Long ago, I was dispatched to a land far, far away to install a computer system and train the locals in its proper use and maintenance. The land in question is 6,524 miles (give or take a little continental drift) from Silicon Valley, and is inhabited by very bright people with comparatively small hands.
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The plan was that I would stay two weeks and do the initial installation. Toward the end of my time a colleague would join me and stay on an additional two weeks to do further training and troubleshooting. Irreconcilable language differences notwithstanding, all went reasonably well until one Saturday night when my coworker Don and I were looking for something to do. From our 7th floor hotel window in Taipei, we zeroed in on the only neon sign we could hope to read which happened to say “BOWLING.”
The alley we entered was cavernous and echoed with the clatter of scattering pins. We approached the counter and pantomimed our desire to bowl. Unfortunately, Don is a large man, larger still by Chinese standards, and the only shoes he could squeeze into were about as comfortable as an airline seat.
But the real challenge was finding a ball, all of which were drilled for smaller hands. The best Don could do was to find one that could accommodate his fingers to the first knuckle. As he prepared for his opening roll, the neighboring lanes suddenly fell silent. Perhaps out of politeness or curiosity, the Chinese paused to watch an American demonstrate his bowling prowess. A small crowd gathered behind us.
Don stared menacingly at the pins and began his approach. But as he swung the ball back, it flew off his fingertips like a rock launched by a medieval catapult, scattering onlookers in all directions.
Not all disasters are recoverable.
Bowling as a metaphor for disaster recovery is not altogether unsuitable (beyond the fact that Don and I didn’t know enough Chinese to apologize properly, and further embarrassed ourselves by barely breaking 120).
Imagine “disaster” is the bowler, and the pins are your business. Most of the time, disaster rolls gutter balls; that is, calamity misses your company. Relieved, you watch the news footage, cringe at the damage, listen to distraught survivors, and exhale in gratitude for being spared. Disasters are what happen to other people in other locations.
Until they don’t.
Every so often, disaster will groove a ball between the one and the three pins, and our precisely arranged world explodes. And, unless we have an automatic pinsetter to replace the totality of our losses, game over.
The challenge is not just to collect and reset the scattered pins; but like damaged data, they must be reset with absolute exactitude. Bowling pins are, by design and necessity, identical in height, weight and shape. But what if the best a machine could do was to reset damaged pins of varying heights and missing chunks. Could the game be expected to continue as before? Yet lost data creates the same conditions which, depending on the severity of the loss, range from being suboptimal to being ruinous.
In point of fact, in tournament play there are always two alternate lanes reserved in case something untoward should happen. The goal is to replicate optimal conditions and thus allow the competition to continue. Much as a remote system which mirrors transactions in real time ensures uninterrupted access and data security.
The range of possible disasters has seemingly grown as the weather on the planet becomes less hospitable, and its inhabitants more volatile. To the already formidable array of natural disasters, we must now contend with a new generation of catastrophes from events such as grid failures, hacking, EMP attacks, and acts of terrorism.
But if uncertainty is the new normal, anticipation is the cure. And quick, decisive action is the essence of effective anticipation. There is no such thing as anticipation after the fact. Well, there is, but it’s called regret.
In Taipei we installed the computer in the spring when temperatures were still bearable. But as the system began to heat up the computer room, it became evident that air conditioning would be needed to get through the summer months. I mentioned it casually to the operations manager thinking he would follow the same bureaucratic business practices common in the states: fill out a requisition, wait for approvals, get bids, schedule the work, and maybe by the time your toddler graduates from college, you just might get an air conditioner.
But less than an hour after I mentioned it, I was startled by loud hammering on the computer room wall. Seconds later, there was a hole in the wall, and shortly thereafter, someone was shoving an air conditioner into the open space. In that moment, whatever doubts I had about the future success of the installation were erased. What my Chinese counterparts clearly understood was that waiting unprepared for disaster is inviting disaster.
During the days of the burgeoning environmental movement, the joke in California was that the definition of an environmentalist was the guy who already had his cabin in Lake Tahoe.
If you’re in IT and you’re a bowler, and a 7-10 split is your idea of a “disaster,” then you must already have a failsafe disaster recovery plan.
If not, disaster is about to roll its next ball.
This article is written by Victor Rozek, who is an award-winning columnist and writes for IT Jungle The Four Hundred. #victor4maxava
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