N3 network outage knocks NHS users off internet

An internet gateway fault causes problems for users of the NHS N3 network

The NHS is recovering from a serious disruption to its IT infrastructure, after its internet gateway went down, knocking out parts of its internal N3 wide area IP network in England and Scotland.

The NHS in Wales runs a separate private data network which is not thought to have been affected.

An unnamed source told the Guido Fawkes blog – which first reported the outage – that most users of the N3 network were affected.

A spokesperson for the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) confirmed to Computer Weekly that users in the NHS were left without access to the external internet for a short period of time.

The spokesperson said: “Earlier today there was an issue with the N3 internet gateway, causing some users to experience problems when accessing external websites. The remainder of the N3 network and the clinical systems running over it were unaffected by this incident and service has now resumed. 

“The issue was a dealt with as a matter of urgency. All health organisations who subscribe to email and SMS incident updates were communicated to regarding the incident. We apologise for any inconvenience caused.”

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N3 gateway capacity

The N3 internet gateway is the network’s largest and most important gateway, allowing a single point of aggregation and access for all internet-bound traffic from the NHS.

The gateway was enhanced four years ago in an upgrade that saw its capacity and bandwidth increased three times, and the addition of capabilities around web traffic categorisation and prioritisation, and virtual (dedicated) internet gateway capacity.

N3 is currently in its Extension phase after the commercial contracts expired at the end of March 2014. In 2014 it was named as one of 20 government IT projects labelled "at risk" by the Major Projects Authority watchdog in its annual report.

The watchdog said the objectives of the N3 Extension programme were at risk because the business case for further spending – after the end of the commercial contract – had not been approved. According to the Department of Health, “a clear agreement on future strategic intent was needed before the approval for N3 could be granted”.

By implication, N3’s eventual replacement, the Public Services Network for Health (PSNH) was also at risk, because it depended on the N3 Extension programme.

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