Crikey has received information that all is not well at CenITex, the Victorian Government agency which provides IT services to six out of 10 state departments. Our tipster’s more serious allegation is that there hasn’t been a full data backup in more than a year, and that “everyone in CenITex is aware of this”.

CenITex was created in July 2008 through the merger of the Treasury and Finance-owned Shared Services Centre (SSC) and Information and Technology Services (IT&S). It now services some 11,500 desktops in the Departments of Transport (DOT), Planning and Community Development (DPCD), Premier and Cabinet (DPC), Primary Industries (DPI), Sustainability and Environment (DSE) and Treasury and Finance (DTF).

Part of CenITex’s vision is “one secure core desktop for all customers” — in industry jargon, a “standard operating environment” (SOE). In theory this is a good thing. If everyone has exactly the same hardware and software, support staff can troubleshoot problems more easily. Upgrades can be tested just once before being rolled out. If a PC is totally f-cked, since all data is securely stored on a central server, you just wipe it and restore the standard configuration. Quick. Easy. Efficient.

Except when the SOE doesn’t include everything the department needs.

When there’s a wipe, our tipster says, “the machine is returned to the basic CenITex unit of [Windows] XP, [Microsoft] Office and Mail Client with all department-specific setup, middleware and applications gone.”

If true, this is a major c-ck-up. The whole point of an SOE is that it exactly matches the configuration needed by end users. There shouldn’t be any additional middleware and applications added on top, incurring additional out-of-contract costs to the department.

If different departments have different needs, each should have its own SOE. Sure, that means six different SOEs not one, but it’d still represent major cost savings over individually managing a myriad different computer set-ups.

More worrying, though, is our tipster’s allegation about backups.

“Some time ago, what was the Shared Services Centre realised they were unable to back up all the data they manage for the participating departments in the overnight time window,” they told Crikey.

“For over 12 months they have been taking only incremental backups… There is no disaster recovery in place. Everyone in CenITex is aware of this and are told to ‘shut up’.”

Crikey has put the following questions to CenITex:

  1. Is it true that there is a common SOE across all departments and that the SOE does not reflect an individual department’s configuration needs?
  2. What is the status of data backups?
  3. When was the last full data backup done?
  4. When was the last test of a disaster-recovery from backup and what were the results?
  5. How is this status communicated up the chain to the Ministerial level?

CenITex is preparing a response, but it couldn’t be cleared through official channels by Crikey‘s deadline this morning.