Outage alerts ComSec to risks in single-host system

An outage that disrupted service to its 60,000 customers prompted a large online trading site to look at dual hosts to boost its system's resiliency.

Commonwealth Security, the trading arm of the Commonwealth Bank, experienced an outage in July after a router failed.

The router came from UUnet and alerted officials to the site's vulnerability to a single point failure.

Paul Rickard, director of ComSec, said: "The failure of UUnet's router alerted us to the fact that we were dependent on the robustness of our provider's infrastructure.

"The time taken to reconnect was unacceptable," he said.

Although Rickard stressed that ComSec's service providers have "robust infrastructure", he conceded there could be improvements on the part of both providers and ComSec.

"We realised that although our infrastructure was robust, there were still single points of failure to be addressed," Rickard said.

"For example, the physical location of the host is vulnerable to typical building risks such as fire," he said. "We are trying to address these issues."

According to Rickard, the outage prompted ComSec to look at using dual sites as a method of preventing further outages, and the company has already entered into negotiations with its service providers.

"The practice is quite common in the US, but not as well known in Australia," he said. "Having dual sites offers physical redundancy, as it is hosted from different physical locations with different connections and routers," Rickard said.

"This simply ensures we are not dependent on one provider."

Users of ComSec's site will see no difference when logging in to trade, but changes to the back end will present ComSec with "logistical and technical challenges", Rickard said.

By eliminating as many points of failure from its network as possible, ComSec may also avoid the disaster that befell MCI WorldCom in early August, when service was hampered for 10 days.

Lucent, which supplies MCI WorldCom's network hardware and software, took the blame for the extended outage, during which customers experienced sporadic downtime or failure of their networks.

San Francisco-based State Compensation Insurance Fund intermittently lost its frame relay connection to 14 of its 28 district offices during the outage.

The Chicago Board of Trade estimated that it lost 180,000 contracts during the outage.

Likewise, the Denver company's Data Xchange division couldn't provide service to 66 of its 150 internet provider customers, and those customers, in turn, couldn't provide service to their customers.

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