Data Center Downtime Among Federal Agencies Spurs Calls For More IT Investment


A new study that shows federal agencies experienced 30 minutes or more of downtime with their data centers in a recent one-month period has solution providers urging the government to invest more in its IT infrastructure.

Steve O’Keeffe, founder of MeriTalk, a public-private partnership focused on improving the outcomes of government technology, said a study underwritten by Symantec underscores the need for an update of government equipment. The study found 70 percent of agencies experienced downtime for more than 30 minutes in the last month, and 90 percent of field workers said the downtime affected their ability to do their jobs. Reportedly, 42 percent of the downtime was due to a network or server outage, while 29 percent was due to internet connectivity loss.

O’Keeffe said those numbers indicate public government service websites -- including, for example, healthcare.gov or those available for veterans support services -- may have gone down during those periods.

“It’s becoming more and more of a challenge,” he told CRN. “There’s more weight on these data centers. With downtime, think about healthcare.gov, … think about mission critical DoD on the frontlines. … It affects our ability to look at the services the government provides to America. Even look at the TSA in terms of vetting people coming into the country -- when you fly in and there are those long lines, if you have a 30-minute downtime, that line will back up and back up.”

[Related: Software Problems Cripple Federal Healthcare System Rollout]

Additionally according to the study findings, 42 percent of government field workers said downtime with their on-premise data centers left them unable to support their agencies' missions. At the same time, less than one-fifth of federal IT professionals said they felt fully-confident in their agencies abilities to meet uptime and failover requirements.

The study estimated having agile data centers could save field workers 800 hours of work each year for a $32.5 billion savings in annual productivity. 

O’Keeffe said the government and IT professionals are both aware of these problems but unable to make the necessary investments to fix them. 

“I think the motto for the government IT professional should be, ‘The beatings will continue until morale improves,’ … because patently,” he said, “from the study, they’re telling us what the problems are. … They understands these issues.” 

O’Keeffe noted downtime also opens government agencies up to the threat of major security breaches. One in three field workers said they use their unsecured personal devices and one in four use workarounds, like Google Apps, when unable to access agency applications on the job, according to the study.

“They spend billions of dollars on IT certification (through the Federal Information Security Management Act) but if that system is not available, or the file size is too big, … it just goes over to Gmail or Hotmail or a Yahoo account,” O’Keeffe said. “That goes on all the time.”

MeriTalk said the study with Symantec was conducted this summer and surveyed 152 federal field workers and 150 federal IT professionals with a margin of error of about 8 percent for each group.

NEXT: VARs Weigh In On How This Affects Government IT Workers