Aug 2, 2014
Unspecified glitches with the US State Department's global database for issuing travel documents caused the system to crash last week, with problems still ongoing.
The department describes the Consular Consolidated Database (CCD) as among the largest Oracle-based data warehouses in the world. Figures from December 2009 showed that it held more than 100 million visa cases and approximately 75 million photographs.
Not only this, the CCD utilizes billions of rows of data and is said to add around 35,000 new visa cases each day.
However, officials said the system failed on Wednesday (July 23), possibly affecting anyone waiting for a US visa or passport.
The Associated Press quoted US Department of State spokesperson Marie Harf as saying "significant performance issues, including outages" had beset the database since July 20.
This impacted the processing of applications for visas, passports and reports of US citizens born abroad.
At time of writing (July 30), the system was operational, but still experiencing problems and faced a massive backlog in applications.
"We apologize to applicants and recognize this may cause hardship to applicants waiting on visas and passports. We are working to correct the issue as quickly as possible," Ms Harf said.
She added that it was a worldwide issue and was not affecting specific citizenship documents, visa categories or countries.
"The database did crash shortly after maintenance was performed, which was one of reasons we do not believe there was a malicious action," she stated.
The State Department did not release any information on what disaster recovery protocols the agency has in place to cope with incidents such as this.
However, one way organizations can prevent downtime on crucial systems is by investing in Oracle standby database software.
When a primary database becomes unavailable, enterprises can failover to the secondary database to minimize interruptions to operations. This can help them resume work, while reducing reputational damage and revenue losses.
Despite now being operational, the CCD is currently issuing travel documents at a "reduced capacity", the State Department's website says.
"We apologize to applicants who are experiencing delays or are unable to obtain a passport, report of birth abroad, or visa at this time," the agency adds.
Routine passport services are not currently affected and the department confirms it is "working urgently" to correct the problem and regain full capacity soon.
It is unclear when the backlog of applications will be cleared, but two anonymous US officials told the Associated Press that as many as 50,000 applications have been affected in one unspecified country alone.
The system failure has created various problems for travelers, including celebrities such as actor Daniel Radcliffe.
The Harry Potter star was scheduled to arrive at San Diego's Comic-Con last week, but was held up at Toronto airport with visa problems, the New York Post reported.
An unnamed source said Radcliffe had been approved for an O-1 visa, which grants individuals with extraordinary talents in various fields, a three-year stay in the US.
Radcliffe's previous visa, a P-2, only allowed him to remain in the country for the duration of certain projects and prevented the actor from staying longer than a year.
Unfortunately, while he has been approved for the upgraded visa, it still required a "stamp from the US Embassy" and "their computer system was down", the insider claimed.
A representative for the actor confirmed the 25-year-old was able to make it to San Diego in time to appear on a Comic-Con panel on late Friday afternoon, despite delays.