Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Single point of failure

Never a good thing and more than amply demonstrated at work yesterday. Bear with me, there’s something vaguely flying related here… I promise….

Our network went down.

This meant that for a large portion of the afternoon the following things weren’t functioning or available

1)      The internet
2)      The phone system (VOIP, you see)
3)      Email
4)      Network printers
5)      Network drives
6)      The photocopiers

You try doing an office job with the aforementioned failing to cooperate and see how far you get!

The last one on the list may surprise you, but indeed not a single copying function could be coaxed from these errant beasts. You see, a couple of years ago, someone decided it would be a great idea to install card scanners onto all of our copiers. They are linked to our security cards, you send a print job and then zap your card to release it. Allegedly they monitor paper usage as well (this may have back fired though*). If this device doesn’t work then neither does the copier. A small box the size of my fist rendering 10s of thousands of dollars’ worth of equipment useless.


Even better when your boss is stressing over a meeting that she needs 50 plus copies of a schedule printed for. After trying every trick I know to prod any printer into existence (including a few that I’m fairly sure aren’t approved by our IT dept!), I resorted to plan “U”. Plans A through T having been exhausted a while back.

Plan U consisted of me rounding up every single USB key I could get my hands on and dumping them in the meeting saying “here copy this onto your laptop”.

I like to think I’m resourceful. Which is why I’m currently photographing documents with my phone and texting the resultant images to one of our suppliers who needs a signed contract today.

While other people were flapping around like the proverbial headless chicken. I’m leaving our IT guys well alone, figuring that answering a million “what’s going on?” questions is the least of their priorities at the moment. In fact when I discovered the issue I stuck my head around the door said “Am I going to tell you anything you don’t already know?” the answer was very obviously “no”. I turned around and then didn’t bother them for the next 24 hours.

So flying then LFE……?

Yeah well flying tries very hard to avoid this “single point of failure” mentality. Even the checklist for my humble 172 mentions safety vital points more than once. Things like the mixture, for example, appear multiple times. And it’s a good job because, as careful as you try to be, sometimes you miss stuff. On my flight with my first passengers I’d taxied out to the practice area on one mag, until I got to that point in the checklist and picked up on my mistake.

Similarly planes often have multiple fuel tanks, with the ability to switch between them, dual ignition systems, alternate static sources and so on. A single failure shouldn’t be catastrophic.

Whereas most of our IT systems seem to be built the other way around. Yep it’s a great idea to save your files “in the cloud” until your network dies. And if your phones and email are on the same system then how the hell can you even tell people that there’s a problem?

Please don’t misunderstand, our IT support guys are fantastic. We have a lot of mutual respect. I appreciate the job that they are doing and the fact that they usually have very little say in the systems they are called to support. In turn I get pretty good service from them because they know when I call with a problem, it tends to be a legitimate one; a “I need help disassembling this 3 page long SQL query” rather than a “I can’t figure out how to plug in my mouse” kind of thing.

I just wish that the powers-that-be would take some lessons from aviation in general.

Single point of failure = BAD!!!

*rumours that we used to have impromptu competitions to see who could hit the highest usage figures are entirely false...... honest!

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