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Anatomy of the VA's IT Meltdown 137

Lucas123 writes "According to a Computerworld story, a relatively simple breakdown in communications led to a day-long systems outage within the VA's medical centers. The ultimate result of the outage: the cancellation of a project to centralize IT systems at more than 150 medical facilities into four regional data processing centers. The shutdown 'left months of work to recover data to update the medical records of thousands of veterans. The procedural failure also exposed a common problem in IT transformation efforts: Fault lines appear when management reporting shifts from local to regional.'"
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Anatomy of the VA's IT Meltdown

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  • In other words.... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Like2Byte ( 542992 ) <Like2Byte@yahoo.NETBSDcom minus bsd> on Tuesday November 20, 2007 @01:08PM (#21422353) Homepage
    Business as usual for the VA.

    Once again, the VA shows its true colors and mucks up another project funded by taxpayers for the well-being of our nations Veterans. A more screwed up organization one will not find.
    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Actually, the VA is lightyears ahead of the private sector when it comes to electronic patient records. Also, I would imagine that if one were to research all of the screw ups in private hospitals and small practices one would find just as many problems as the VA seems to have. It's just the fact that the VA is a large government entity that it becomes an easy target. On the whole, the VA used to be deserving of much of its bad publicity, but in recent years it has made a significant turnaround and shoul
      • by Enry ( 630 ) <.ten.agyaw. .ta. .yrne.> on Tuesday November 20, 2007 @02:04PM (#21423201) Journal
        I can follow up a bit on this, since I worked for the DVA for a few years in the early 90s. Even then, just about all records were online and searchable. A veteran that went from Albany, NY to Tampa, FL and got sick could get his records transferred overnight (electronically) between the two hospitals, and there were ways to get metadata about the veteran immediately, including recent visits at any location and reason for the visit. I imagine that improvements in networks mean that these records can be viewed immediately.

        At the time, there seemed to be a lot of waste (think $10,000 CD burner in 1993ish, optical cards with images and data impressed on them, etc). But they really were trying to be ahead of the game - a friend of mine showed me his green card and it was almost identical to a design I was working with when I was at the DVA. They also had mechanisms for charging back to private insurance companies in the event a veteran was only partially covered for a visit.

        Oh, and just about all the software that was written and in use by those hospitals are in the public domain and downloadable [worldvista.org] for free - many other hospitals use VistA as their base.
    • And Americans want a nationalized health care system? Examine the VA system and I suspect a nationalized health care system will be very similar.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by LurkerXXX ( 667952 )
        You think things like this don't happen at private hospitals? I work with one and I can tell you right now they do.
        • by Like2Byte ( 542992 ) <Like2Byte@yahoo.NETBSDcom minus bsd> on Tuesday November 20, 2007 @02:43PM (#21423897) Homepage
          The VA is far more than just another hospital. It is supposed to aid US Veterans of all service branchs to see to the needs of them from educational loans, purchasing a home, medical care/assitance and others. See their site: http://va.gov./ [va.gov.]

          If any one hospital or chain of hospitals peformed as consistantly lousey as the VA has that hospital would have been sued into oblivion decades ago. Hundreds of thousands of vets who've used the VA's services can attest. But, we can't neccessarily sue the VA because they're part of the government. Go to any VA hospital in the US. Odds are that after you pass through the pretty facade they've set up you'll find patient after patient sitting in a wheel chair or bed lined along some wall waiting for some over-worked, over-stressed and under-staffed doctor and not getting the care they deserve.

          The VA needs to take a lesson from the corporate world and change it's face. Rename itself, start fresh. AND START DOING THEIR G-D JOB! That's the best dismal chance they've got to make things right. As it is right now there isn't a Vet in the US or abroad that thinks highly of the VA. And if there is, I'd find 100 that would refute any positive statement made about the VA.

          And, yes - I'm a Vet. My Father is a Vet. My Grandfather is a Vet. My Uncle is a Vet. I don't recall them looking forward to communicating with the VA, either.

          In closing, if the VA *did* do their job the homeless wouldn't consist of 25% US Veterans that couldn't re-adjust to civilian life after witnessing the horrors of war!

          http://www.cnn.com/2007/US/11/08/homeless.veterans/ [cnn.com]
          http://www.cnn.com/HEALTH/blogs/paging.dr.gupta/2007/05/mia-in-plain-sight.html [cnn.com]
          • And, yes - I'm a Vet. My Father is a Vet. My Grandfather is a Vet. My Uncle is a Vet.
            You must have some really healthy pets! : )
          • Welcome to the modern enlightened world. You see way too many people feel that patriotism is stupid. If you join the military you are patriotic and so you are stupid. Why should they care?
            I have seen people refuse to stand for the National Anthem on Veterans day at an airshow. Did you miss the people complaining about Google have a banner for Veterans Day?
            If people will not stand and actively complain about a Google's Veterans Day banner why should they want to fund or fix the VA? That actually costs real m
          • by bockelboy ( 824282 ) on Tuesday November 20, 2007 @04:19PM (#21425703)
            I beg to differ. If you think the VA is crap, go to a private hospital. The VA consistently ranks better than any hospital system in the US. The following article is 2 years old, but it outlines how it beats the crap out of other hospital systems:

            http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2005/0501.longman.html [washingtonmonthly.com]

            If you think the VA is bad, you can always go to your favorite HMO and have a higher chance of death.

            Did I mention that the VA is a leader in hospital IT infrastructure and is decades ahead of other hospitals?

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Veterans_Health_Information_Systems_and_Technology_Architecture [wikipedia.org]

            The VA is the largest hospital system in the US and its budget is decreased most years after adjusted for inflation. Given the predicament that Congress puts them in, they've done pretty well.

            However, every single mistake they make is a public headline. Private hospitals have the luxury of being sued and quietly settle for $$$. Instead, the VA has to endure lots of bad publicity.

            If the VA was a corporation, costs would skyrocket and even more corners would be cut. If you want to make it better, how about you ask Congress to provide adequate funding for the avalanche of people they are getting?
            • HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAOMGTOOFUNNNY!!!!!11!!!!!!!!one!

              May I remind you of Walter Reed Medical Hospital travesty that *recently* made headlines?

              http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G1-161076682.html [encyclopedia.com]

              http://akaka.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=newsarticles.home&month=3&year=2007&release_id=1570 [senate.gov]

              http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2007-03-21-va-review_N.htm [usatoday.com]
              • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

                by moosesocks ( 264553 )
                The Walter Reed travesty was indeed one that never should have happened.

                HOWEVER, it is a brilliant example in which a public outrage was sparked, and the government was forced to do its job, and did indeed clean things up after the horrible conditions were brought to light.

                If it were a private hospital, I fear that things would have been kept hush-hush for far longer through lawsuits and settlements. Even then, the worst that the government could do to the place would be to either impose fines, or shut the
              • You are right that the Walter Reed scandal was a travesty. However you are missing one key detail. It ISN'T a VA facility! Walter Reed is an army hospital, meaning it is run by the Department of Defense. The VA and DoD are separate departments, each with their own cabinet secretary.

                Put another way, would it be reasonable or appropriate to blame NIH (Dept of Health and Human Services) for security breaches at Los Alamos (Dept of Energy)? I mean, they both do basic science research, so they must be the same,
            • by dbIII ( 701233 )
              Go to Canada, Australia, Sweden, even the much maligned NHS in the UK. There's no point arguing that both the private hospitals and VA are no good and leave it at that - others do better with less resources. It costs a lot to run through a lot of burnt out medical staff and the experienced people that could get a lot done don't have much reason to stay. The problem is change requires a lot of resources immediately even if it won't in the long run.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by AvitarX ( 172628 )
        Or maybe examine medicare.

        I won't say it's perfect, but it has quite low overhead (relative to private insurance) and if there was no debate about who was allowed on and who wasn't it could be streamlined further.

        Very few people want a single source of healthcare providing everything.
      • Re: (Score:1, Flamebait)

        by schwaang ( 667808 )

        And Americans want a nationalized health care system? Examine the VA system and I suspect a nationalized health care system will be very similar.

        Oh please. That's like looking at FEMA's response to Katrina and saying "see, you can't expect the gov't to do anything right." It's so Republican to intentionally break government agencies and then use their brokenness as a reason to privatize everything.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by leoxx ( 992 )
        You should all be so lucky. [businessweek.com]
        • Back at ya.

          Read the comments that were attached to that article. They don't give as glowing a review as the article.

          1 Article - followed by many more jaded Veterans or the family members who had to assist their Veteran to get there.
          • by leoxx ( 992 )
            Right, because as we all know here on slashdot, comments posted anonymously on a web page are always factual and accurate.
      • I normally reply to these things with examples of well (or reasonably well) functioning universal medicare systems in pretty much all industrialized (and other) nations. However when faced with the continuing stream of total and utter fiascos authored by the US federal or state governments, who somehow mastered hereto before unattainable levels of incompetence, graft and general stupidity in anything even remotely relating to common good, I am beginning to lean towards another notion. It is the theory that

      • So you're saying that americans just aren't smart enough to have successful public institutions like Europe and Canada? Interesting position...
        • Apparently not. Their public institutions are becoming less "public" as time goes on, serving and defending the newly froming de-facto corporate aristocracy (complete with dynastical "presidencies") and court-jester "parties". Creation of new egalitarian institutions, or even repeairing of the once impressive existing ones, is apparently already out of the question. As are inheretance taxes, the last remaining obstacle between any pretense of meritocracy and the feudal order.

          And so the Republic crumbles t

  • Oh, great. (Score:3, Funny)

    by Penguinisto ( 415985 ) on Tuesday November 20, 2007 @01:10PM (#21422381) Journal
    Now MSFt will take this and start trumpeting a victory for Vista [].

    (of course, it would be a first for 'em... even if it's the "wrong" Vista we're talking here).


  • by moogied ( 1175879 ) on Tuesday November 20, 2007 @01:10PM (#21422403)
    Too many discplines combined..


    centralize IT systems

    four regional

    Fault lines appear

    There clearly is just not enough synergy..

  • The article said the project was pulled back and will be looked at - that doesn't necessarily mean cancellation
    • We're sorry for any inconvenience, those responsible have been sacked. We will now continue at great expense in a completely different fashion. Also, my sister was once bitten by a moose.
  • No organization that I know of has EVER had good luck with the name VISTA.
  • by digitaldc ( 879047 ) * on Tuesday November 20, 2007 @01:15PM (#21422487)
    Volpp assumed that the data center in Sacramento would move into the first level of backup -- switching over to the Denver data center. It didn't happen.

    DOH! Looks like it was all just due to someone's assumption that someone else would do their job.
    From my experience, you can assume things happened, but if you don't verify that they actually happened - you are DOOMED.
    • by Qzukk ( 229616 ) on Tuesday November 20, 2007 @01:29PM (#21422681) Journal
      DOH! Looks like it was all just due to someone's assumption that someone else would do their job.

      DOH! Looks like someone was making assumptions without reading the article. They considered switching to the backup, but since they didn't know whether the problem was on their end or the server's end, they were afraid that switching to the backup data center would destroy that one as well.
      • DOH! Looks like someone read the article.
        And since they didn't know what the actual problem was, they just assumed things and it got hosed. I stand by my original statement.
        • by jesdynf ( 42915 )
          Err. Yes. That's what happens when you don't know things and can't feasibly learn them before you have to make a decision.

          Generally, "they're stupid 'cause when u assume lol" is reserved for thoughtlessly destructive acts. The decision not to sync to peer wasn't one -- it was an informed decision to cut their losses and have merely *one* hospital down, rather than risk having N hospitals down.
  • Why didn't the build the second "centralized" system in parallel to the one that already existed? This way, when the new system failed miserably, just flip the switch (or DNS record) back to the old servers and retool the "solution" that you were testing.....

    that brings another point to mind...

  • my 2 cents. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Brigadier ( 12956 ) on Tuesday November 20, 2007 @01:24PM (#21422609)

    unfortunately one of the best ways to learn how well your disaster recovery system works is to have a disaster. The problem with scheduled drills is the scenarios themselves are planned out and typically not run system wide ie test the part of the system then that part of the system etc. on RTFA it seems much of the breakdown occurred because too many people assumed. There was also no centralized decision making identities who had access to all the information. All scenarios when view from there individual perspective seemed to have made the right decision. However sometimes when implementing a global recovery plan one system may have to be sacrificed by another.
    • Simple solution there: start with the planned small scale DR, then work up to turning off a datacenter. People get a large window when the drill will happen, but details and precise schedule are not released.
  • awesome! (Score:4, Informative)

    by 192939495969798999 ( 58312 ) <info@de v i n m o o r e.com> on Tuesday November 20, 2007 @01:25PM (#21422627) Homepage Journal
    Awesome, sorry if someone already posted but I just couldn't resist the following quote:

    Instantly, technicians present began to troubleshoot the problem. "There was a lot of attention on the signs and symptoms of the problem and very little attention on what is very often the first step you have in triaging an IT incident, which is, 'What was the last thing that got changed in this environment?'" Raffin said.

    p.s. I am shocked at how many junior cowboy IT people remain employed, given the supposed glut of hire-able and knowledgeable folks.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Many companies don't know enough to fire people who are damaging to their operations.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by TooMuchToDo ( 882796 )
        Mod parent up. As a small business owner, I've found that one reason our clients love us is because we manage their entire environment (be it hosting or internal network) and we provide them with all the documentation. I tell them "If you can't fire us at any time and keep running with no problems, we haven't done our job." Luckily, our clients love us, and we haven't been fired yet (in business 7 years).
    • Like the budgie! (Score:3, Insightful)

      by PHAEDRU5 ( 213667 )
      Cowboy IT people remain employed because they're cheap!

      First thing I learned in the military: your weapon was made by the lowest bidder.
    • What was the last thing that got changed in this environment?

      The way most IT networks are run you would be lucky to know if anyone is updating their environment. Businesses don't care about employing good or experienced employees, not that they know how to know they have one, they are concerned with whether they are under-budget so they can get their bonus for the year.

    • I think the point of this quote in the article is not that there was something wrong with the technician's response but with IT management's response. It's perfectly logical for individual technicians, who have minimal information, to do whatever troubleshooting they can with what they have. The failure was at a higher level where they should have known about the change made to port configurations.

      I should also point out that you often have to be careful of instantly blaming the last change made before a
  • Zonk, you retard (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sootman ( 158191 ) on Tuesday November 20, 2007 @01:28PM (#21422663) Homepage Journal
    I'm sure I'll get modded to -5, Flamebait, but fucking A, Zonk, Slashdot isn't a newspaper. You don't need to be so economical in your headlines. When I saw the headline, I first thought of VA Linux--you know, the guys who kinda sorta own you. "Medical centers" threw me, so I thought for a second that it might mean the state of Virginia. Then it dawned on me that you probably meant the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. I'm sure I'm not the only one.

    Please, God, isn't there some kind of Editing 101 correspondence-school course we can send all these guys to? I mean, I love Slashdot to death, but please God, can you give the staff just one ounce of basic editorial skills: spelling, grammar, etc? Teach them to write for clarity, not just brevity? Maybe go for broke and touch on dupe-checking, fact-checking, changing links so they point to the original article instead of some guy's AdSense-laden blog page that says nothing more than "here's the story"?

    You're EDITORS, for God's sake (even if in name only), you are indeed allowed to EDIT submissions.
    • Yeah, I assumed it meant Virginia too, specifically VA Tech's "meltdown". My first assumption was that it was referring to some IT failure related to the shooting (I know, I know, *smacks head*), e.g. some kid not able to upload his cell phone video of the shooting to YouTube quickly enough.

      Hey -- I didn't design my brain's pattern recognition systems.
      • *smacks UbuntuDope*. It's The VA, not VT or VA Tech of VA Linux. This really is perfectly precise. Besides, what effect would Cho's wild ride have on IT systems?
    • by Ctrl-Z ( 28806 )
      I think you missed the "the" in the headline. "The VA" can't refer to "VA Linux" (an entity which doesn't even exist in that name; even the "VA Software" name was dropped six months ago). Nor does "The VA" refer to the state of Virginia. In either of those cases I would expect "Anatomy of VA's IT Meltdown". What else could "the VA" stand for?
      • by kent_eh ( 543303 )
        What else could it stand for?
        Who knows. .VA is the TLD for the Vatican.

        Maybe the "the" that you refer to is a typo? who can tell in a /. headline?
        How hard is it to expand an acronym in it's first usage?
      • by ch-chuck ( 9622 )
        Flash, Reader Scorches Slashdot Editor - film at 11.

        For a brief second I though it was about a VIA chip that someone overclocked and melted, and they were doing some kind of post mortum on it.
      • by sootman ( 158191 )
        I'll admit that I did miss the 'the' the first time. (Wow, I never thought I'd get "the the the" into a grammatically-correct sentence.) But it is well-known that the brain takes shortcuts when reading, and mine glossed over the 'the' and skipped right to the attention-grabbing capital letters.

        Furthermore, few people outside the USA are likely to know what "the VA" is, so a bit of clarification would be handy. Scroll the Slashdot front page right now--this is one of the shortest headlines on the screen. The
    • by ggvaidya ( 747058 ) on Tuesday November 20, 2007 @02:01PM (#21423167) Homepage Journal
      I had a real fun time parsing this article.

      1. Looks at title: omg! Slashdot's parent company had an IT meltdown! ha-ha! But waitaminute ...
      2. Looks at icon: a ... crown? The Queen? Perhaps they mean *our* overlords, VA Linux? Or is VA Linux a monarchist organisation now?
      3. Looks at summary: and ... medical? Why are th... oh HANG ON WAIT A MINUTE
      4. Looks at icon: I remember that! It means ... government! Crown, government, get it? So, VA Linux screwed up a government's medical system? That makes ...
      5. Looks into the inner recesses of my mind: ... sense, but ... something's out of place, something's ... just ... not ... quite ...
      7. Looks at lightbulb over head: of course! There *is* no VA Linux! It's Sourceforge, Inc now! But that must mean ...
      6. Looks at summary: ... carefully ... the VA, why the VA, shouldn't it be ... Vir..ginia?!

      Gee thanks, Zonk, just what I needed before going to sleep. Now I'll dream of the Queen in Virginia melting down medical computers for Slashdot's open source overlords. Again.

      Last thing I needed ...
    • by Skater ( 41976 )
      Somehow, I knew when I clicked on "Read more" I'd get people bitching about the headlines instead of actually discussing the article. Clearly, I'm not new here.

      Get over it. Life's too short to get so upset about this kind of stuff.
      • by sootman ( 158191 )
        Somehow, I knew when I clicked on "Read more" I'd get people bitching about the headlines instead of actually discussing the article.

        Which is exactly why Slashdot's editors are doing their readership such a huge disservice by not EDITING. I've read PLENTY of threads that were about some minor point instead of being about the story. I've seen stories where literally every +5 comment in the discussion was NOT about the content of the story but rather an error in the reporting or something else tangential--usu
    • When I saw the headline, I first thought of VA Linux-

            When I read it, I first thought Veteran's Administration. VA Linux IT meltdown doesn't even make a lot of sense.

            Of course, I've been reading about federal government IT meltdown's for a long time, so I'm conditioned.

  • VA Acronym? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by bmomjian ( 195858 )
    Isn't it obvious that the acronym "VA" isn't good to use in a title? FYI, it stands for "U.S. Veteran's Administration".
    • Mod parent up, not off-topic.

      And tag the article "Veteran's Association" because other applicable acronymns for VA include "VA Software" which is the former name of SourceForge Inc (symb: LNUX), who own Slashdot. Also, even after reading the blurb for the article "Virginia" is a possible acronym for VA.

      Sometimes, it doesn't make sense to shorten things with acronyms. Especially within areas where confusion like this exists.

    • I pedanted this earlier, and at the risk of burning some karma, it really doesn't. [wikipedia.org]
    • What's even worse? It's not the VA any more. It's the Department of Veterans Affairs [wikipedia.org]. But no one ever calls it the DVA.

      OK, so maybe the hospital part of this Department thingie is the "VA" in question.

      Nope, sorry, wrong again. That's the Veterans Health Administration [wikipedia.org], or VHA.

      "Do not try to unfubar the VA; that's impossible. Instead only try to realize the truth: There is no VA."

  • by guruevi ( 827432 ) <evi&evcircuits,com> on Tuesday November 20, 2007 @01:31PM (#21422697) Homepage
    I wonder why higher management always wants to centralize their resources. The internet protocol and subsequent many IT applications were built to be efficient in small and decentralized environments.

    1) Trying to centralize gives us large expensive computers that are made out of the same components as smaller ones and thus fail just as the smaller ones do, however, ever trying to cram more crap on the same machine will bring down everything at once whenever it fails.
    2) Trying to centralize has the ultimate goal to eliminate jobs but they need those people since they know all the little details and hickups their systems have. If people know a project is going to eliminate their job, they won't be cooperative. IT not being cooperative is very bad in this world where everything is computerized.
    3) Eventually the same number of people is going to have to work in the centralized system just because you also centralize the problems and more problems will bring more people, more people will bring more overhead and inefficiency, more inefficiency will bring more people (at least that's the default in today's business world, throwing more people at an IT problem doesn't make it disappear faster)
    4) More people in a project that was designed to be more cost efficient means the managers will have to cut expenses. Cut expenses brings underpaid people, underpaid people bring less or no experience and higher turnover, higher turnover means more cutting expenses.

    Therefore: keep your local IT guy(s) and infrastructure although you can't squeeze 100% of work/day and it will bring a little more expense. The end-users have a better relationship with the guy(s) and that makes happier people. Centralizing brings more overhead, less customer-interaction with IT and thus more inefficiency throughout the business.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by bobaferret ( 513897 )
      There are certain this that centraalization brings to the table. Such as this this guy just came into the hospital unconcious , and we know that when he was in a VA hospital accross the country last week he was given a drug that would interact badly with what we want to give him right now. Or what is the chnage in his cat scan since last week whe he was someplace else and had one.

      Obviously not all of this data needs to be centralized, but it's existance should be. We don't know to what level the VA was doin
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      1) Trying to centralize gives us large expensive computers that are made out of the same components as smaller ones and thus fail just as the smaller ones do, however, ever trying to cram more crap on the same machine will bring down everything at once whenever it fails.

      If that's how you're doing it, you're doing it wrong.

      On how many smaller systems can you upgrade your disk controller's firmware without having to reboot or even stop access to the disks? Not a problem on a good SAN system.
      And those systems
      • by gatesvp ( 957062 )

        Here, here, great post.

        But I will pick at one thing, 3 & 4 are not issues with a unionized organization like VA. Given your example the 7 of the 8 leftover people would be "repurposed" to tackle another massive pile of outstanding work and the 8th one would either get promoted to manage the remaining 7 or they would be "trimmed" and someone else would be promoted to manage the 7.

        My experience with government organizations is that they tend to carry a lot of overhead and they can't really get rid of

    • You're absolutely right. But.

      Standardizing IT in VA would be fantastically helpful (150-something hospitals all running different software is a nightmare), and they thought that this would be an easy way to do it. Easier, certainly, than managing a 150-site rollout and 150 different migrations all with more than a couple nines of uptime.

      The folks in charge of making this decision work at the pleasure of the President, which means they're looking for work in January of '09. They need something on their re
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by henryhbk ( 645948 )
      Centralizing is often highly-advantageous in health care, because you need the records RIGHT NOW and the patients are allowed to go to any VA medical center in the country. I had a VA patient who lost his medications from Alaska while on vacation on the east coast, and I was able to retrieve his medication list push to our clinic's pharmacy in minutes, but it took 5 minutes to pull his records. Now I know most folks laugh, that 5 minutes is considered a long time, but anyone who works in a very busy walk-in
    • I wonder why higher management always wants to centralize their resources.
      To reduce costs: Rent and payroll in one building VS rent and payroll in many.
  • It's another one of these monstrous systems integration projects that will/never work and every hospital/med center is doing them. They want everything to talk to everything and the only reason behind it is really more big brother Total Info Awaren. BS. I worked for a hospital in the 90's. It was started before I got there and still going on years later after I left. I'm sure it's still going on. It is a monstrous bureaucracy that costs millions (billions?) and you can expect problems of this scale to incre
  • And I've never heard of anyone running even a piece of a datacenter on Vista. Everyone complains that outsourcing companies are too expensive, but honestly, we're a LOT smarter than the fools who implemented this. We would never have this mistake.
  • Yeah, time to fire your IT organization's management. And a few of their leads, too. And maybe some of the techs.

    Couple of reasons: First, they're running Vista. I'm not trying to be all "You must only run Linux or ur a n00b" here -- you can run Windows servers just fine, but no reasonable IT planner should ever, *ever* consider using an OS that new for a mission-critical enterprise application. If it doesn't have two or three years in the field, don't even consider it.

    Second, their failover plan suck
    • by jkroll ( 32063 )
      Who modded this up?

      Yes the article talks about Vista, but Vista the application as in "Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture". An application and acronym that predates the Microsoft OS of the same name. I know we like to blame MS for everything, but they have no involvement in this problem.

      Two, their failover plan had three levels of planning. That is far better than most of the failure planning I have seen. As a result of this failure, there were degradations in service becaus
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Nkwe ( 604125 )
      Um... they are not running the Vista you think they are. From TFA:

      Vista, Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture, is the VA's system for maintaining electronic health records.

      It sounds like they are running something much older. Again from TFA:

      According to Director Eric Raffin, members of the technical team were at the site with staffers from Hewlett-Packard Co. conducting a review of the center's HP AlphaServer system running on Virtual Memory System and testing its performance.

      "Virtual Memory System" on an Alpha would be "VMS" would it not? Note the article only states that some folks were working on VMS at the same time when the Vista system (not the Microsoft OS) went down. It doesn't say that they were the same system, but you should consider that their environment is a bit more older and complicated that you make it out to be.

      The article

    • Regarding point the first: Windows Vista != Veterans Healthcare Information Services and Technology Architecture (VistA).

      Regarding point the second: Yup. 100% right.

      Regarding point the third: You are more right than you know.

      Regarding point the last: They weren't middle managers.
    • Mod down. I stopped reading here... "Couple of reasons: First, they're running Vista. I'm not trying to be all "You must only run Linux or ur a n00b" here -- you can run Windows servers just fine, but no reasonable IT planner should ever, *ever* consider using an OS that new for a mission-critical enterprise application. If it doesn't have two or three years in the field, don't even consider it."

      First off, please read close enough to discern which VISTA they are talking about - it's kinda spelled out the
    • by Skyshadow ( 508 ) *
      Vista in this case doesn't have anything to do with Vista the Microsoft OS. I'm really sort of shocked that none of the above posters caught that.
  • Does anybody else get the impression that they created an Ethernet loop and couldn't figure it out for a whole day ?
  • Poor VMS. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by juuri ( 7678 ) on Tuesday November 20, 2007 @02:18PM (#21423425) Homepage
    staffers from Hewlett-Packard Co. conducting a review of the center's HP AlphaServer system running on Virtual Memory System and testing its performance.

    We hardly knew ye.

  • It happens (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ACMENEWSLLC ( 940904 ) on Tuesday November 20, 2007 @02:27PM (#21423585) Homepage
    What they were doing was a major change to their IT infrastructure. That's massive. Things happen. The fact that they were down at 17 of 128+3 (131) data centers because some IT staffer changed a port # at one of their hub data centers without following proper procedure -- that's minor.

    Seems to me that things worked otherwise well is a major accomplishment. They are still on the old system and are entering in data back into that system and migrating into the new system. But it seems things went well otherwise.

    Anytime you do a major shift like this, it's hard. The users hate it because they can do their job very quickly on the system they are use to, but now have to learn a new system and slow down.

    Things happen.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      because some IT staffer changed a port # at one of their hub data centers without following proper procedure -- that's minor.

      I don't know if I agree with that. "Change Control" or "Change Management" is a crucial part of any Data Center. The fact that these ports were changed without being properly "run up the flagpole" is a glaring mistake with very unfortunate results. I'll bet anyone swapping ports in the future will ask permission several times over before trying it again.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 20, 2007 @02:52PM (#21424059)
    1st off... VISTA is not Windows VISTA. It's the "Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture". Do a google search on that.

    VISTA runs on HP's VMS, and on top of that it runs Cache from Intersystems. (And yes it costs the tax payers a lot! But a lot less since we've been centralizing it over the last 3 or 4 years.)

    It is a HUGE system.

    The centralization that we're currently undergoing is massive, this problem was (IMHO) scape goated to a poor change control process.

    I know what was change, I know who changed it, and I know when they changed it. However, this 'melt down' has happened three times... (Not to the same drastic outcome.) It comes down to VMS locking out logons because locks aren't being released properly. (Now you could argue that the reason locks got behind was this change... But I don't think that is the real reason because of our previous problems.)

    It's that simple. Ask the VISTA manager over lunch sometime. They weren't afraid of data corruption. They were afraid if they moved the systems, the other system would lock up too with too much user load.

    There goes "VISTA". Everyone logged in is fine. Everyone not on... Isn't getting on.

    Now comes the bad part... No procedures!

    We take 32 medical centers, and throw their IT into a data center. You 'had' clear lines of who owns what, and what happens when they go down. Now you centralize all that... Who raises the flag when something bad happens? Is it the site that has the problem? Is it someone who now controls the system at the data center? Who is responsible for what?

    Oh wait... OI&T only has a dozen staff... And almost NONE of those people are technical. Everyones pay was simply moved from one appropriation to another. But what about the IT systems?!?! We moved those too, but didn't hire any permanent staff to take care of it? We just rubber banded a bunch of people together that work across the whole west coast and hand them a pager and say good luck?

    Suffice it to say, we have some REALLY REALLY hard working people... And some really bad management. (Congress forcing us to do things on a time table is really annoying. Especially since they expect results, but don't expect any documentation... What do you think is going to get skipped?)

    Congress: How is that data center move going!
    Howard: We've moved 28 sites!
    Congress: Good Job!
    Howard: .:Thinks:. Too bad they don't know about everything we've short changed to make such an obscene deadline!

    Then again... Howard doesn't even know everything we skip to get things done.

    • Why the hell is this modded at zero?

      This person knows what's going on and is telling you.
    • I work for a company that uses the Intersystems Cache database and I have to say that I imagine that Cache is a large part of the problem. The amount of good documentation for Cache lies between very little and none and my company has been on a nationwide search for people experienced with Cache and they too seem few and far between. Of course, I don't know that Cache really is a "worse" or "better" database that Oracle, SQL Server or MySQL for that matter, however, what I do know that is when it comes to
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by mikelieman ( 35628 )
        I don't know about that. First, the judicious use of whitespace might help people understand you argument better.

        M is what T-SQL/stored procs wants to be when it grows up. I'm pretty sure getting help from Intersystems isn't an issue at the VA.

        This is a Management/Change Management issue. Not a technical issue.
    • The centralization that we're currently undergoing is massive, this problem was (IMHO) scape goated to a poor change control process.

      Thanks for that excellent insight from the inside.

      First of all, the soft computer press quoting of idiot bigwigs and their scapegoating for whatever they're planning and then again the scapegoating when it fails is irritating, but it's the only semi-technical info available. If it weren't for Slashdot where AC's can dish the dirt we
  • I read the title and immediately thought of this VA IT meltdown [wikipedia.org].
  • If the incident actually occurred it made squat difference to treatment. I'm under fairly constant care at two related VA facilities and my treatment wasn't affected by any such thing. Sounds like it's just IT's problem.

    I've gone to VA hospitals since 1989. I got insurance when I started teaching and started going to local doctors and hospitals. Before a year was up I was going back to the VA. Treatment that the VA doesn't provide is treatment the vet didn't request. To be fair, at the VA you need to reques
  • There has never been a successful failover test of the RI Department of State's Central Voter Registration System. Most of that is because of the obstinacy of the RI Department of Administration.

    And State recently suffered a MAJOR web outage. Press says it was hacked, I know better. I used to manage that web server before I was summarily laid off. The MySQL database would start going haywire because it was an ancient version. All you had to do was kill the MySQL slave and restart MySQL and all would be f

"Everyone's head is a cheap movie show." -- Jeff G. Bone