The IT infrastructure of an organization encompasses hardware, software, databases, applications (including Web services) along with security processes and, for the purposes of this report, software-development policies and practices. This section briefly describes the committee’s assessment of various of these parts of the SSA’s IT infrastructure. It focuses particularly, however, on the underlying databases and database architecture, as these are especially key components of any effective electronic services strategy and application suite (see Box 3.1 for more on the centrality of databases to electronic services provision).2

Hardware Infrastructure

The SSA organizes its hardware and IT infrastructure3 in three tiers: local/departmental, remote operations control centers (ROCCs), and headquarters. There are numerous local offices; six ROCCs located in Pennsylvania, New York, Illinois, Missouri, California, and Alabama; and one headquarters facility, the National Computer Center (NCC), located in Baltimore, Maryland.

The hardware in the local offices consists primarily of personal computers (PCs) running the Microsoft Windows operating system, plus a local file server, all connected using standard local area network (LAN) technology. Desktop machines are upgraded regularly on a 3- or 4-year cycle. In addition to access to the local servers, local PCs also have access to the servers at the ROCCs through virtual private network (VPN) connections. The ROCCs run standard Unix servers from a mix of vendors and again are connected using standard LAN technology.

The bulk of the SSA programmatic applications run at the NCC. The NCC hardware configuration is typical of a large financial services organization. It consists of a variety of hardware configurations, including midsized servers running both Windows and Unix with their own storage volumes, six IBM Parallel Sysplex mainframe systems, and a large data-storage farm implemented using storage area network (SAN) technology from EMC Corporation. Most of the programmatic data sets reside on the


Note that this overview is of necessity brief and based on comparatively small amounts of data and input. A comprehensive assessment of such a large organization’s IT infrastructure was outside the scope of this committee’s activities; the committee tried to focus particularly on the capabilities and functionalities related to electronic services provision.


Factual details about the SSA’s IT infrastructure in this section are from Social Security Administration, Information Resources Management Strategic Plan (2005), especially pp. 85-224 (hereafter cited as Social Security Administration, Information Resources Management Strategic Plan (2005)), available at, accessed June 20, 2007.

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