feet of paper and all the Post-It notes, users can drill through the report logically on their PCs as often as they want. The research time it has saved is considerable."

Perhaps the greatest measure of the system's success is its growing popularity with users. Banton says that before the system was implemented, DFAS surveyed employees to determine how many reports the system would need to handle. Already, the system is handling much more volume than the survey indicated.

"As people get used to the system, and as they find that they really like looking at the reports this way, they're finding more and more reports that they want on the system," Banton says.