Monday, December 14, 2015
Crisis Management: you can prepare for natural disasters, not stupidity
In the last month a large number of enterprises were flooded by unseasonal and incessant rain; the situation was such that people shelved differences and collectively in unison worked to save human lives. Stories of valor and selflessness published and circulated on social media gladdened the heart wanting to reach out to make a difference. If anyone did think about loss of property or submerged data centers, wisely they did not air their concerns lest be seen as insensitive to the disaster and loss of human lives.
Nature’s fury has no answer, we prepare for what we can imagine and what we get the budget for; the rest is assumed to unimportant not to attract attention or funding. This is despite the fact that many enterprises have suffered due to their oversight, inattention, or plain simple apathy towards their critical infrastructure, IT being a prominent part of it. In the three decades in the (IT) industry, I have seen a lot of things go wrong, experiencing some natural calamities and many more avoidable manmade disasters.
When I started my work life, mini computers were just beginning to gain interest, and my role included advise customers on how to set up Computer Rooms (yes that was the term used, there were no Data Centers then), power stability, routing of cables and the general stuff that we take for granted now. Customers would end up allotting basements, terraces, under the staircase, next to the elevator shaft, space locked in the middle of the office, and crunched space after all the executive cabins were provided for.
No amount of suggestions or fear of disruption made them reconsider; it was as if the temple of computing (you had to take off your footwear before entering the computer room) did not merit the importance that hardware providers demanded. My first tryst with natures’ fury happened with basements in a business district getting flooded with floating mainframes and submerged UPSes. It took almost 2 weeks for the impacted to recover leaving aside data loss from which some never recovered; history repeated itself again twice in a span of a decade.
People started moving the computer rooms upward locating them on higher floors much against the ire of the well-heeled executives who wanted the vantage window view and corner; servers needed backup window air-conditioning, until commercial data centers and improving networks made it feasible to outsource them. Clouds, ISPs and hosted applications made way for elimination of the hardware from the equation of things to manage. For the laggards and those who believe they can do better themselves they continue to face challenges.
Unfortunately stupidity manifests itself in many ways which cannot be obviated; the internet has many stories of engineers and users who have tickled the funny bone while they had to manage the effects of their actions with fried servers to roasted peripherals. The case of a factory gate pass system on the cloud has been told in many forums on how not to use the cloud or for that matter how the CEO fired the CIO and the entire IT team with their inability to fix his computer (he had forgotten the wall power switch).
Today the cart has been put in front of the horse many times with technology being imposed on the hapless in a quest to find the question to which they can be the answer. These are justified with same old anecdotes of disruptive companies having grown larger than life. There is little evidence that any of the followers have made any significant impact. IoT will change the world, Beacons will disrupt your life, Wearables are the next big thing, aggregators of the world unite; we have nothing to lose except the investor’s money.
Coming back to natural disasters, we try to save a planet for our benefit which has survived evolution of mankind and will probably live beyond its extinction too. We want it to remain habitable to our liking preserving the development we have indulged in precariously in proximity to water as well as hilly regions. Nature keeps reminding us our fragility and place in the ecosystem; my sympathies with the ones who lost a lot more than their personal belongings, their lives disrupted within a few days never to be the same.
Let us all put together our resources and energy to do what we can to reduce the impact of the fury that we cannot control.