The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) provides the nation’s farmers, ranchers and forest landowners with financial and technical assistance for conservation efforts as well as agricultural operations. Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has amassed one of the largest collections of data on soil conditions and water and climate information in the United States. Many different organizations, including those in other parts of the world, as well as individual farmers and ranchers, use this data to predict water flow and other conditions. Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has found that the best way to deliver this data to a worldwide audience is via its national website and state websites, which collectively receive roughly 1.4 million visitors each month.
NRCS’s web infrastructure has undergone many changes in the past few years. Falling under the purview of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), all NRCS sites are now required to comply with stricter IT security requirements than they did historically. The NRCS must also be compliant with the U.S. Government’s mandate requiring all government agencies to have their public facing websites and email services available over Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6). To satisfy these requirements, NRCS had to migrate its website hosting to the National Information
Technology Center (NITC). NITC falls under the purview of the USDA Office of the Chief Information Officer and is the centralized source for data center solutions for U.S. government agencies. At the same time, the NRCS also migrated to a new content management system. According to George Couch, Web Project Manager, Public Affairs Division at NRCS, “All these changes caused a bit of instability in our web environment.”
NRCS needed to meet two key requirements to support the project’s objectives:
When NRCS migrated its website hosting to NITC, it was able to take advantage of Akamai cloud services available as part of the technology that NITC provides to ensure the availability and security of the USDA’s websites. “NITC keeps up with and makes leading-edge technologies available to federal agencies. That’s how we were able to implement Akamai Dynamic Site Accelerator and Akamai Site Failover to NetStorage,” explains Couch.
With Akamai services in place via NITC data centers, the NRCS can minimize downtime. “Even when NITC does monthly updates or needs to take measures to ensure we are not vulnerable to security exploitations, our site is available because of Akamai,” says Couch. This also affords the NRCS more flexibility. “We can now add site capabilities – such as searching a grants database – without concern about our site being unavailable to visitors, making it possible to better serve the public,” he continues.
As another measure to ensure site availability, NRCS takes advantage of Akamai Site Failover. By regularly crawling the NRCS website and then transferring, storing and delivering website content from the globally distributed, highly available content delivery network (CDN) servers comprising the Akamai Intelligent Platform, this service is designed to ensure that website content is always available even if the origin experiences problems. “We serve lots of large static assets and documents. With Akamai, we can reliably deliver our content while reducing our bandwidth requirements by almost 93%,” explains Couch.
With Akamai Dynamic Site Accelerator, the NRCS website can perform optimally. Importantly, Akamai’s cloud services make it possible for the agency to achieve this without adding servers to handle content distribution and delivery.
“To date, we’ve only tapped into a sampling of the services that Akamai offers. Going forward we plan to take advantage of more Akamai services to ensure the most available and highest performing web presence possible,” concludes Couch.
NRCS improves the health of our Nation’s natural resources while sustaining and enhancing the productivity of American agriculture. It achieves this by providing voluntary assistance through strong partnerships with private landowners, managers and communities to protect, restore and enhance the lands and waters upon which people and the environment depend. NRCS Vision: Productive working lands in harmony with a healthy environment.