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From HP, a real server farm

Hewlett-Packard finishes a $40 million project to improve access to USDA documents, such as county maps for farmers.

Hewlett-Packard announced Wednesday that it has completed a $40 million project to provide printers, servers and related technology to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The HP hardware and services are the foundation for one of the first steps in the department's Common Computing Environment (CCE) program, a push to improve the way USDA offices share information.

HP's piece of the project focused on the department's reliance on paper documents. Crucial documents, such as parcel maps, are stored in file cabinets at individual USDA offices. With 2,700 offices--one for each county--that means people needing data for an area outside their county have to wait for someone in another office to photocopy and mail what they need.

An initial stage of the CCE program focused on creating electronic versions of all USDA documents. HP stepped in a couple of years ago to provide the servers that will store the documents and make them accessible to other USDA offices.

Now a farmer needing a map covering a nearby county can go to the local USDA office, watch a government worker call up the map on a PC and print it out right there.

"The whole goal is to use technology so you have more time to devote to your mission and to be able serve customers," said Sean Kenis, area director for federal civilian agencies at HP.

HP's contribution included 3,000 HP ProLiant ML370 servers, more than 2,700 LaserJet 4100 printers, 1,000 LaserJet 4600 printers and 550 Business Inkjet 2600 printers, plus associated services to install and network the equipment. It ended up being one of the more geographically diverse projects the company has tackled, Kenis said.

"We delivered and installed over 3,000 servers for almost every county in every state in the country," he said. "You're talking about some places that are extremely rural, so it took some work to get to everyone."

HP has launched several initiatives recently to beef up revenue from its printing business, starting a new consulting business focusing on enterprise printing needs and launching new services aimed at small and mid-sized businesses.