The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) administers the nutrition assistance programs of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The mission of the FNS is to provide children and needy families better access to food and a more healthful diet through its food assistance programs and comprehensive nutrition education efforts. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP (formerly the Food Stamp Program), is the cornerstone of USDA's nutrition assistance.

Due to present economic challenges, more than 47 million people (most of them children) in the United States currently receive SNAP benefits each month. Many of these recipients are new to the program, so, in May, 2010, the FNS decided to create a dynamic Web application called the SNAP Retailer Locator. The application needed to be launched in 3 weeks, and Jonathan Benett, Program Manager, USDA FNS believed it was unlikely they would be able to access the required hardware in time. With limited budget and time, Jonathan selected the AWS Cloud to host the application. FNS was able to purchase services quickly through a pre-negotiated USDA Blanket Purchase Agreement with ESRI.

The mapping application helps SNAP recipients find the nearest SNAP authorized stores, including driving directions, and the website receives 30,000 visitors a month. Jonathan Alboum, CIO, USDA FNS, notes that their web application architecture incorporates an Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) Large Windows On-demand Instance:

Memory                                                                                                              7.5 GB

Virtual Cores                                                                                                            2

Virtual Computing Units                                                                                           2

Storage                                                                                                                0.5 TB

Map Requests Per Day                                                                                            50K


ArcGIS Server Enterprise Advanced 10 with FLEX API and HTML were used to build this solution. The SNAP Retailer Locator application performed so well that the FNS decided to launch their Healthy Access Locator application on AWS as well.

The USDA FNS met their three week deadline, and for the 18 months since the SNAP Retailer Locator deployed, it has been available 100% of the time. Plus, the USDA FNS saved 90% versus hosting the application on-premises.

Alboum explains that by hosting the Locator in the cloud, the FNS has saved money and resources that would have been used to purchase new servers, support operations and maintenance of those servers, power, rent, etc. “We estimated $250,000 to $350,000 to build, host, and maintain a similar environment internally,” says Alboum.

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