Faulty network gear behind ATO tech woes

Services were restored early on Saturday

Credit: Dreamstime

An “intermittent error” from a network switch was responsible for a range of Australian Taxation Office (ATO) services being rendered inaccessible on Friday.

As a result of the problem, some of the ATO’s client-facing services “including our portals and online services experienced intermittent slowness or unavailability,” a spokesperson from the agency told Computerworld.

The agency worked with its partners “to identify and resolve the error” in a data centre housing ATO systems, the spokesperson said.

A public scorecard issued by ATO reveals that over the last 10 months the agency has met its target uptime with ATO.gov.au, with the site achieving 100 per cent availability. However, other services have not performed as well, with ATO Online services periodically falling short of the goal 99.5 per cent availability target (or the more demanding target of 99.95 per cent during the busy July to October period).

Availability of the Tax Agent and BAS portals has also fallen short during the period the ATO has released figures for. The uptime of ATO’s Small Business Reporting systems also failed to meet targets: Although SBR1’s availability target has been achieved for every month bar one since July 2018, SBR2 has met the target of 99.95 per cent in just one month (August last year).

The unfortunate timing for the Friday outage — just a fortnight after the end of the financial year — means the ATO could face renewed focus on the resilience its systems.

The ATO in late 2016 and early 2017 faced sustained scrutiny in the wake of multiple severe service outages. A 2017 report commissioned by the ATO traced the problems to an HP Enterprise SAN operated and maintained by HPE. (DXC Technology took over the ATO’s centralised computing contract after HPE’s services arm in 2017 merged with CSC to create the new business; in December 2917 the ATO renewed the contract with DXC.)

A December 2016 outage resulted from the failure of multiple component failures on a key SAN, including as a result of ‘stressed’ fibre optic cables and a problem with the SAN recovery process. A February 2017 outage occurred after replacement SAN cables were dislodged.

The ATO systems report found that when it came to striking a balance between “performance, stability, resilience and cost” there had been a “relative focus on performance” when designing the SAN. (In response to the investigation, the ATO said it was developing a “new storage strategy to enhance IT stability and resilience”.)

The agency in mid-July 2017 had to pull myTax offline, although that error was not related to the ATO’s previous SAN woes.

This year’s budget included $70 million over two years from 2018-19 for the ATO to begin preparing to migrate to a new data centre.

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Tags NetworkingAustralian Taxation Office (ATO)

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