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PBXs Create a County's Data Communications Net.

In many parts of the country, late or missed child-support payments pose a serious problem for the families that need them and for the local governments that are supposed to make certain they are paid. Yet this is not so in Ventura County, a sprawling area of 500,000 people just north of Los Angeles.

When Ventura county resident "Paul S." was late with his child-support payments fro the second successive month, he immediately received a notice of his deliquency with a warning that any more late payments would be brought to the attention of the county district attorney for possible court action. Paul's response was to pay immediately, and he has not been late since. Computer Generates Warnings

The warning that spurred Paul to action was automatically generated by a Hewlett-Packard 3000 computer, which our data processing staff has aptly nicknamed "Little Orphan Annie." Annie is responsible for monitoring 14,000 child-support cases for the county, and is just a small part of what we believe is one of the United States' most-advanced countywide data processing and dataa communications networks.

Encompassing applications in accounting, health care, public works, tax collection, law enforcement and other equally diverse county programs, Ventura's data network incorporates 11 computer systems serving more than 1500 users, most of whom are in or near the county office center in the city of Ventura.

Our information systems department developed the network to meet the greatly increased data processing and data communications needs of a county that extends over 1,884 square miles, stretching from the northern edge of Los Angeles to the southernmost part of Santa Barbara, and from the Pacific Ocean to the Lockwood Valley next to Kern County. County's Population Exploding

In the last decade, the county's population has grown by 40 percent and the government grew almost as rapidly, resulting in agencies and services being scattered over a wide area.

Our network has produced dramatic savings for the county in personnel and other costs. In law enforcement alone, the network save $2.3 million in the five-year period of 1977 to 1982. It has also generated income, since the Federal Support Incentive Fund pays the county 27.5 cents for every dollar collected from recalcitrant parents through the child-support program.

But to many of its 1500 users, the network's real value lies in its ability to make a myriad of data bases and other functions on 11 different computers available to them quickly and easily. Five Years in Developing Net

In development for five years, and still growing, Ventura County's data processing system today includes two IBM mainframes, nine Hewlett-Packard minicomputers and 800 terminals and printers, including some on "local" multidrop lines as far as 40 miles away.

Three principal data processing clusters are served by the communications network:

* The two IBM mainframes, a 4341 and a 4331, for financial and accounting functions.

* Five Hewlett-Packard computers, including HP 3000 series 44s and Series IIIs, and an HP 1000, used in areas such as health care, public works, training, and development and test.

* Two HP 3000-44s, two 3000-IIIs and an HP 1000 devoted to the criminal justice system.

The information requirements of these users are vast and varied. For example, the health-care agency maintains its problem-oriented record system for mental health as well as patient billing records, the public works department monitors flood-control projects, and there is the elaborate inmate-management system with minute records on every prisoner in the county jail, from court dates and pending charges to personal data such as health records and diet requirements. All Departments Have Access to Accounting Data

In addition, all of the country's 30 departments and agencies need access to the Financial Accounting System for data on subjects such as appropriations, expenditures, revenue status and the general ledger.

For convenience, each computer in the Hewlett-Packard clusters was given a name to reflect its function in county government. In addition to Little Orphan Annie, already mentioned, examples include: "Wyatt Earp," for the mini that helps manage data on the jail inmate population; "Judge Roy Bean," responsible for the court system; and "Doc Holiday," on which health-care data is stored.

Anticipating the diverse needs of our users was a major concern when we planned the network, and it required us to address a number of problems.

First, we expected that with the substantial long-term growth projected for the county, that the number of computers, each dedicated to a different application, would continue to increase as applications increased.

Then too, since many users would need access to more than one application on more than one computer, it was essential to employ a method of switching between applications, and therefore between computers, so it wouldn't be necessary to hardwire each terminal for each application.

In addition, given the large number of computer ports and large number of requests for information we anticipated, we needed a method of "traffic control" to prevent chaos and delays and allow efficient communication data. User Log-On Made As Easy As Possible

Finally, it was necessary that the users, many of whom had no experience with computers, be able to log-on and access the information they needed as easily as possible.

These problems were solved quite nicely by Micom Micro600 Data PABXs, which act like telephone switching systems for data. Our two 600s, a table-top unit for the criminal justice system and a floor-standing unit for other areas, allow users to switch between applications on different computers and to contend for computer ports on a first-come, first-served basis. They also enable us to control the flow data communications and permit even inexperienced users to access computer-stored data bases through easily mastered keyboard commands.

Naturally enough, most requests for access to the information stored in a particular computer come from users in the department to which the computer is primarily dedicated. Our floor-standing 600, configured to support up to 264 terminals, handles the majority of these local requests.

The PBX allows users to select the "class" of computer port they would like to access, a class being a group of ports associated with a uniquely definable computing resource, such as a specific data base.

If any one of the computer ports dedicated to that data base is available when a user requests access, the switch makes the connection; if all ports are busy, the user is so informed and the PBX offers to queue the user for connection when a port does become available. Operators Gain Information Very Simply

Thus, a person at one of the 30 terminals in the district attorney's office can learn the exact status of a person's child-support payments by requesting access to the "first available" port on Little Orphan Annie. Using anothe simple command, the terminal operator can learn whether a warning has been sent, a warrant issued, or any action taken by the courts.

Every department needs access to the 4341 mainframe, since that's where the Financial Accounting System (FAS) is based, and it is in FAS traffic management that the switching and control features of the Micro600 are particularly valuable.

For those users not linked directly to the 4341, access to its data is available through an HP 3000-III connected to the 4341 by an interactive mainframe link (see accompanying diagram). Anyone who has access to an HP terminal simply requests FAS through the 600 switch, and thereby gains access to the 4341 via "Kate Elder," the 3000-III computer responsible for miscellaneous county production work.

This connection is transparent to the user. Thus, authorized users in the health-care agency, the district attorney's office, public works or other departments can easily gain access to budget information for their department without first becoming data processing specialists.

Since the data PBX permits selection of up to 64 classes by symbolic names made up of alphabetic characters, such as FAS, we are able to use acronyms for our most-frequently accessed resources, an important advantage for our inexperienced users. Entire Net Can Be Dialed Up

Certain users, including systems managers and authorities at mental health clinics located outside the government complex, occasionally need access to the network from remote terminals. The dial-up capability of the 600 switch makes these connections simple. Particularly for the systems managers who often need to consult a number of computers from their home terminals, the PBX's ability to access more than one computer on a single call is a welcome feature.

Conversely, while the 600 greatly simplifies access for authorized users, it can also prevent unauthorized access to the network and its sensitive files. It provides the computer manager with complete control over computer access, and supplies a time-and-date-stamped record of every connection, every disconnection, every failure to connect along with its cause, and every entry into the wait queue.

The contention feature of the 600 combined with its statistics log (which keeps track of the origins of each request for access to a class) have enabled us to achieve significant savings in the use of computer ports, an advantage that becomes increasingly important as our network grows. Statistics Log Cuts Port Need

In the health-care department, for example, we need only 32 computer ports to serve 75 terminals, because the statistics log revealed that on average there are only 25 concurrent users of the Doc Holiday computer.

We have also achieved substantial savings in development-and-test, where 32 ports serve up to 200 users of "Lily Langtry," and in miscellaneous county production, where 100 users contend for 24 ports on Kate Elder.

On network's success in cutting costs in the administration of the child-support program, in law enforcement, and other areas, and the ease with which even inexperienced users gain access to the information they need, encourages county departments not yet in the system to come on board.

With room to expand our Micro600 PBXs to serve more departments and applications, we believe we are in a good position to grow as Ventura County's data communications and data processing needs increase.
COPYRIGHT 1984 Nelson Publishing
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Copyright 1984 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Burns, J.
Publication:Communications News
Date:Jul 1, 1984
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