Ministry of Natural Resources consolidates

If there is one thing Canadian IT organizations know better than anyone, it is the curse of distance. Trying to set up convenient network access for individuals spread out over millions of square kilometres is no easy task. But Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources has overcome this hurdle with its implementation of a Citrix Systems Inc. MetaFrame Presentation Server.

Tasked with creating access to one of the world’s most complex spatial databases, the ministry was constrained by the fact that remote areas seldom have high-speed connections. The data — often in the form of large geographic information system (GIS) maps — is accessed by more than 50 remote offices and relates to everything from lakes and conservation reserves to fish spawning sites and roads. They are part of the ministry’s Value Information System (or NRVIS, pronounced ‘nervous’), a proprietary system designed to help manage the province’s veritable smorgasbord of natural resource information.

One goal of the implementation was quite straightforward, said Ted Volpe, manager of geographic data maintenance systems with the ministry in Peterborough, Ont. “It was to make us more efficient. ” But he hasn’t been too surprised by the success. “We didn’t just guess on this; we did a lot of homework [before] we went live,” he said.

Prior to the Citrix install, the ministry stored its data on one of 26 regional servers, which would, in turn, send updates to a warehouse server in Toronto. “It would have been difficult to send the actual data over the network,” since some the files are over 100MB in size, Volpe said. If work needed to be done on a server, it required travel from one of the regional support centres. The solution was to install Citrix’s MetaFrame Presentation Server. Volpe said Citrix was the best fit to handle the ministry’s existing ESRI Inc. GIS software, which was a requirement of any solution chosen.

Instead of moving large files back and forth, the Citrix server creates “information pictures.” Applications run off of the Citrix server, pulling information from an Oracle Corp. 9i database. Now individuals using desktops, laptops or handhelds in any location access nothing more than a screen shot of a given application. All changes to the system are in real time, so a change made in the field can be seen simultaneously by head office in Peterborough.

The hardware is hosted and maintained in Toronto by iSERV Ontario, an organization responsible for providing infrastructure delivery to the province’s public sector. But NRVIS access is managed from Peterborough by the ministry’s IT team. Clients access information and applications via a Web browser, using a user name and password.

The installation went well but the the biggest hurdle was adjusting some firewall controls, such as tracking timeouts. Since going live about a year ago, one big change has been a reduction in travel to remote sites to solve problems, which has led to huge cost savings. Collaboration is also easier since the data is real time and regional districts can easily work together on province-wide projects.

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