Social Security Administration data center teeters while replacement is delayed


A replacement data center that's five years away from being fully operational has the Social Security Administration scrambling to keep its current 1970s-era center from experiencing a catastrophic failure.

The replacement data center, which will be located in Urbana, Md., is 13 months over schedule, with completion currently targeted for August 2016. The center will cost more than $500 million to construct and equip.

Today, should a disaster befall the SSA's present day Baltimore-based data center, it would take the agency responsible for sending out retirement and disability checks four days to recover, said Kelly Croft, SSA's deputy commissioner for systems, while testifying before a joint congressional hearing Feb. 11. The two committees were the House Ways and Means social security subcommittee and the House Transportation and Infrastructure economic development, public building and emergency management subcommittee.

Next year, the SSA hopes to get recovery time down to one day, Croft added, but the agency nonetheless faces the prospect of managing a data center with structural difficulties. A 2008 Lockheed Martin study concluded that the data center can continue operating safety and uninterrupted until between 2011 and 2013.

For example, the center's custom-made, three-decade old uninterruptable power system relies on parts no longer being manufactured. The UPS maintenance vendor "recently advised us that it could not guarantee repairs in the near future," Croft said in his prepared testimony.

The center also has "tangled and overcrowded" telecommunications and electrical cables underneath the data center floor that can block cooling airflow and create elevated risk of data corruption due to electro-magnetic interference, Croft added.

The center's water pipes are also clogged and corroded, Croft noted; a 2010 water leak spotted in a battery room required shutting down a portion of the data center in order for repairs to occur without danger of electrocution.

CORRECTION - March 11, 1:50 p.m.: This article has been changed to reflect the fact that Kelly Croft is, in fact, male.

For more:
- go to the House Ways and Means hearing webpage, and the House transportation and Infrastructure hearing webpage

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