Centrelink outage prompts new backup plan

Department of Human Services minister Joe Hockey has called for new backup datacentres for federal government agencies following a recent power outage that took down key Centrelink IT systems.The incident occurred on the afternoon of August 22, when a problem with Canberra's power grid caused a Centrelink mainframe to fail.

Department of Human Services minister Joe Hockey has called for new backup datacentres for federal government agencies following a recent power outage that took down key Centrelink IT systems.

The incident occurred on the afternoon of August 22, when a problem with Canberra's power grid caused a Centrelink mainframe to fail. The Canberra grid supplies electricity to much of the ACT.

Compounding the problem, backup power to the Bruce, Canberra-based datacentre hosting the mainframe also failed.

The outage caused lengthy delays to Centrelink's processing of welfare payments, and staff had limited access to affected IT systems.

Although the problem was eventually rectified for Centrelink to make the day's estimated AU$350 million in payments to more than half a million families, Hockey said he was concerned about the wider implications.

"Needless to say that Jeff Whalan, who's the head of Centrelink, and myself were firstly not impressed, because we assumed that we had proper power backups," Hockey said.

"And in fact there was an extensive contract to deliver that power backup.

"So to say that we were impressed at that moment with the services provided would be a massive overstatement," Hockey said.

ZDNet Australia has learned Cybertrust was responsible for backup power to the facility, which houses computers for a number of government departments.

Cybertrust did not respond to requests for comment before time of publication.

Hockey wants new backup datacentres so the situation can't happen again.

"The fact is Canberra's on one grid," Hockey said. "And yet so much of the operations of the nation and the day to day operations of the city of Canberra, which are not insignificant, rely entirely on that grid and the risks associated with being on one grid.

"From our perspective, Canberra represents some level of increased risk," he said.

The IT skills shortage in Canberra was another reason for looking to locate backup datacentres in other states, according to Hockey.

He invited state governments to pitch to provide the facilities.

"I'm interested in getting proposals from state governments to see if they'll play ball with us."

Hockey has supported burgeoning IT hubs on the Gold Coast and in Adelaide as a way of alleviating strain on Centrelink IT resources.

Hockey's access card project would also require a datacentre located outside the ACT.

"The 800 pound gorilla that is at the forefront of our minds at the moment but at the back of the minds of the IT industry is the secure registration system for the rollout of the smartcard.

"And I am certainly inclined to have the datacentre for that outside of Canberra, and backup facilities obviously in other risk-averse destinations.

"So that will be a significant project as well," he said.

Whether the access card datacentre would be the same facility as the Centrelink one was still to be decided, according to Hockey.