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Anatomy of the VA's IT Meltdown

Zonk posted more than 6 years ago | from the use-your-words dept.

Government 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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state v federal (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21422315)

Why is Virginia trying to get into the federal record management arena? Shouldn't they keep to themselves?

Re:state v federal (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21422369)

1)RTFA
2)simple conventions:
VA = Virginia
The VA = The US Department of Veterans Affairs

Doesn't VA own slashdot? (1, Funny)

Jeremiah Cornelius (137) | more than 6 years ago | (#21422655)

and sourceforge, too?

Re:Doesn't VA own slashdot? (1)

qweqwe321 (1097441) | more than 6 years ago | (#21423347)

The Veteran's Administration, not VA Linux.

Disappointing your employees . . . (2, Interesting)

corifornia2 (1158503) | more than 6 years ago | (#21423199)

This is funny to me. I was hired by the VA in St. Petersburg, Florida a few years ago when Windows 2003 first came out to train all of the NT administrators on the migration to 2003. Of the 60 or so NT administrators, all but three of them were losing their title and becoming helpdesk for their site and "physical hands" for the few remaining administrators.

A lof of the admins were unhappy about that, as I would have been. I am just curious if the failure to complete the project had to do with the lack of respect for the older employees with NT experience and essentially downgrading those employees.

Re:Disappointing your employees . . . (1)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | more than 6 years ago | (#21423879)

Better to be downgraded then out of work. At least it gives you time to find a better gig.

Easier solution (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21422331)

'left months of work to recover data to update the medical records of thousands of veterans.


Stop sending our troops to fight bullshit wars, and you won't have to worry about Veteran's medical records.

In other words.... (4, Insightful)

Like2Byte (542992) | more than 6 years ago | (#21422353)

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:In other words.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21422567)

>Once again, the VA shows its true colors and mucks up another project funded by taxpayers for the well-being of our nations Veterans.

Hey! I live in Virginia, you insensitive clod!

Re:In other words.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21422757)

Yes, because private corporations never have IT problems [tier1performance.com] .

Re:In other words.... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21422841)

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 should be considered a model for others to follow. I'm not saying that serious problems don't still exist, or that it's a perfectly run organization, but I do think that the media paints a one-sided picture.

Re:In other words.... (4, Informative)

Enry (630) | more than 6 years ago | (#21423201)

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.

Re:In other words.... (1)

LuxMaker (996734) | more than 6 years ago | (#21422867)

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:In other words.... (2, Insightful)

LurkerXXX (667952) | more than 6 years ago | (#21422969)

You think things like this don't happen at private hospitals? I work with one and I can tell you right now they do.

Re:In other words.... (4, Insightful)

Like2Byte (542992) | more than 6 years ago | (#21423897)

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]

Re:In other words.... (1)

Scrameustache (459504) | more than 6 years ago | (#21424551)

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! : )

Re:In other words.... People just don't care. (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 6 years ago | (#21424975)

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 money.
Yea we should fix the VA.

Re:In other words.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21425219)

And this is the same government we want running the healthcare for all citizens?

/troll off

Re:In other words.... (2, Insightful)

AvitarX (172628) | more than 6 years ago | (#21422989)

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:In other words.... (0, Flamebait)

schwaang (667808) | more than 6 years ago | (#21423177)

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:In other words.... (2, Informative)

leoxx (992) | more than 6 years ago | (#21424209)

You should all be so lucky. [businessweek.com]

Oh, great. (2, Funny)

Penguinisto (415985) | more than 6 years ago | (#21422381)

Now MSFt will take this and start trumpeting a victory for Vista [72.14.253.104] .

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

/P

I see the problem (4, Funny)

moogied (1175879) | more than 6 years ago | (#21422403)

Too many discplines combined..

Anatomy
Medical.

centralize IT systems
IT.

four regional
Topographical.

Fault lines appear
Seismology.

There clearly is just not enough synergy..

Re:I see the problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21423321)

Management
Business

Meltdown
Nuclear Physics/Engineering

Synergy
PHB Buzzword Comparative Literature

Re:I see the problem (1)

protolith (619345) | more than 6 years ago | (#21424237)

So you need a DBA geointerographer

'vote' to eliminate life0cidal corepirate nazis (-1, Troll)

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not cancelled (1)

mlong (160620) | more than 6 years ago | (#21422449)

The article said the project was pulled back and will be looked at - that doesn't necessarily mean cancellation

Re:not cancelled (1)

orclevegam (940336) | more than 6 years ago | (#21423445)

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.

Start by banning the name. (1)

LibertineR (591918) | more than 6 years ago | (#21422471)

No organization that I know of has EVER had good luck with the name VISTA.

Re:Start by banning the name. (1)

Slashidiot (1179447) | more than 6 years ago | (#21422623)

Personally I'm wishing good luck to this VISTA. [wikipedia.org]

Re:Start by banning the name. (1)

TallMatt (818744) | more than 6 years ago | (#21423973)

I work for a medical imaging company called MIMvista and we are doing quite well. We were around before windows vista came to the party.

Assumption junction, what's your function? (3, Insightful)

digitaldc (879047) | more than 6 years ago | (#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.

Re:Assumption junction, what's your function? (5, Informative)

Qzukk (229616) | more than 6 years ago | (#21422681)

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.

Re:Assumption junction, what's your function? (1)

digitaldc (879047) | more than 6 years ago | (#21422737)

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.

Re:Assumption junction, what's your function? (1)

jesdynf (42915) | more than 6 years ago | (#21422949)

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.

Federal Govt Jobs Being Done (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21423179)

In my experience with federal govt IT jobs, you usually have to FORCE others to do their jobs if your job depends on someone else doing their job to completion. This involves lots of whistleblowing and reporting them up the chain of command when they're slacking, and generally playing cop over them. You must always save all emails, memos and all forms of correspondence with them, take plenty of detailed notes at all meetings, and I've found that secretly recording your conversations and meetings with a portable voice recorder slipped into your pocket works wonders to help get a project done. Federal agencies have pretty much all de-evolved into a perpetual surveilence society (that's why they're doing it to the citizens now too), and surveillance is a language they understand clearly. You have to think and act like a prosecuting attorney to keep your project on track.

Somebody explain why it doesn't work like this (0, Redundant)

blhack (921171) | more than 6 years ago | (#21422581)

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...

DIDN'T THEY TEST THE FREAKING THING!?

my 2 cents. (4, Insightful)

Brigadier (12956) | more than 6 years ago | (#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.

Re:my 2 cents. (1)

Fulcrum of Evil (560260) | more than 6 years ago | (#21424405)

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! (3, Informative)

192939495969798999 (58312) | more than 6 years ago | (#21422627)

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:awesome! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21422793)

I am shocked at how many senior level people are so utterly bad at their jobs. I can only conclude that results are entirely optional in the IT industry.

Re:awesome! (2, Insightful)

Richard Steiner (1585) | more than 6 years ago | (#21423607)

Many companies don't know enough to fire people who are damaging to their operations.

Re:awesome! (2, Insightful)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | more than 6 years ago | (#21424027)

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! (2, Insightful)

PHAEDRU5 (213667) | more than 6 years ago | (#21424253)

Cowboy IT people remain employed because they're cheap!

First thing I learned in the military: your weapon was made by the lowest bidder.

Zonk, you retard (5, Insightful)

sootman (158191) | more than 6 years ago | (#21422663)

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.

Re:Zonk, you retard (0)

UbuntuDupe (970646) | more than 6 years ago | (#21422807)

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.

Re:Zonk, you retard (1)

Fulcrum of Evil (560260) | more than 6 years ago | (#21424567)

*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?

Re:Zonk, you retard (1)

Ctrl-Z (28806) | more than 6 years ago | (#21422875)

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?

Re:Zonk, you retard (1)

kent_eh (543303) | more than 6 years ago | (#21423069)

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?

Re:Zonk, you retard (1)

ch-chuck (9622) | more than 6 years ago | (#21423083)

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.

Re:Zonk, you retard (1)

sootman (158191) | more than 6 years ago | (#21423947)

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 Web is not a newspaper--we don't need to save every precious inch.

And I know the name was dropped six months ago but it was around for over ten years before that and it's still in my head. So sue me.

"The VA" can't refer to "VA Linux" -- sure it could: this is Slashdot. Happens all the time. ;-)

Re:Zonk, you retard (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21422899)

The headline says the VA, obviously referring to the Veterans' Administration.

Learn to read, you retard.

Re:Zonk, you retard (1)

RichDice (7079) | more than 6 years ago | (#21423169)

The headline says the VA, obviously referring to the Veterans' Administration.

Exactly how obvious should that be to the 95.4% of the people in the world who aren't American?

Re:Zonk, you retard (1)

Anonymous Cowpat (788193) | more than 6 years ago | (#21423269)

and if I, as a Brit, referred to the RBL would you pick up what that expanded to straight away? No, I didn't think so. *
While I understand that /. is America-centric, which explains why we're even seeing this story, it doesn't seem unreasonable to ask for peculiarly American acronyms to be written out in full for the benefit of the other 5.75 billion people in the world, particularly if a small grammatical error could have resulted in the given acronym actually expanding out to any one of 3 American-centric phrases. There's far too many unknowns in 'the VA' to be able to confidently figure out what's being referred to.
Even on reading that whole summary, it could still be about a screw up with medical records in Virginia and just submitted with really badly constructed sentences - it also doesn't help that most of the other English-speaking nations have socialised healthcare systems so we won't immediately latch onto the idea of a Veteran's Administration being a major provider of healthcare, and so won't associate it with a story about healthcare provision, even if the acronym is the same.
The first rule of writing acronyms is to expand each acronym in brackets after the first place where it appears.
*Royal British Legion

Re:Zonk, you retard (1)

Fulcrum of Evil (560260) | more than 6 years ago | (#21424479)

if I, as a Brit, referred to the RBL would you pick up what that expanded to straight away?

Google is your friend [britishlegion.org.uk]

it doesn't seem unreasonable to ask for peculiarly American acronyms to be written out in full for the benefit of the other 5.75 billion people in the world

I'd be surprised if the number of connected people was much over a billion.

Re:Zonk, you retard (1)

Divide By Zero (70303) | more than 6 years ago | (#21423939)

You realize that we've been the Department of Veterans Affairs since 1989, right?</pedant>

Though, despite the change, "the VA" (the Veterans Affairs?) has managed to stick around, even in official literature. It makes the grammar nazi in me die a little every day, so I choose to take my pent-up frustrations out on you. Sorry.

Hey, at least I don't work for the Postal Service, right? :)

Re:Zonk, you retard (1)

sootman (158191) | more than 6 years ago | (#21424239)

You realize that we've been the Department of Veterans Affairs since 1989, right? ... Though, despite the change, "the VA" (the Veterans Affairs?) has managed to stick around, even in official literature.

You know how it is. Names stick. To those who were born at a certain time, the VA will always be the VA. Hell, even their website is still va.gov--despite the name change coming two years before TBL invented the WWW. (Though they might have had the domain name before then.)

Re:Zonk, you retard (1)

Divide By Zero (70303) | more than 6 years ago | (#21424417)

The domain name thing doesn't bother me - a lot of departments don't have the distinction in their domain name.

treasury.gov
state.gov
ed.gov
interior.gov
hhs.gov
hud.gov

Thank god they didn't register and promote www.theva.gov (*shudder*)

+1 C'mon Editors (4, Funny)

ggvaidya (747058) | more than 6 years ago | (#21423167)

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 ...

Re:Zonk, you retard (0, Flamebait)

Arapahoe Moe (665219) | more than 6 years ago | (#21423453)

Um, who the **** else would "the VA" refer to? I mean, besides your terrible examples.

You're obviously an id10t trooper from Alderaan or something, Captain Dumbass. I mean, Jesus H. Christ. GOD! That's just amazingly stupid ....

Re:Zonk, you retard (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21423689)

I figured it meant "Veteran's Admin" right off the bat. So much for slashdot members claiming to be smarter than the average.

Re:Zonk, you retard (1)

Skater (41976) | more than 6 years ago | (#21423883)

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.

Re:Zonk, you retard (1)

sootman (158191) | more than 6 years ago | (#21424401)

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--usually the stupid throwaway line the editors tack on to the end of a submission.

If you want Slashdot discussions to be about the stories, you should be just as mad as I am.

Life's too short to get so upset about this kind of stuff.

Slashdot is something I enjoy, and I'm trying to make it better. How is that a waste?

Re:Zonk, you retard (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21424205)

Perhaps we can drop the Headlines and put the story where the summary is. This would cut the number of posts by about 50%.

VA Acronym? (2, Insightful)

bmomjian (195858) | more than 6 years ago | (#21422679)

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".

Re:VA Acronym? (1)

RobBebop (947356) | more than 6 years ago | (#21422897)

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.

Re:VA Acronym? (1)

Divide By Zero (70303) | more than 6 years ago | (#21423989)

I pedanted this earlier, and at the risk of burning some karma, it really doesn't. [wikipedia.org]

Re:VA Acronym? (1)

idontgno (624372) | more than 6 years ago | (#21424287)

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."

Good thing they weren't running Ubuntu (-1, Troll)

UbuntuDupe (970646) | more than 6 years ago | (#21422689)

-Um, we can't access any data for some reason.
"Are you using the latest version, Hairy Hardon?"
-No, but...
"I guess your CD must not have been burned properly."
-No, it says, quite clearly, GRUB error 25 at Stage 1.5. What does that mean?
"What you need to do is go download the Live CD."
-But you said the Install CD *is* the Live CD!
"Can't you just wait till tomorrow or something? Asking for Ubuntu to work in a hospital is totally non-standard, you should have said so at the beginning, I mean, who the hell expects it work in such an unusual environment?"
-Can you just tell me what GRUB error 25 is?
"What version of Windows did you use before switching? LOL, Windows users..."

Re:Good thing they weren't running Ubuntu (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21423001)

UbuntuDupe seems to have a major attitude about Ubuntu. For anyone who doesn't know the story here's why [ubuntuforums.org] . Basically, UbuntuDupe ran into problems installing Ubuntu and, when he asked for help on Ubuntu Forums, immediately started attacking the people that were sincerely trying to help him. Even with his major attitude the Ubuntu folks still tried their best to help him until they just couldn't put up with him any more. Read it for yourself and you'll see UbuntuDupe's Slashdot postings on Ubuntu in a new light.

Why always centralizing? (3, Insightful)

guruevi (827432) | more than 6 years ago | (#21422697)

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:Why always centralizing? (2, Insightful)

bobaferret (513897) | more than 6 years ago | (#21423771)

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 doing this, but I've met a large number of people who work in it's IT branch, and they love what they do, and are very good at it as well. Sometimes things just go wrong, and sometimes things get pushed out there for beuracratic reasons, but most of the time the VA is very IT savy.

Re:Why always centralizing? (2, Insightful)

TheSkyIsPurple (901118) | more than 6 years ago | (#21423813)

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 only get economical when your data storage needs get big.

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.

It doesn't always have that ultimate goal, but very often does. And very often, if done correctly, it can achieve that goal.
Take 8 sites with 2 admins each that are only doing 50% duty running that service. (You need at least 2 so someone gets to have an occasional vacation).
That's 16 people, doing the workload of 8.
Bring that down to 1 site, and odds are you could do the exact same job with 8 people (since now there are 7 others to back you up)

And now you're all on one system, so you don't have lots of little variances, so you can be more efficient, etc...

Yes, we have lost some of the little details by losing those people, but in general you've got other problems if some information is only known by one person.
As it turned out, a lot of that "critical" information got passed along to other folks anyway, most of what was left turned out to be unimportant, and that small remaining percentage?
Well, the rest of us are smart, and the ones with the info weren't idiots... we were able to figure it out.

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)

Starting with bad assumptions.
A small focused skilled team can do pretty much anything. =-)
In fact some would say they're the only ones who do anything.

One example: We used to repeatedly run into situations where we had the same problem at x sites, so we had at least x people trying to solve it. We didn't realize other's were duplicating our effort, so there was a lot of wasted effort, with solutions from different angles, so the sites ended up getting more and more out of sync in their setups.

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.

Every centralization project I've been on has had its hiccups, but in the end has resulted in reduced costs overall. We always started off with the people we had, and a contractor or to who was an "expert" in the field we were working in, just to make sure we had an outsider's view. We didn't always believe the contractor, but we'd at least use them for everything they were worth. We then "centralized", and kept most of the folks around to keep everything running everywhere... then the layoffs.

The main problem we have on from our last centralization is that many in our small team are very shy about sharing issues before they know everything about it. They're afraid of looking bad, because they won't be as valuable. (Hadn't run into that one before)

Re:Why always centralizing? (1)

CKW (409971) | more than 6 years ago | (#21423971)

150 datacenters.

You try to be the CIO of any organization with 150 datacenters and 150 IT entities, and say confidently that "yes my patient records are safe" or "yes we're using technology that helps our customers receive the absolutely best care".

One thing I will say - big companies and organizations definitely have a problem with their network groups. Their network groups have such massive complicated networks that are basically all black boxes - when I'm troubleshooting problems with customers I ALWAYS have to ask them to go check and see if their network group hasn't thrown up another firewall or port rule without telling or asking
anyone.

Hmmm, I guess that's change control - the exact problem they had in this case. I just can't
understand how a port change could cause a cascade of problems of increasing severity and not be
root-cause analyzed.

Re:Why always centralizing? (1)

Divide By Zero (70303) | more than 6 years ago | (#21424061)

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 resume. That's all this is.

Re:Why always centralizing? (2, Informative)

henryhbk (645948) | more than 6 years ago | (#21424197)

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 clinic where you see patients every 15 minutes, realizes that a 5 minute hit is a giant wrench in to the works.

You also need to realize that these system use a hierarchical database for speed, so "joins" are much more complicated after the fact, than simply centralizing onto regional servers. Also regionalization is how the VA works as well with local integrated delivery networks (sort of hub-and-spoke with clinics, small and large medical centers) where the patients are often going between institutions in the region.

I recently left the VA system, and have to say their system is better than almost anyone else's, and has a similar failure rate to those at other institutions; as someone pointed out, it is just that this makes bigger press. In general there are very few health systems which have a single pervasive medical record of this scale (heck most places don't have electronic medical records at all) such as Kaiser Permanente here in the US, and the NHS in the UK, so these stories seem all the more spectacular since they are so rare.

Re:Why always centralizing? (1)

Scrameustache (459504) | more than 6 years ago | (#21424683)

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.

All your medical records are belong to us (1)

CranberryKing (776846) | more than 6 years ago | (#21422705)

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 increase as they continue to centralize their vulnerabilities.

I'm in the outsourcing business (0, Troll)

gelfling (6534) | more than 6 years ago | (#21422719)

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.

Re:I'm in the outsourcing business (1)

Detritus (11846) | more than 6 years ago | (#21422843)

Smithers, release the hounds.

Do they teach people how to read these days?

Vista != Microsoft Windows Vista (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21423307)

Vista != Microsoft Windows Vista

Within the Department of Veterans Affairs, they have an computerized medical records system. That medical records system has been called Vista for decades. It's an unfortunate source of confusion that Microsoft chose the same word for their new OS release, but the two have nothing to do with each other.

They messed up everything they could mess up. (1, Insightful)

Skyshadow (508) | more than 6 years ago | (#21423175)

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 sucked. Live data syncs are good for physical disasters (fires, earthquakes, zombie attacks) but, as the VA discovered, they leave you shitting your pants when you run into an issue that may or may not be data-related. The solution to this, of course, is to keep a day or week-old copy someplace along with an up-to-date (but not implemented!) transaction log that you can go through and update with once you've sanity-checked it.

Third, letting the vendor run "tests" on your production system. Nobody, and I mean nobody, should ever get to touch any production system unless they're implementing a specific change that's been tested in an identical environment, passed QA and review by folks who know the system and then only with a published implementation, testing and backout plan. If a system needs "tests", you pull it out of production before you start messing with it.

Finally, their "virtualized team" approach (read: our people are scattered all over the place) is moronic -- you see this sort of thing, and without fail it's the result of political pressures rather than sane management. In this case, I'll bet my hat is was a situation where a bunch of middle managers were allowed to maneuver to keep their fingers in the pie when centralization tool place, so instead of having everyone you need on hand and in one group you're busy setting up conference calls.

Plus, now their solution is to bring in a bunch of consultants. Yeah, that always works. Good luck, guys! You're gonna need it.

Re:They messed up everything they could mess up. (1)

jkroll (32063) | more than 6 years ago | (#21423785)

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 because the users weren't able to use the computer systems the way they were used to. Patients records weren't lost or destroyed.

Three, the vendor tests had nothing to do with the problem, it just meant that there were more people around to throw out opinions. In fact, we don't know what the vendor was testing (perhaps passive monitoring), nor if it was even the same hardware involved in the outage, the article just throws it in there. The actual problem was a failure to follow their procedures and documentation when changing a network port.

Pay a bit more attention to the article if you are going to make a detailed critique of what these people did.

Re:They messed up everything they could mess up. (2, Informative)

Nkwe (604125) | more than 6 years ago | (#21423959)

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 also states that the cause was a network configuration error. While in a perfect world you would have test and QA systems that are identical to production, it is rarely feasible. The cost to set up large parallel networks with exactly the same configuration in addition to software with the same configuration is generally cost prohibitive. By "same configuration" I mean same IP addresses, port assignments, routing rules, nationwide WAN links, etc.

Re:They messed up everything they could mess up. (1)

Divide By Zero (70303) | more than 6 years ago | (#21424125)

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.

Re:They messed up everything they could mess up. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21424381)

Vista is the name of their medical records system. Long before Microsoft used the name for the OS. RTFA.

By the way VA's Vista was groundbreaking... Way ahead of the private sector.

Re:They messed up everything they could mess up. (1)

hanshotfirst (851936) | more than 6 years ago | (#21425115)

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 there.

Second, this whole "don't touch it - it's new" mindset chafes me to no end. 2-3 years in IT is an EON. For most products that leaves you at 1 or 2 releases behind, with all the security problems and bugs of 2 years ago. (Yep, that product you rely on today has just as many bugs as that new one on the shelf - they're just DIFFERENT bugs.) A product matures by being IN the field, IN use, and ACTIVELY FIXED in response to support calls. It might surprise you that software companies DO actually test their products before releasing them - no amount of testing can hit every configuration of hardware/software/business needs/obscure requirements out there.

Re:They messed up everything they could mess up. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21425321)

They are running Vista - not the OS but the health care application. THEY are the vendor.

Re:They messed up everything they could mess up. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21425405)

Vista = a health care system that has nothing to do with microsoft.

The root cause (1)

paffy (1122095) | more than 6 years ago | (#21423387)

Does anybody else get the impression that they created an Ethernet loop and couldn't figure it out for a whole day ?

Poor VMS. (2, Insightful)

juuri (7678) | more than 6 years ago | (#21423425)

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 (3, Insightful)

ACMENEWSLLC (940904) | more than 6 years ago | (#21423585)

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:It happens (2, Interesting)

Critical Facilities (850111) | more than 6 years ago | (#21425187)

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.

Government as usual (0, Flamebait)

LeonardsLiver (885268) | more than 6 years ago | (#21423779)

And these are the clowns the dems want to put in charge of healthcare...

I work at the heart of this... (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#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.

Bah

Re:I work at the heart of this... (1)

mikelieman (35628) | more than 6 years ago | (#21424325)

Why the hell is this modded at zero?

Re:I work at the heart of this... (1)

Divide By Zero (70303) | more than 6 years ago | (#21424357)

MOD PARENT UP

This person knows what's going on and is telling you.

Cache is part of the problem (2, Interesting)

FBodyJim (1136589) | more than 6 years ago | (#21424459)

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 experience, common tasks, documentation, examples and just getting things done, Cache lags far behind the others, not to mention Universities are still teaching relational db theory, not object db theory, at least when I graduated Rutgers a few short years ago. I suspect that given the task of merging databases, even large databases, there are plenty of experienced and knowledge SQL Server, Oracle, mySQL guys out on Monster or some other job site that know how to get the job done, efficiently and correctly, and have done the job a few times before. Based on our current and past searches for people capable of even easier tasks within Cache, there aren't many people out there with any Cache experience, never mind good people with Cache experience, and it's easy to fudge a task when you aren't given much good documentation, examples or experience. In a past career, I worked for a healthcare company that used SQL server for electronic medical records (EMRs) and the system worked rather well. There might have been better ways to design the database, stored procs or application code, however, we never had a problem hiring good staff that understood the database design, SQL queries, T-SQL/stored procs and as i said, I can't say the same about trying to hire good people who know and understand Mumps ("M" the language, not the disease) or Cache ObjectScript or find the Cache tools to be easy and intuitive. Just my $.02, and I don't mean to start a DB debate, just stating that it might just also be time for the VA's to move on from MUMPS/Cache to a more widely used and documented database and programming language, find some new blood.

Re:Cache is part of the problem (2, Informative)

mikelieman (35628) | more than 6 years ago | (#21424607)

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.

Can't wait..... (0, Troll)

Salo2112 (628590) | more than 6 years ago | (#21424585)

I can't wait until all of our health care is provided by the government, seeing as how it's being done so well on a smaller scale.
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