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Australian Tax Office Loses 1,000 Terabytes of Data in Hardware Failure

Entities in North America have already seen their fair share of data disasters. Database breaches, stolen identities and file corruption are just a few of the hazards faced. However, a recent power outage at the Australian Tax Office (ATO), which lasted for two days, resulted in the loss of 1 petabyte of data.

Putting it In Perspective

To provide a little bit of perspective, 1 PB of data is equal to 1,000 terabytes or more than 125 million high-quality MP3 files. Unfortunately, we're not talking about lost media; the missing files including many files that were critical to the day-to-day operations of the ATO. Unfortunately, the personal information of taxpayers was not lost in the event.

Moreover, the event was sparked by a complete collapse of one of its primary data storage units; units which are maintained and controlled by Hewlett Packard Enterprise or HPE. It's still unclear as to why the system's backup protocol didn't immediately initiate, as this would have likely prevented the catastrophe from occurring. According to a spokesperson with the ATO, this marks the first time any such event has happened anywhere.

A Quick Response to a Huge Problem

Steve Hamilton, acting chief information officer with ATO, was quoted as saying: "We understand this is the first time this problem has been encountered anywhere in the world and we are working with HPE to determine the underlying cause." He also said: "Our primary backup systems, that should have kicked in immediately, were also affected," and: "These outages relate to a new hardware storage solution that was upgraded in November 2015."

While some may view that as a laughing matter, it really highlights some of the technical concerns of modern IT systems around the globe. Although the ATO will eventually recover, there's no telling what kind of catastrophes might spring up in the future or whom they might affect. It's also important to note that the ATO has spent AU $700 million to upgrade their computer systems over the course of the past few years, so the catastrophe wasn't a result of outdated hardware or software. In short, it's a problem that could happen nearly anywhere and at any time.

The Australian Tax Institute, an association of industry professionals that provides direct feedback and recommendations to the Board of Taxation, is taking the event very seriously. Arthur Athanasiou, current Tax Institute president, was quoted as saying: "You can't rush to judgment against the ATO without knowledge of all the facts, but if the source of the prolonged failure is because of internal issues, such as defective hardware, the ATO must be better resourced to be able to ensure such failures don't occur, given the wide dependence on ATO systems by tax professionals and taxpayers."

It took several days to restore functionality to all of ATO's services, which is still rather remarkable when you consider the scope of the entire event. The ATO hasn't released any disaster prevention or continuity plans moving forward, but it's safe to say that they'll be better prepared to handle any future catastrophes.

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