Epic Fail: How Technology Keeps Letting Us Down and Why it Always Will

We’ve twice been reminded recently just how fragile or technology infrastructure remains. First of all BT suffered a massive failure in its broadband network, wiping out Internet access for thousands of individuals and businesses. Then just after 10:00 today, RIM’s Slough datacentre had some unspecified failure, taking out the Internet, email and BBM access for Blackberry users across two continents. It’s still not back up as I sit writing this close to midnight (at the 5live studios waiting to go on air).

BlackBery Fail - image courtesy of failblog.org

BlackBery Fail - image courtesy of failblog.org

There’s two significant lessons here. Firstly, not all of our service providers on whom we increasingly rely have taken sufficient care with their service architecture. On the information available it seems both these outages stemmed from single points of failure. Not clever.

Secondly, failures are inevitable. Even though most brazen and hubristic marketer wouldn’t dare lay claim to 100% uptime for an IT system, hence the heavily deployed phrase ‘five nines reliability’. I.e. “We expect this system to remain live 99.999% of the time’.

The more reliant we become on technology, the higher the standards to which we will – and will have to – hold our service providers. But at the same time we should never be under the illusion that our services are or will ever be (at least for the foreseeable future), 100% reliable. Complex systems fail, and when they do, we need to be prepared as individuals and as a society for the consequences.

Next time it might be more than our Internet access that we lose.