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Have a Plan B (aka: Was That 100% Uptime or 99.9%?)

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Bob Grogan examines the evolution of the computer "going down" from its beginnings as a novel annoyance to a serious problem in need of examination before the next generation of web applications should take hold.
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A recent trip to a new pharmacy reminded me of something I've given little thought to for some time—absolute reliability. As the penetration of personal units of computing power has grown, many businesses have lost sight of the fact that virtually all computers crash, and even packets traveling down dedicated networks can get lost.

In the Beginning...

Back in the day when members of critical industries maintained a healthy ignorance of technological trends, the call was for consumer businesses such as banking, retail, and even the local fast food drive-thru to "join the 20th century." That was, at least, until we began hearing the tired refrain "The computer's down!" Sometimes this was in fact the case; at other times, beleaguered employees simply didn't want to deal with customers for a minute.

I'm a fan of market forces, and they were largely successful in these instances. As the largest amount of money available was in the business of moving money, the financial sector suffered the brunt of early-adopter issues. And, as no one wants the movement of their money interrupted (or worse, moved to the wrong place), early problems were dealt with as quickly as technology allowed.

Other businesses were not so lucky. The experience with computerization of many small offices, branch divisions of large companies—and really the manufacturing supply chain as a whole—was at best an unmitigated disaster. As employees were "retrained" in "the new way of doing things," stories of multiple, simultaneous updates to multiple systems became prolific. Few understood how to build technology, and even fewer knew how to recognize when it was well-built.

And let's not forget the ubiquitous "hardcopy" of every piece of data, which mocked the paperless office concept. In some cases, this was due to experienced employees having difficulty migrating to computers, but in most cases it was all employees hedging against the next system failure.

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