Here is a rough draft of an email to the Australian Parliament House webmaster (
email@example.com) outlining a few points about the recent outage without notice or redirection (see notes at the bottom of the post).
If you feel it could use toning up, amping up, needs extra points, has superfluous points, spellchucking, etc, please add a comment and I’ll consider editing it (check back for any updates).
I write in relation to the unavailability of the parliamentary website over the weekend of the 10th and 11th of January, 2009.
aph.gov.au domain went "off the air" without warning to visitors, in the middle of a transaction with the Senate Submissions system, and without even redirection to a static page on a different server explaining that the site was down for scheduled maintenance, and when service was expected to resume.
That this downtime was apparently planned weeks beforehand shows a much greater disregard and disrespect for the public, the ultimate stakeholder, than if it was unscheduled.
Even without the continuous service capabilities most would expect of an important publically-available service, involving handover/failover to off-site servers, the minimum actions for a planned outage should have included both of the following:
- Redirection of all external web requests to a static page on another server, informing the user that there was scheduled maintenance underway, and when normal service was expected to resume.
- Prominent notices (especially on the http://www.aph.gov.au public-facing home page) informing users of the planned downtime, probably with advance warning of one week.
The lack of such notice for the public displays poor planning, especially for those who were in the middle of electronic transactions when the parliamentary systems became unavailable. No longer are parliamentary web applications "read-only" as far as the public is concerned: the public can upload information that is significant to parliamentary operations, and this information must not be corrupted or lost.
It also raises many questions about preparedness for unscheduled outages and disaster recovery.
The recent Gershon Report ("Review of the Australian Government’s use of Information and Communication Technology") highlighted the low awareness and use of IT governance and infrastructure control references across a large percentage of Australian government agencies, including the management tools (such as COBIT and ITIL) used by the Australian National Audit Office to assess IT capabilities. The recent failures (and other errors in the Senate Submissions subsystem) highlight the benefits that could be gained from introduction or greater use of these management tools and disciplines.
While I applaud your efforts to create a site that produces valid and accessible HTML, I believe that these recent problems can justify a loss of public confidence in the general integrity of Parliamentary IT systems and planning.
Therefore, I urge you to seek appropriate resources, including the expertise of other agencies such as ANAO and the Australian Government Information Management Office, to improve the service levels and data integrity of the Australian Parliamentary information services to the standards they warrant and the public deserve.
Well…. there you go. If you want background, go and have a look at "The Parliamentary Dog Ate My Homework" (2009-01-13) and related posts.
I’ll probably send this off in about a week, when hopefully a few of you good folk will have eyeballed and sanity-checked the above note first (and I’ll be updating it within this post until then).
Meanwhile, I’ll be preparing another note to
firstname.lastname@example.org about the ongoing problems with the Senate Submissions system, including details discussed here and here, which are unrelated to the general outage of parliamentary webservers.
Again, please add a comment to this post, even if it is just "that seems fine to me, Dave".
Thanks in advance.