September 15, 2014
Have you ever heard someone decrying some experienced shortcoming using the phrase, “We can put a man on the moon, but (insert shortcoming here)?” Probably not as much as you used to since we have to hitch a ride with the Russians—although this may be on hold for awhile for obvious reasons (can you say, “reset”?—just to get to the International Space Station, but at one time this expression of exasperation paid an, albeit backhanded, compliment to governmental technical competence. While we all, well most of us anyway, believe those days are in our collective rear view mirror, I think that we’ve reached the nadir when even government employees have lost faith in the ability of their employer to provide a satisfactory degree of data center reliability.
Now for some of you this lack of faith in the satisfactory operation of the fed’s data processing facilities might not come as much of a shock. For others it may appear as just piling on to the mounting level of government woes, but I think that we can agree that when you’ve lost Felicia in Social Security you’ve pretty much hit rock bottom. Up until now, this high level of concern relating to the operation of government data centers was limited to those of us in the private sector, but a recent survey by MeriTalk confirms that we are not alone our skepticism. Although 80% of those federal workers surveyed said that data center reliability was a top priority—one wonders what the other 20% felt was more important—42% said that downtime had affected their ability to deliver on their mission.
According the survey, 70 percent of government agencies experienced downtime of 30 minutes or more, and over a third of respondents gave their IT departments a grade of “C” or lower for downtime management. I guess this is understandable since only 19% indicated that they were fully confident that their IT organization could meet critical uptime and failover Service Level Agreements (SLA). While it’s obvious that the federal workforce is more than a little disconcerted by their data centers’ performance, this lack of reliability definitely has ramifications for all of us.
One area of concern is that this level of data center unreliability seems to impact a large portion of our nation’s government. I think that we can all agree that the data processing functionality for areas like the military are somewhat less prone to the unplanned outage then say those of the Department of Commerce, but as taxpayers shouldn’t we expect more? For example, while things seem to humming along quite nicely in the NSA’s data centers, a glitch at the main site for Medicare can mean your Uncle Phil has to wait another couple of months for that hip replacement. In other words, it’s always someone else’s problem until your brother-in-law hits you up for a couple of hundred because his unemployment check didn’t arrive on time. Obviously, there is a human cost to our government’s inability to maintain five 9’s of uptime.
While I don’t think there is any reason for immediate panic since out of 2.7 million employees you’ve got to believe that there are a few that know the difference between a PDU and a W-2 I don’t think we want this situation to get any worse. While some of you may think this current situation provides ample evidence for the need for our friends in Washington to begin to privatize the construction and operation of these critical cornerstones of government operation, I think we need to have a little faith. As we’ve come to see on a regular basis, these low confidence levels are simply the precursors for the change that we can all believe in delivered to us by the finest professionals our money can buy.