Public sector websites hit by datacentre outage

ICO site and others downed by ‘electrical surge’ that affected datacentre owned by digital charity Eduserv

UPDATE: At 8.28pm on Thursday 23 August, the Information Commissioner’s Office said that “the issues with the ICO website have been resolved”. The site appears to be functioning as normal. At 10am on Friday 24 August, the Animal Reporting and Movement Service said “services to [our] portals have been restored”. As of 11.15am, Bristol City Council was still “experiencing problems with our systems and the website”. The authority claimed that “as a result, the majority of our services are unavailable”. Phone lines remain open for general enquiries, according to the council. 

UPDATE: At 4.18pm on Friday 24 August, Bristol City Council said that its “systems are back up and running again now”. The authority’s website appears to functioning as normal.

The below story was published at 6.15pm on Thursday 23 August.

The website of the Information Commissioner’s Office is one of a number of public-sector sites to have been affected by an outage suffered by web-hosting services provider Eduserv.

Visitors to the ICO’s site are currently advised that “due to a technical issue experienced by our website host Eduserv, the ICO website is currently unavailable… our website hosts are continuing their work to restore the website”. The message directs people towards an archived version of the site which contains information including the organisation’s Guide to the GDPR document.

“However, you will not be able to use any of the ICO’s transactional services through the archived site, such as paying your data protection fee,” the message added.

Eduserv said that, at about 8am on the morning of Wednesday 22 August, it “experienced an unprecedented electrical surge that caused damage to some of our circuits”. 

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A spokesperson added: “Engineers are on site and continue to restore the affected systems and services. An investigation into the cause is underway. Throughout the outage, we have remained in close contact with our customers, who remain generally understanding and supportive.”

ICO deputy chief executive Paul Arnold added: “We know how important our website is to those who use it, and I would like to offer my sincere apologies for the current unavailability of the service. We are liaising with Eduserv to ensure our website is available again as soon as possible, and we will provide updates when we have them.”

Other public-sector organisations who are known to have been customers of Eduserv’s hosting services also seem to be experiencing problems – particularly with transactional services.

Defra’s online Animal Reporting and Movement Service published a message on its website at 3.30pm on Thursday 23 August advising visitors that “ARAMS is currently experiencing an outage due to unforeseen circumstances and therefore user portals are not currently available”.

Bristol City Council – which began working with Eduserv in 2014 – tweeted on Thursday morning to tell citizens that “we’re currently having some problems with online forms on our website… [and] some other services are also unavailable”. 

By late afternoon the authority’s website was advising that “we’re currently having problems with many of our IT systems and online forms” and was also unable to provide phone or face-to-face help with a range of services” including council tax, recycling, and housing benefit.

Neither ARAMS nor Bristol City Council cited a cause for their outage, and both were yet to respond to PublicTechnology’s request for comment at time of publication. Eduserv also declined to comment further on whether all of its web-hosting customers were affected, or confirm that the problems experienced by the ARAMS and Bristol council sites were linked to its ongoing issues.

This week’s outage comes during what are the final few months that Eduserv will be providing web-hosting services. Earlier this year, the digital government charity confirmed that it would be closing its Swindon datacentre and focusing instead on providing its public- and third-sector customers with consultancy and technical services around the cloud platforms of Amazon Web Services and Microsoft.

In January, chief executive Jude Sheeran said: “We took the decision to withdraw from owning datacentres in 2017 and have been working with the relevant clients to migrate them to new platforms since then. We hope to move all of our clients before the end of 2018 and will, of course, honour our commitments to them all in the process.”

Eduserv was established in 1999 when an independent not-for-profit organisation focused on IT services for education establishments was formed by the spin-out of two units that began life as part of the University of Bath. Since then, Eduserv has expanded beyond the education sector, and now offers cloud and digital development services to a range of public sector entities and charities.

Sam Trendall

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