Texas withdraws voter registration systems from IBM contract

Disaster recovery 'problems' tied to aged SAN equipment, IBM says

The Texas Secretary of State's office has pulled its voter registration systems out of an ongoing $863 million data center consolidation project being handled by IBM because of data security and disaster recoverability fears.

The decision was prompted by an incident in August when a server being managed by IBM crashed resulting in a 13-day outage of the office's business records filing system, a report in the Austin American Statesman said today.

The incident exposed "weaknesses" in IBM's ability to recover lost data a spokesman from the Secretary of State's office is quoted as saying. It prompted awareness of how a similar failure of the agency's statewide voter registration system at election time would have jeopardized the ability of counties in Texas to verify new voters as mandated under federal law.

As a result of the concerns expressed by the Secretary of State's office, Texas Governor Rick Perry and the state's Department of Information Resources, which is overseeing the IBM contract, gave permission for the agency to withdraw its election systems from the contract, the newspaper said. Following its withdrawal from the IBM project, the agency will set up its own data center with two separate back-up locations.

An official description of the work that IBM was performing for the Secretary of State's office shows that the project started in November 2004 and was supposed to have been completed by January 2006.

Under the contract, IBM was supposed to have helped Texas build a statewide voter registration system that would be complaint with Help America Vote Act standards.

The new system known as the Texas Election Administration Management, or TEAM, system will replace the existing Texas Voter Registration System.

This is not the first time that IBM has run into problems over its handling of the seven-year contract under which it is merging the separate data centers of 27 Texas state agencies into two facilities.

In October 2008, Gov. Perry suspended the transfer of state records to IBM over concerns about server breakdowns and data backups, which he said had put more than 20 state agencies in danger of data disruptions. Perry's decision stemmed from a server crash at the Texas Attorney General's office which led to the loss of critical state data. The same thing happened again with another system belonging to the AG's office this year which resulted in data relating to Medicaid fraud cases become unavailable for days.

Today's Statesman report quoted a spokesman for Gov. Perry's office as saying that the state had lost confidence in IBM's ability to get the election systems installed and tested at the consolidated data center in a timely manner. Missed deadlines, equipment and software failures, as well as inadequate disaster recovery options had raised questions about IBM's ability to have election systems properly installed and tested, the spokesman said.

Most of the 27 states agencies have expressed frustration over data backup and server failure issues related to the IBM data center consolidation project, the report said.

A spokesman for Texas Secretary of State Hope Andrade's office did not return requests for comment, and the Texas Department of Information Resources did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

IBM spokesman Jeff Tieszen said today that the outage at the Secretary of State agency was due to a failure with an "aged, third party piece of equipment -- a SAN -- that IBM inherited," from the agency. Plans were in place to migrate that SAN (storage area network) to a new environment when the failure occurred, he said.

Tieszen said that IBM had worked closely with the Secretary of State's office to "correct a complex situation as quickly as possible." Though the agency's systems were down "intermittently" over the course of the remediation, all data was recovered and the SAN environment has been upgraded he said.

"IBM continues to support the current TEAM voter registration system during the transition," he said. He added that the system performed "smoothly and without incident" during the Nov.3 elections in the state.

Tieszen also said that after last year's data loss at the Texas AG's office, IBM has made improvements across the environment to mitigate the chances of something similar happening again. "As a result, after the recent incident, all data was restored," he said referring the incident at the OAG's earlier this year involving Medicaid data.

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