Va. DMV Can't Process Driver's Licenses

Computer problems hobble Va. agencies

Thursday, Aug 26, 2010  |  Updated 7:08 PM EDT
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Va. DMV Can't Process Driver's Licenses

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Long lines are the least of your headaches if you're trying to get a driver's license in Virginia.

A computer system problem is causing some headaches for customers of the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles and other state agencies.

A failure in a primary data storage center in Chester on Wednesday afternoon left the DMV unable to process drivers' licenses at its 74 locations statewide. They can sill deal with other transactions, such as vehicle titles.

The Virginia Information Technologies Agency said it is working to resolve a massive server failure affecting at least two dozen state agencies, including the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, the Department of Transportation and the Department of Taxation.

It will take an all-nighter to replace the failed memory cards and restore the system, said Sam Nixon, Virginia's chief information officer. Full function may not be restored until Monday.

"If we're real lucky, we will all be in here Friday morning with everything working and we'll all be giving each other high fives, but we probably won't be that lucky," said Nixon, a former House of Delegates member whom Gov. Bob McDonnell appointed in March to take charge of VITA.

Nixon said about one-fifth of the state government's computers were affected. Other agencies at least partially dependent on the system found their computers working, but at a slower mode, Nixon said.

VITA and its corporate partner, Northrop Grumman, have been criticized in scathing reports from the General Assembly's investigative arm, the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, for cost overruns, service outages, slow service and delays that have paralyzed state agencies numerous times since the agency was established in 2003.

Nixon said the failure occurred in one memory card in what is known as a "storage area network," or SAN, at VITA's large suburban Richmond computing center, one of several data storage systems in different parts of Virginia.

The system was built with redundancies and backup storage. It was hailed as being able to suffer a failure to one part but continue uninterrupted service because standby parts or systems would take over. But when the memory card failed Wednesday, a fallback that attempted to shoulder the load began reporting multiple errors, Nixon said.

"This is supposed to be the best system you can buy, and it's never supposed to fail, but this one did," he said.

Experts who examined the system determined that no data was lost except for those being keyed into the system at the moment it failed, Nixon said.

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