Like many agencies, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has many science centers, offices, and field stations scattered around the country, in addition to its larger regional and headquarters locations. Some of the smaller operations find that they need a Web presence to make data and other information available to the public, but they do not have the onsite capability to host one.
As a service to these work sites, the USGS developed the National Web Server System, or “NatWeb,” a managed Web hosting service that provides USGS Web administrators with a secure and reliable Web host.
NatWeb customers maintain full access and control of their Web content, while a centralized NatWeb server team handles administration of the Web server and network. The USGS Fort Collins Science Center (FORT) Web Applications (“Apps”) Team provides support to the NatWeb server team, assisting with site establishment, content management systems, database administration, and user requests. As part of the database administration task, the FORT Web Apps Team implemented and maintains geographically separated real-time database and digital materials replication across three nodes (locations).
FORT is now involved in over a dozen application development projects for EWeb hosted on NatWeb platforms.
|Typical Server verses NatWeb System
|Figure 1. With a typical Web server (left), visitors will lose access to a Web site if that server or the network connection goes down. With the NatWeb system and its three replicated sites (right), it’s different: if the network, Web server, or file system at any of the three Web server sites should go down, the NatWeb system automatically redirects users to the next closest Web server. USGS image.
Reliability Is Key
“Reliability” is NatWeb’s primary advantage. As more and more people rely on USGS Web content, especially real-time information about natural disasters such as earthquakes and flooding, it has become increasingly important to ensure that this resource is available even during those rare instances when a system becomes unavailable due to an overloaded network, an infrastructure failure, or an evacuation due to a natural disaster.
The NatWeb goal is to provide failure-resistant access to USGS Web information and robust access to real-time data. To achieve this, the NatWeb system is geographically replicated across three USGS locations (Fig. 1). This means that a network connection or server failure in one location will not interrupt access to the hosted USGS Web sites, because service is immediately switched to one of the other two locations.
In this way, the NatWeb system ensures that data and information remain available even during a serious natural disaster such as an earthquake or hurricane, or during IT-related outages such as network or system failures.