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Airport software failure in AU's major cities - what needs to be done?

By Ashton Young
Wed 24 May 2017
FYI, this story is more than a year old

On Monday this week, airports in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane all experienced major delays due to a software outage.

It’s believed the system went down about 7:30am (AEDT) before being restored at around 11am, providing plenty of time for long check-in queues to develop and delays to flights - some passengers reported waiting up to an hour.

A spokesman for the Department of Immigration and Border Protection said the outfit was aware of an external system outage with the Society International Telecommunications Aeronautiques (SITA) system, confirming the problem was not due to a cyber attack but instead was caused by a major telecom failure of a top provider in the datacenter in the UK.

Zerto country manager for Australia and New Zealand, Matt Kates says this highlights a common problem amongst organisations in Australia that has two parts: ‘How do we respond to the skyrocketing demand for ‘24/7 – Always On’ IT services, while at the same time defend our IT environments from a significantly expanding set of risks?’

“Two very recent examples of this dual problem set are the WannaCry ransomware attacks that hit over 170 countries last week, and the Sydney/Brisbane/Melbourne airport service outage that we’ve just witnessed,” Kates says.

“But the 'attack' or the ‘outage’ is only half of the story. It's how quickly an organisation can recover and get core IT systems up and running, that makes the difference between those who survive and those who won't.”

Following the outage, SITA implemented an alternative communications link and resumed services, albeit with the delay.

“We regret any impact this incident has had on our customers and passengers. Our priority remains, as always, to ensure a stable system so that our customers can conduct their business efficiently and effectively,” a spokesman said.

While some airlines were able to check-in passengers manually, the issue still caused major delays.

“As the software outages at Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane airports have shown, it's imperative that if an outage happens, core IT systems need to be recovered very quickly,” Kates says.

“As consumers, we are relying more and more on IT services to run core functions. When these outages happen they're more impactful, which is where traditional backup technologies fall short.”

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