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Parliament suffers IT outages

David Hencke and Caroline Baldwin

The Houses of Parliament have suffered from a number of IT failures and computer crashes after a supplier error.

MPs and staff in Westminster were left frustrated by crashing web browsers and video as well as slow delivery of emails.

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Investigative website, Exaro, published details of an internal email sent to Parliament from director of IT Joan Miller which apologised for the disruptions.

The memo sent by Miller last Tuesday said: “I am very aware that many people on the Parliamentary Estate have experienced problems with their IT and internet access over the past few weeks.

“I know that this has been very frustrating and inconvenient for those affected. I therefore wanted to write to you to apologise for the ongoing problems and for any difficulties caused, and to tell you about what we have been doing to fix the problem.”

She pointed out that the problems were not caused by the current roll-out of Office 365; but access to Microsoft’s cloud software has been affected due to its need to be connected to the internet.

Recently, Parliament has seen a “much bigger demand” on the network from more computers on the estate and the downloading of video and audio such as Parliament.tv. Parliament therefore commissioned work to upgrade its internet infrastructure, but Miller said that in January one of the suppliers involved in the upgrade introduced an error into the supporting software, which seems to have led to the recent IT failures.

“This had the opposite effect of that intended, that is, it reduced the capacity of the access to the internet,” she wrote in her email.

MPs and staff told Exaro they were being “driven mad” by the internet-related disruptions.

Joan Miller told Computer Weekly, “We have had problems with our connection to the internet, but these are now resolved.

“With the complexity of a large-scale secure network, one can never be sure there will never be any disruptions,” she said.

“However, we do strive to provide a 99.99% resilient service and mostly we manage that.”

Miller stated in her email that the Parliament IT department had to do a “significant amount of detective work” in order to identify the problem which took “some time,” but it has now been resolved.

“We will monitor the situation closely over the following weeks. We will not commence further migrations of Microsoft 365 until we are sure that we have resolved this network issue,” she wrote.

Parliament is mainly a Microsoft user, and was piloting Office 365 in December - Miller told Computer Weekly at the time it was going very well.

“We’ve been working on this project for two years – it’s a long feasibility study. We looked at different products and we’re now focused on the [Office] 365 product and we are aiming to roll out live service sometime in the New Year,” she said.

Miller said Parliament is looking at cloud services for mobility: “We have very mobile users, and the opportunity of [Office] 365 allows them to access information wherever they roam.”

She also said it is cheaper to use services provided by a big supplier and Microsoft is convenient for Parliamentary use at the moment.


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