VA data center outage hobbles VistA again

The Veterans Affairs Department suffered a regional outage of its Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture (VistA) because of a hardware problem at its Denver data center, a VA official said today.

The outage during the afternoon of April 10 affected 12 medical centers from Colorado to California and lasted five to seven hours depending on the facility, said Eric Raffin, acting deputy director of VA’s Office of Information and Technology.

A system failure in the hardware at the Denver data center caused the outage, not a problem in the VistA software, he added.

“The root cause won’t be known for a few days, until all data points are tested to find the event that caused the service disruption,” he said. “There is no suspicion of human error this time.”

Complicating the situation, VA’s telecommunications carrier, Qwest Communications, suffered an outage an hour after VA began troubleshooting its internal problem, he said.

This is not the first time the VistA system has gone down. VA officials blamed human error at a regional data center for an outage in August 2007 that lasted nine hours. It prevented physicians at 17 medical facilities from accessing the electronic medical record system.

In response, VA hired Abacus Technology to review its contingency plans. All the medical centers affected by the latest event had access to a local contingency system called VistA Read-Only. It offers clinical information up to the point of the outage so the impact on health care operations can be reduced, Raffin said.

VA is in the process of moving health systems from local hospitals to regional data centers. VA officials have said the consolidation will improve information security and help the department apply consistent and standardized management practices for critical information systems.

Under the regional program, information systems are physically secured in the data centers, and information technology employees operate, manage and maintain the systems remotely.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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