Entries in Information technology (25)

The ampersand that ate San Francisco; or, Why telecommuting will probably fail during a pandemic, Vol. 3

2008%20it%20came%20from%20beneath%20sea.jpgAs veteran readers of this Blogsite know by now, I am decidedly pessimistic about the ability of the Internet to stay viable during a severe influenza pandemic.  Not that I think the Internet will collapse, never to get off the canvas again.  Far from it: Recall that it was the US military that built the ARPANET, as it was called back then, designed to withstand several simultaneous nuclear explosions via its "node" concept. ARPANET became the Internet (sorry, Al), and it still retains its ability to be resilient. 

However, ARPANET did not have petabytes of pedophile photos, Internet porn, eBay auctions, pirate downloads of I Am Legend, illegal gambling, and YouTube videos to contend with like today's Internet does.  So I think the Internet will be resilient, just slow as molasses and not dependable enough to base an economy around without making some pretty serious first-amendment content filtering decisions during a pandemic.  If you search this Blogsite for "telecommuting," you will find my two previous entries on the topic. 

I wanted to offer a history lesson to show how a simple mistake can bring down an entire region's telecommunications grid and impact hundreds of millions in commerce and threaten public safety. Then I will talk about a marvelous article the Dean of Flublogia, Crawford Kilian, found yesterday.

It was June 18, 1996.  A network engineer with Netcom, a San Jose, California-based Internet Service Provider (ISP), was diligently working on configuring a Cisco router.  Cisco is the company whose routers and switches and wireless access points basically run the Internet.  In the course of configuring the aforementioned router, the engineer accidentally hit the ampersand (&) key on his computer -- and all Hell broke loose.  You see, Back in the Day, that little ampersand was to Cisco routers what the end of the tape meant to Mr. Phelps.  The command went downstream, as routers are designed to refresh commands down the line, and soon, the entire Netcom subscriber base of some 400,000 customers -- the entire San Francisco Bay area, basically -- was down for thirteen hours, all because the software that ran the routers became corrupted and incomprehensible.

That was twelve years ago, and many would argue there are multiple safeguards in place to prevent this from happening again.  I would agree that much has been done to block such mistakes in the future, but also look at the adoption of the Web since 1996.  If a similar mistake happened today, it would impact not just 400,000 people getting their email -- it would probably cost hundreds of millions -- if not billions -- of dollars in lost revenue, disrupted commerce, cancelled flights, and other problems.  An old archive of this history lesson can be found at: http://www.merit.edu/mail.archives/nanog/1996-07/msg00074.html.  The piece is written by none other than Bob Metcalfe himself.  Remember Bob whenever you go to your keyboard and assess the Internet; for Bob invented the Ethernet protocol that allows your PC to actually communicate with the rest of the world.

Human error is not confined to telecommunications.  As I mentioned in a blog a few weeks ago, here in sunny Florida, a fire at a Miami substation of Florida Power and Light wound up, via a major lapse in operator judgment, to bring down the Florida Grid for some 4 million customers.  A well-placed government source recently told me the problem was exacerbated when a veteran technician overruled a well-worn protocol and decided not to reroute power in a proven way.  The resulting cascading loss of power stranded hundreds in elevators and threatened public safety and transportation across most of Florida from Orlando south, on both coasts.  FPL does not like errors in judgment, because the Japanese might come along and take back the Deming that FPL won a couple of decades ago. 

2008%20Host%20monster%202.pngSo the Ampersand That Ate San Francisco can pop up at any time, anywhere, in varying disguises, because we humans are prone to making mistakes.

Complicating things is this new malady, called Internet Addiction.  Why this is a new malady is beyond me, for I have suffered from it for over fifteen years. As I promised a few paragraphs ago, Crawford Kilian, the Dean of Flublogia, has posted this article:  Add Internet addiction to psychiatric disorders, says doctor.  An excerpt:

Dr Jerald Block, the author of the editorial, points to both China and South Korea as nations that are more cognizant of the problem than the US. South Korea has seen a number of deaths at Internet cafes, and both China and South Korea consider internet addiction one of their more pressing public health concerns; an odd stance considering the much more palpable threats from emerging diseases such as avian flu and SARS. Nevertheless, there are recorded cases of people ignoring basic needs such as sleep or food in favor of lengthy sessions online, sometimes with fatal consequences.

I am aware of a few Asians who have died from lack of sleep/food/bathroom training when attempting some Internet gaming marathon, and that phenomenon is not limited to the Web, but covers all computer/console gaming in general.  Since so many people do their gaming online, however, it merits serious consideration.  My own stepson is constantly online, playing XBox Live with people from God knows where until the wee hours of the morning.  At age 22, he is the perfect example of someone who would spend much of his time online during a pandemic.  He already spends too much of his time online now!

Here's how it will work:  During a pandemic, stuff will break.  Stuff breaks now all the time, because all computer equipment is essentially mechanical in nature.  Bearings in cooling fans in computers, servers and routers seize and the equipment overheats and fails.  hard drives still fail.  So does memory.  During a pandemic, staff will be in short supply and stuff won't get fixed in the time frames that everyone enjoys today.  Service Level Agreements, or SLAs as we call them in the biz, will be thrown out the window. 

2008%20monster%20Host%20Korea.jpgNext, the technician who comes to fix the stuff may or may not be a subject matter expert on the failed equipment.  Two days before, that person might be the office receptionist, given coveralls and pressed into service if, for no other reason, to satisfy that four-hour response time promised on the damned SLA.  That person may or may not be qualified to do what happens next:  The initiation of a diagnostic routine to determine what broke and why.  And The Ampersand lurks in the shadows like the monster in The Host, waiting for its next meal.

Now the final piece of the puzzle:  The Just-In-Time Supply Chain.  Computer and network equipment ain't made in Yonkers, folks.  Almost every single piece comes from Asia.  In a pandemic, Asia will be a little preoccupied, and despite the best intentions of the ChiComms and others to keep the containers sailing to America full of marketable goods, the pipeline will be squeezed to a trickle for weeks at a time.  That translates into a longer time frame to fix stuff, because it will take longer to get replacement stuff in.

I have had a personal conversation with none other than Michael Dell on this topic.  Dell's experience with SARS fuels its pandemic plans.  Michael Dell knows that a pandemic is the mortal enemy of his company, and his people are investing a lot of capital -- intellectual and otherwise -- on this topic.  Dell's entire corporate empire was built upon the rock of that JIT supply chain.  Only now, the rock is moving and the temblor is a potential pandemic.  I won't reveal Dell's plans other than to say he has one and he is banking a lot on it being successful.

So now you are home, trying to connect with the corporate mainframe while Junior is online, killing his buddies virtually.  Your connection is slow anyway, because everyone else in the neighborhood is trying to do the same thing.  Oh, I am sorry.  You thought that cable connection was a Home Run (as we call it) right back to Al Gore's Man Room?  Nope.  Think party line and you get the concept that a big pipe gets cut up into little pieces and the more people on The Pipe, the slower the speed.  And come to think of it, The Pipe may be a good metaphor for Internet addiction.

Suddenly, fifty miles away, The Ampersand lunges out and eats a technician's work.  Your connection goes dead and Junior says, "Hey, what's that out the window?"

You respond under your breath, "That's daylight, you dingbat." 

Speaking of The Host:  If you watch the film, look carefully for the bird flu diagram which is prominently displayed during one sequence.  You'll get a kick out of how they use it!

Lampung, Indonesia (back) on the world's bird flu radar

Lampung, a province at the southern tip of the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is currently at the center of a lot of intense speculation today.  That is because the intrepid bloggers/posters/lay translators at the various flu sites have identified a growing number of suspected H5N1 human cases that have not, as of yet, been picked up by the local media.  But in the aggregate, these reports taken as one signify yet another possible human bird flu cluster on Sumatra.

I want to note the excellent work veteran poster MomCares has done over at www.Curevents.com to put a timeframe together regarding the Lampung situation.  Here it is:


Timeline – Pangang, Lampung

2/5 – chickens (as many as 45) began dying suddenly in Batu Suluh Village, Kelurahan Way Laga

3/9 – Some villagers start experiencing symptoms, including high fever, breathless, coughs, and bloody nose. Imas and Sanpidi’s symptoms start after eating a sick chicken that had died.

3/11(?) – Santibi {Sanpidi} (43) and his child Imas Supriana (10), go to the Waylaga Panjang Community Health Centre.

3/12 – Santibi and Imas transferred to RSU Abdul Moeloek (RSUAM).

Officials of the Panjang Community Health Centre pick up 8 more suspects from their homes in an ambulence.

They were Imas's (10) two brothers Adi Sutihat {Tihat} (8 ) and Ahmad Dani (8 months); a father and the child, Nurdin (52) and Hariyanto {Ariyanto} (11); afterwards Aminah (20), Febi {Fedi, Fitri} (2), Karniti {Aniti} (42), and Lala {Lola}) (20).

All of them are given Tamiflu at the community health centre -- except Karniti and Lala -- who refused to be taken to the hospital and immediately came home.

The remaining 6 are taken to RSUAM (for a total of 8 suspects in hospital).

3/12 evening -- Sanpidi and Imas bolted from the hospital at around 21,30, apparently because of money concerns, plus they weren’t immediately treated.

3/13 morning – Officials from the Community Health Centre picked up Sanpidi and Imas and returned them to the hospital, assuring them that the cost of care would be borne by the regional government.

3/14 -- Two suspects, Lola (2) and Karnati (52) test positive on VCR.

3/14 -- D {Bayu} (22), a new suspect from Rajabasa Subdistrict, is brought to RSUAM.


SUMMARY of LAMPUNG SUSPECTS, in RSUAM intensive care

1) Sanpidi (43M)
2) Imas (10M), son of Sanpidi
3) Adi Sutihat (8M), son of Sanpidi
4) Dani (8 months), son of Sanpidi

5) Nurdin (52M)
6) Hariyanto (11M), son of Nurdin

7) Aminah (20)
8) Fedi (2)
9) Aniti {Karniti} (42) -- TESTED POSITIVE on VCR
10) Lala {Lola) (20) -- TESTED POSITIVE on VCR

11) D {Bayu} (22)

So to recap, we seem to have some eleven suspected cases, and the local press is reporting that two cases have positive field tests. 

Machine translation, as the dean of flu bloggers Crof points out, is a hit-or-miss proposition.  Inflections are lost when the machines try to talk to each other and convert languages.  The syntax jumbles and one has to look at several sentences together, in order to deconstruct and then reconstruct intent and true meaning.

But there are some cases where the facts shine through the language barriers.  In the Internet age, and specifically in what we IT pros call the Web 2.0 age, collaboration becomes the norm.  So it is that on flu sites such as FluTrackers, CurEvents and Flu Wiki, and/or via email, multiple posters can come together and work collaboratively on a translation, or on research, or just to joke around and stay in contact (Crof and FLA_MEDIC, howdy) and compare notes.

In my own opinion, this collaboration will be how we unearth the Next Pandemic.  It is precisely this kind of cooperation, across the globe, spanning multiple national borders, mountain ranges, and entire oceans, that will help discover Cluster Zero.  Cluster Zero may start in a region of the world that is only covered by regional newspapers printed in Malay, or Arabic, or Hausa, or Chinese.  Or maybe a brave blogger will come up for air and alert the world as to what is happening On The Ground in their province.  But the bloggers and posters will find him or her, or will find the note in the regional press and translate it and tell the world what seems to be going on.

As we all know, the Mainstream Media reads blogs, and our ambassadors are more and more frequently asked to participate in Mainstream Media events regarding bird flu in this country and abroad.  The bloggers and, more importantly, the posters themselves are, in my opinion, just as important to global surveillance on H5N1 as the field WHO and OIE reps who constantly move from village to village, looking for the Next Big Bug.

Twenty-first century flusite posters and translators are to disease what the civilian "skywatcher" program was to World War II   They are the volunteers who constantly and relentlessly watch the global press for any indication that the conditions have changed, the H5N1 virus has mutated, and the countdown has begun.  They are looking for that virus "silhouette" that matches the outline of the enemy.  This time, the silhouette is too small to see.  But it is there.

These posters and bloggers also help ensure transparency of the public health system.  What worries me almost as much as an outbreak of human H5N1 is the certainty that when and how an announcement will be made will become, at its essence, a political decision.  Precious time may be lost while decision-makers debate how to best "spin" the bad news.  We frequently see lapses in H5N1 risk communication big enough to drive a Humvee through.  If something happens somewhere and we are among the first to know, we don't go off half-cocked.  In the military vernacular, we "lean our men forward" and wait.  But we wait prepared and aware of the situation, so as not to be caught off-guard.

So while we look at Lampung and wait for more news, raise a glass to those who take the time to do all this translation, research and grunt work.  Without them, this would be a pretty bland blogsite.  Thanks, gang.

How HD-DVD can still win format war (or at least sue for peace)

Posted on Friday, February 15, 2008 at 02:37PM by Registered CommenterScott McPherson in , | Comments1 Comment | References1 Reference

HD%20dvvd%20logo.jpgOK, I have a confession to make.  A few weeks ago, I trumpeted the news about the coming victory by the Blu-Ray format in the high-definition DVD war over rival HD-DVD.

But then Toshiba went and cut their HD-DVD players by 50% across the board.  So I grabbed my Best Buy Reward Zone coupons (some $110 worth), and sprinted for my local Best Buy.  I bought the last $199 Toshiba A-30 HD-DVD player they had in stock for $89.95, basically.  And I haven't looked back.  It even came with 300 and the first Bourne movie, so I was set!  Plus, I got two free in-store, and five more free by mail.

And I will tell you that I think I am having more fun with HD-DVD than I am with Blu-Ray!  So I guess I feel a little like the guy who went over to Europe in 1946 and bought up as much real estate as possible. The Spoils of War include a half-price piece of very sophisticated equipment, plus outfits like Amazon.com and Best Buy have been running 50% or Buy One/Two, Get One Free deals on HD-DVDs.  So I have been stocking up on HD-DVD movie titles like, well, like I stock up for a bird flu pandemic.

What I have found from perusing high-definition Websites such as http://www.highdefdigest.com/ is that there are certain movies where the HD-DVD transfer and audio is actually superior to the Blu-Ray transfer.  Terminator 3 is the best example, but there are others.  And there are certain titles from Warner Brothers that are only on HD-DVD, even though the company makes discs in both formats.

Some are waiting until Paramount and Universal both wave the white flag and move to Blu-Ray.  And Paramount was a dual-format manufacturer up until last summer, when they went HD-DVD exclusive.  Bad decision.  But their misfortune can be your good fortune.  Universal, even if they decided today to go all Blu-Ray, can't encode their HD discs for BD for many months.  There is too much catalogue wrapped up in HD and all that remastering takes time.  So two major film studios are hitched to HD-DVD at least until the end of the year.

And that "end of the year" thing is key.  I will explain presently.  Here's a few little tips to Toshiba to try and hang in there longer on this format war.

First, keep the price of players low, low, low.  You have been dealt a possibly lethal setback by Netflix, Wal-Mart, Best Buy and others.  All of these companies are banking on Blu-Ray now over your format.  So continue to hit the format where it is most vulnerable: In the pocketbook. 

The economy is about to tank, which is very bad for consumer electronics manufacturers.  People are nonetheless sinking their dollars into HDTV at an accelerating rate.  Cable and even satellite software for that format is still scarce (but getting better).  The BD people think one format -- Blu-Ray -- should be the standard, and that is based on the money the Blu-Ray Cartel (read: Sony) is spending to sway minds. 

But people vote with their wallet, and they don't like being dictated to in terms of what format they should watch.  And they especially don't want to see prices stay artificially high for players and movies after the battle is won.  So, after shelling out thousands for that HDTV, if they can get an upconvert DVD player to make all those older DVDs shine, why not pay a few dollars more to get a legitimate HD player?  With Blu-Ray players still selling for upwards of $300, a sub-$150, full 1080P player with extremely impressive upconvert capabilities (I think my HD player may actually be a better upconvert player than my Samsung BD player, but I welcome differing opinions) will sell extremely well.  That's right, price the A-3 1080i player at $99, and the A-30 1080P player at $149.  And then tell the world how good its standard DVD upconvert capabilities are, plus it runs full HD movies too!

Second, keep the price of software -- the HD-DVD movies -- low, low, low.  Price them just slightly above the cost of a regular DVD.  And keep those dual-format DVDs coming.  Better yet, make them 2-disc sets, with the DVD on a separate disc.  Not everyone can have two HD players, and having a standard DVD plus the HD-DVD means standard DVD owners can invest in the upgrade later; or HD-DVD owners have an SD they can play in the bedroom player.

king%20kong%20hddvd.jpgThird, get on the horn with Spielberg and get those HD versions of Jaws, Indiana Jones, etc. on the counter!  Imagine Jurassic Park on HD-DVD.  Or a younger Harrison Ford fighting against myriad Nazi villains.  I own King Kong on HD-DVD (my first purchase), and the picture quality is immaculate.  The Brontosaurus Stampede scene should sell out both any HDTV plus any HD-DVD player in a store.  It is reference-quality.  People want man-eating dinosaurs in their living rooms, stat!  Or man-eating sharks.  Or man-eating anything!  Also wanted in the worst way are HD versions of Saving Private Ryan, etc.  And memo to Peter Jackson:  How about the enhanced Kong on HD?  I wanna see that underwater creature in HD.  You know -- the sensational scene you cut from the theatrical version!

Fourth, remaster those old Universal Hitchcock movies.  All of them, from the 1950s on.  “Shadow of a Doubt,” “Rope,” “Rear Window,” “The Trouble With Harry,” “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” “Vertigo,” “Psycho,” “The Birds,” “Marnie,” and “Frenzy.”   I own Warners' Casablanca on HD-DVD, and it is like watching a new movie.  I also own Forbidden Planet on HD-DVD, and it looks dated but marvelous!  Old stuff sells.  People want classics in HD.

Plus, putting out all these blockbusters before holiday buying holiday season 2008 could save the franchise.  It might also prompt Warner Brothers to reconsider its decision and keep manufacturing HD-DVDs.

Fifth, make sure all studios are doing that picture-in-picture commentary thing on their discs.  That rocks!  And BD doesn't have anything comparable.

Sixth, make firmware upgrades available on certain movie titles.  Throw the firmware upgrade into certain big releases as a second disc, free of charge.  Make it easy, easy, easy to do a firmware upgrade.  Maybe even have some sort of routine where the software can check to make sure the firmware is current, and prompt the user to perform the upgrade now if they want, straight from the disc.  I think Sony does this with their PSP titles.

Finally, someone get the following message to Toshiba.

If indeed you are considering abandoning the format, as yesterday's Hollywood Reporter has theorized(http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/hr/content_display/news/e3ib77125d96b22e86027d0bfb0c25aa58d), then you owe it to the people who stuck out their necks -- and their wallets -- to make an affordable, quality combo HD/BD player NOW.  There are no reference-quality combo HD/BD units available today, and they are priced like Soviet space capsules.  Toshiba would do well to build a $300 combo unit to support the old user base and win fans from the new user base.  that might allow Universal and Paramount to continue to deliver HD-DVD films while transitioning to BD.

Now I am going to pop in Kong again.  Love to see those Brontosaurs fall off that cliff!

Rejoice! Jericho returns to CBS tonight at 10PM EST

jericho250.jpgI am in Heaven.  Jericho, the series even CBS could not kill by incompetent scheduling, makes its return tonight, Tuesday, February 12, 2008 at 10PM EST - on CBS. 

Long-suffering fans can rejoice that CBS thought enough of the fan revolt to order up seven new episodes.  And considering that the Writers Strike (I backed the writers all the way, natch) is just over, it means that Jericho (along with the Sarah Conner Chronicles) is about the only fresh drama on any network.

If you want a recap of Jericho, and why it is the most relevant show on television, just search this Blogsite using "Jericho."  You will get important plot information and maybe you won't have to cram for the season premiere.  Or, you can go to CBS.com and go to the phenomenal Jericho Website.

Jericho%20new%20flag.jpgBasically, about two dozen American cities are radioactive dust.  Jericho, Kansas, is miraculously spared any real problems.  Then, Russian cargo planes drop Chinese-made generators and supplies to the townspeople.  The government has reconstituted itself in Wyoming.  The flag has dramatically changed (Where are the 50 stars?  WATCH THE SHOW!).  An influenza epidemic almost killed the mayor early in the season, and eventually he recovered -- only to die in a skirmish between Jericho and a warring nearby town.  And just as the two towns are about to square off in a nasty battle, the army -- somebody's army -- drops in from Nebraska.  Pity -- Hawkins was about to do something cool with that M-1 Abrams tank!  Who is Hawkins?  WATCH THE SHOW.

That's where Season Two picks up.  Jericho message boards are rumbling about a potential epidemic of a new virus, so flubies should enjoy the show.  Emergency managers and disaster recovery experts should enjoy the show.  Hell, everyone should enjoy the show!  So watch, please.  Especially those who get Nielsen stuff.

Now, for those of you who are fearful you'll miss American Idol:  CBS has decided to schedule the show at 10PM EST, so it does not run up against Idol!  So there.  Now you have no excuses left to see a series that was saved from cancellation by the tremendous fan passion.  And with only seven episodes, the producers have packed a ton of surprises and non-stop action into the show!

Here, read this review from Newsday:

http://www.newsday.com/entertainment/tv/ny-ettell5572872feb12,0,7256205.story

And be sure to buy the Season One boxed set:

Jericho%20DVD.jpg

 

 

 

Why telecommuting will probably fail in a pandemic, Vol. 2

telecommuting%20mom.jpgComputerworld magazine does a fine job of keeping pandemic preparedness on the minds of Chief Information Officers (that's Head Geek of corporate and government IT-dom), as well as decision-makers and IT personnel.

Anyway, in their latest issue appears this gem of a story:

Eight-day IT outage would cripple most companies

Gartner survey finds business continuity plans lack ability to withstand longer outages

January 10, 2008 (Computerworld) -- A Gartner Inc. poll of information security and risk management professionals released today shows that most business continuity plans could not withstand a regional disaster because they are built to overcome severe outages lasting only up to seven days.

Gartner analyst Roberta Witty said that the results of the poll show that organizations must "mature" their business continuity and disaster recovery strategies to enable IT operations and staffers to endure outages of at least 30 days. Such efforts would require additional IT budget spending and collaboration across enterprise business units at most corporations, she noted.

Gartner surveyed 359 IT professionals from the U.S., U.K. and Canada during 2007 on their business continuity efforts, and nearly 60% said that their business continuity plans are limited to outages of seven days or less.

Further, results showed most companies focus on rebounding from internal IT disruptions, not from regional disasters that could also damage facilities. A very shortsighted tactic, remarked Witty, considering damage caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, as well as potential harm from outages, terrorist attacks, pandemics, service provider outages, civil unrest or other unpredictable event.

"If you start looking at some of the events we've [experienced] over the last few years, companies must plan for events that actually take much longer to recover from," Witty said. "This is an issue [businesses] have to deal with -- it's in front of everyone's face right now." 

The survey found that 77% of companies have come up with a business continuity plan covering power outages caused by fire, while 72% have a plan to get up and running after a natural disaster. Only 50% of companies are prepared to rebound from terrorism-related IT outages.

Witty did say that companies are starting to take pandemic concerns more seriously than in the past. The survey showed that 29% of organizations now have pandemic recovery measures in place, up from just 8% in 2005.

To withstand an outage of up to 30 days, companies must improve cross-training efforts and streamline emergency management, notification and incident management techniques for quicker response, she added. "That's what [business continuity] is about. If you don't have people to manage it, a data center is useless," Witty remarked.

I lectured on pandemic preparedness at Gartner's international conference in Orlando in 2006, and I know Ken McGee of Gartner, who (along with yours truly, of course) is one of the few recognized bona fide IT pandemic experts on the planet.  So Gartner is extremely well-focused on this topic.  Their research on this, and other topics, is first-rate.  It's "take it to the bank"-type material.

So when Gartner says sixty percent of American corporate and government organizations cannot sustain disaster recovery services beyond seven days, believe it.  And that is extremely bad news for any calamity, be it caused by a virus or a match.

Let me take you through the world of telecommuting plans.  They all originate in large data centers -- operations centers with floor tiles raised over twelve inches from the floor to accept conduits full of cables and cooling pipes and to keep equipment high and dry if those pipes burst and water seeps in.  They are also very chilly, so they can keep the multitudes of computers cool and, thus, more efficient.  (Heat is the enemy of computers, which is why you should blow out all computers thoroughly with canned air at least once a year.)  These data centers are also stuffed with what we call remote-access servers.  These servers are powered by UNIX, or Linux, or Microsoft Server products.  They run Windows Terminal Services, or Citrix, or some other emulation software.  And they need lots and lots and lots of bandwidth and processor power and energy.

And the stuff in data centers breaks sometimes.  Computers are machines, too, like the washer. Anything from a poorly-seated accessory card to a botched software patch can render a million dollars' worth of remote access equipment unusable.  That, in turn, requires hands-on work to fix.  You can't fix a physically broken appliance remotely, even if it is a computer.  You occasionally, sometimes frequently, need to take the machine physically down and get into it up to your elbows.  That takes people, people.  And if you are down 30% to 40% on your server team staff, you are in deep trouble.

Now the remote-access packets of data pass through the network; banks of appliances called routers and switches, any of which can break, for the same reasons as above.  Then after this leaves your organization's firewall (another appliance), you have to rely upon the Internet, and the same dynamics apply to all the equipment that runs the Internet.  Finally, you get to your PC or laptop, maybe in a hotel in Burbank, or your home in Tuscaloosa.  So if your cable/DSL modem is working properly, AND if you can get to the Internet, AND you can get back to your hosting data center, AND that remote equipment is running, AND you can log in to your validation server:  Well, that's a huge bunch of "ifs", even on a good day.  The fact this stuff even works most of the time is a huge testament to IT everywhere.  So hug a geek today!

This applies to all the participants in the work-at-home food chain:  The organization, the IT service provider, the telecommunications provider, all the way to the electric company.  If any of these links fails (and it will in a pandemic), the entire chain is worthless.  That is why corporations and governments alike must prepare to make the calls to bring people back into their offices when the Internet becomes unreliable.

That is also why these same organizations must undertake measures NOW to acquire masks, gloves, hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes.  But that is a lesson left for another day.

The biggest concern after staff shortages and broken stuff is the issue of supply chain failures.  The Just-in-time supply chain, as we all know and preach, is lethally exposed during a pandemic.  During the runup to Y2K, we drilled incessantly in Florida for supply chain failures.  We even went so far as to have the National Guard ready to escort convoys of Winn-Dixie food from warehouses in Alabama to their distribution points within Florida's Panhandle. 

In a pandemic, everything will be constrained and in short supply.  This especially means spare parts and replacement equipment for IT, since so much of it comes from overseas (Asia).  It is difficult to get some networking equipment delivered quickly on a good day, let alone in the middle of an influenza pandemic.  In fact, Michael Dell told me personally in 2006 that the SARS experience has fueled Dell's initiative to try and develop a Singapore-to-Ireland revolving door of manufacturing during a pandemic.  The theory is that while one area is savaged, the other might be on the path to recovery.  The company is making the best assumption it can; namely, that it must find a way to continue operations, or perish.  Dell will also try and maintain larger inventories of certain parts, although those components change so quickly that it is an egregious violation of Dell's own business model to store anything in too much quantity for too long.

It might surprise some to know that Dell has taken such a proactive approach to pandemic planning.  But I know Dell to be a forward-thinking and forward-leaning corporation, so it is not surprising to see them adopt such an approach.  The problem is that Dell is so alone when it comes to such planning.  And this is reinforced by Gartner's latest study, which again reinforces the limitless, ignorant arrogance of people -- including IT people and their superiors, regrettably -- to think a calamity will never happen to them.

Lower Manhattan and New Orleans professionals know the tremendous impact an extended calamity can cause.  That is why companies such as Merrill Lynch are global Best Practices at disaster recovery.  There's nothing like experience to help shape attitudes.