Social Security Data Infrastructure ‘Approaching Collapse’?

January 5th, 2011 by · 2 Comments

When it comes to data, the US government seems to operate in an entirely different dimension to the rest of us.  Or at least that's how it feels when reading articles like this Information Week piece detailing the travails of the Social Security Administration's infrastructure.  Apparently, a report by Inspector General Patrick O'Carroll Jr says that the current SSA National Computer Center is so severely strained that it 'may not be able to function' by 2012.  Yes, that's next year.  That it is strained seems like a no-brainer given that it was built in the Carter administration.  But no problem, right?  Just build a new one!  The industry churns these things out in a few quarters, right?

Well, no, the new one for which they have a $500M+ budget won't be ready until 2015!  Five years is an entire generation in the world of tech, what the heck could possibly take that long?  Just ask Digital Realty Trust (NYSE:DLR, news, filings) or Equinix (NASDAQ:EQIX, news, filings) to build it or something.  Oh wait, that would take three years just to set up the bidding, never mind.  Didn't we, like, bring in a tech czar or national CTO or something a couple years ago?

Not only is the data center situation ugly, their transition to VoIP in the call center is apparently having service issues and the software its applications are built on are in COBOL and deemed too risky to replace.  COBOL is sort of like Latin.  Nobody speaks it anymore, and only people with grey hair who have manually created punch cards can read the code let alone add features to it.  But they prefer not to and are very rare, so they must be paid very well.  Well, actually they are baby boomers too, so perhaps it's karma that they fix the system that their generation's retirement is about to crush.

This IG report comes after several contracts were awarded by the SSA under the Networx umbrella.  Level 3 Communications (NYSE:LVLT, news, filings) won a pile of wavelengths, while AT&T (NYSE:T, news, filingswon a huge $286M contract to fix that call center problem.  But everything just takes so long...  2015?  Shudder. Maybe by then they'll know what cloud computing is.

Oh great, now I'm imagining COBOL in the cloud, I'm going to have nightmares.

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Categories: Datacenter · Government Regulations · VoIP

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2 Comments So Far


  • BH says:

    SSA has tried several times to replace their Cobol apps without success. So have many other large organizations yet today 80% of all financial transactions still run on Mainframes using Cobol. Unfortunately the client server boxes aren’t powerful enough to process 100’s of billions of large records in a timely fashion and Cobol wasn’t replaced as promised. The schools stopped training people in Cobol and the companies just patched up their apps hoping to replace their Cobol in the near future. But it didn’t happen and now they’re screwed. Some places like HHS/CMS are still writing new apps in Cobol today. How do I how? I’m one of them.

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