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Texas snatches voter system from $863m IBM contract

Fears for lost data

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Texas has pulled its voter registration system from a $863m data center consolidation project being overseen by IBM, saying it distrusts the giant's ability to recover lost data.

IBM is merging separate data centers from 27 Texas state agencies into two facilities under a seven-year outsourcing contract, to cut costs and improve security.

But the Secretary of State office tells the the Austin American-Statesman it received a "wake-up call" in August after a major server crash resulted in a 13-day outage of its business records filing system.

It infers that if a similar incident occurred during an election, the agency wouldn't be able to verify new voters in Texas. The state agency received permission to withdrawal from the IBM program and set up a data center of its own with two separate backup locations.

An IBM spokesman told El Reg the outage was due to a failure with a third-party SAN it inherited from the Secretary of State office. Plans were in place to migrate that SAN to a new environment, he said.

"IBM worked closely with the Secretary of State's office to correct a complex situation as quickly as possible," he adds, claiming the systems were only intermittently down over the course of the remediation.

"In the end, all data was recovered, and the SAN environment was upgraded and improved," the IBM spokesman said.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for Texas governor Rick Perry is quoted in the American-Statesman as saying attempts thus far to get the election systems working at the consolidated data center have been met with missed deadlines, equipment and software failures, and inadequate disaster recovery.

According to the agency's website, work on the IBM project began in early November 2004, and was expected to be operational by January 1, 2006.

This is not the first time IBM has messed up Texas. In 2008, governor Perry suspended the transfer of state files to IBM systems and fined the company $900,000 for data lost through back-up failures under the same government contract.

Separately, another server crash in July 2008 for the state Attorney General's Medicaid fraud unit caused a loss of half the records generated during an eight-month investigation period.

IBM told us after the initial incident at the Attorney General's office in 2008, improvements were made across the enterprise, including the AG's environment. It said the state's IT operations are more stable and secure now and have steadily improved since IBM began the project in 2007.

The American-Statesman, on the other hand, claims a survey of the 27 agencies involved in the data center consolidation project show that 88 per cent were dissatisfied with the services provided by IBM. ®

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