Data Center Network Problem Latest Healthcare.gov Snafu

Mike Allen
October 31, 2013

"The problematic roll out of the Healthcare.gov website continued during the last weekend in October as data center network connectivity was interrupted, preventing many Americans from accessing the site.

The roundly criticized launch of the Obamacare Web portal has stemmed from a seemingly unending series of issues, as the website has been unable to support traffic and has repeatedly crashed, denying users access to its information and servers. The problems have been so extensive that “Saturday Night Live” recently skewered the program in the political cold open of its October 26 episode, in which performer Kate McKinnon, as U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, encouraged stuck users to switch to the low-resolution version of the site, which simply read, “U WANT DOCTR?”

Jokes aside, the issues that Healthcare.gov users have encountered are ones that can happen anywhere, and it’s a firm reminder that organizations need to ensure that their data center network infrastructure and servers are up to snuff before they are the Web traffic floodgates are opened.

On October 27, a data center operated by Verizon’s Terremark experienced a connectivity problem, which effectively stopped online enrollment for users in all 50 states, Reuters reported. The problem interrupted operations for Healthcare.gov as well as 14 other related state sites. Network connectivity between the data center and the federal government’s data services hub was lost in the early morning hours, cutting off one of the critical components used to calculate users’ coverage or eligibility for federal subsidies for multiple days.

“Our engineers have been working with HHS and other technology companies to identify and address the root cause of the issue,” said Verizon spokesman Jeff Nelson, according to Reuters.

The Need for Disaster Recovery Planning
The range of issues highlight the maxim that it’s better to plan for a rainy day on a sunny one. Industry analysts have stated that a lack of system-wide evaluation and tests, as well as an eleventh-hour design change that required users to set up accounts before browsing health plans, were responsible for the initial bottlenecks. Others have suggested that the government website was unprepared for the high expectations users have developed in their Web use. The fast response times and constant reliability provided by companies Amazon andGoogle have led consumers to demand immediate service and high performance from their Web activity.

Maintaining a positive reputation and avoiding negative backlash are no small matters for organizations with this public profile, but it’s also important that smaller organizations invest in disaster recovery solutions that can prevent long-term or recurring outages, which can easily turn off users and incite an onslaught of bad press. Using multiple network and communication providers at a site can help mitigate the damage of an outage or prevent one altogether, according to Forbes. Secondary disaster recovery sites should also receive the same level of attention, because organizations never know when a backup facility will be needed for a long period of time. Having multiple supported facilities and network connections at a company’s disposal makes it easier to transition communications to the secondary site if the primary one is riddled with issues."



    Mike Allen

    "The problematic roll out of the Healthcare.gov website continued during the last weekend in October as data center network connectivity was interrupted, preventing many Americans from accessing the site. The roundly criticized launch of the Obamacare Web portal has stemmed from a seemingly unending series of issues, as the website ...