I read with a mix of amusement and disbelief that a leading UK online bank lost ther Web service yesterday. They were down for at least a day. This has made me think about the state of eBusiness in this country, and what implications this may have for the future of a market that shows no sign of slowing down, as well as generally for society.
The bank’s servers came down because their Internet pipe failed. No internet connection = no service. That part is simple. What is not simple is understanding how an organization that exists solely on the Net would rely on a single supplier for their Internet access. Everyone that’s ever read a book about eBusiness can tell you that redundancy is key to business continuity. You should have geographically distributed systems at remote locations connected in triangle/star configurations by lines sourced from different suppliers. That’s the simple recipe to reliability and business success. Years ago, each one of those locations and connections would have been prohibitively expensive, hence only the largest businesses could afford a truly redundant solution. These days servers and connections are as cheap as they’ll ever be, and there should really be no excuse to operate in any other way.
In the UK this is not yet the norm. Major businesses which depend on the Net as their only way to reach consumers routinely run their services on antiquated systems plagued with bottlenecks and single points of failure. Why would that be? I think the answer is twofold.
On the one hand, much like the railways, the UK was one of the first adopters of the Internet as a place to do business. As a result, there are oodles of first-generation architectures still in place, loads of legacy systems to take into account. And as with the railways, replacing everything in one go would be complex, impractical and expensive. Hence managers, as commuters, look the other way, take a deep breath, and try to make their jobs comfortable, as they do their daily commutes, making the most of what they can have.
On the other hand, there is an element of insularity and a high dose of denial. Not invented here has got a lot to do with it -many successful eBusiness are american or continental, their mode of operations dismissed easily as not transferrable here.
But whay if the main reason was a deep-rooted education system that introduces especialsation so early in people’s lives that business managers -who have been studying business, and only business, since their early teens -as opposed to science, technology, art, English or anything else- have no chance of understanding how things could work and what their options could be? They would be forced to blindly trust what their suppliers told them. Would my supplier ask me to back up their service with their competitor’s, in case they are knocked out by say an employee’s mistake? I fancy they may not.
Technical understanding is often dismissed as being the realm of the younger. It may be so -I think the argument is a bit dated but who knows? Figures tend to show levels of literacy, and interest on science and English dropping in favour of more marketable subjects. Will coherent writing, conceptual thinking and creativity become the realm of the old before long?