IRS installs new software to guard electronic tax data

The Internal Revenue Service is installing new storage software to safeguard the staggering volume of electronic tax information stored in the agency's computer system.

By 2007, the IRS plans to handle 80 percent of its tax filings electronically. The agency believes increased use of electronic filings will improve taxpayer convenience, operational efficiency and employee productivity.

But as part of its modernization process, the IRS plans to use only two of its five service centers to store electronic tax data. That makes it especially important for the agency to have a feature that can protect data in case problems arise at either center, said Mike Keeney, the IRS' electronic management systems project manager.

So the IRS, which already installed EMC Corp.'s Symmetric Enterprise Storage systems last year, now plans to install new EMC "business continuity" and disaster- recovery software, which should ensure that all of its information is secure and available to meet stringent processing deadlines, Keeney said. The feature is expected to be in place by next year.

Aileen Black, EMC's district manager of civilian agencies, said the new feature will allow the IRS to replicate its tax information instantaneously from disk to disk regardless of the server used.

The current software allows the agency to duplicate data from disks only if they are compatible with a particular server, Black said. But the new software operates in a heterogeneous computing environment, which manages, shares and protects information from various servers, including Unisys Corp. mainframes and Unix-based NCR Corp. servers, Black said.

"That's why this software is exciting,'' she said. "It allows the IRS to provide protection efficiently and for less money."

Keeney said the IRS will install the EMC software feature in its service centers in Memphis, Tenn., and Austin, Texas - 650 miles apart - to ensure continuity of service in the event that one of the sites becomes disabled. The agency no longer will use four backups, Keeney said.

The IRS, which already processes 300,000 electronic tax returns a day at a single service center during a peak period, anticipates that the number of returns will increase to a million a day by the time service-center consolidation is completed.

"Most of the government is reducing the number of service centers to save money,'' Keeney said. "Computers are much more powerful and much more reliable these days.''

Overall, the IRS has received 23 million computer tax filings so far this year, compared with 18.6 million at the same time last year, according to the agency's media office.

"EMC Enterprise Storage is enabling the IRS to create a sturdy, flexible infrastructure that will deliver ultimate protection of its information resources and seamlessly grow with its rapidly expanding electronic filing segment,'' said Bob Dutkowsky, EMC's executive vice president of markets and channels.

"EMC's superior information management, sharing and protection capabilities are ideally suited for organizations where continuous access to information is central to the lifeblood of their operations," Dutkowsky said.

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