09 February 2018

For want of a nail: Technology demands attention to all details

For want of a nail the shoe was lost,
Little problems have big consequences
For want of a shoe the horse was lost,
For want of a horse the knight was lost,
For want of a knight the battle was lost,
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost--.
All for want of a nail!

This proverb dates back to the 13th century, yet, like most sayings, has lost none of its relevance.  One missed detail, one overlooked item, can bring the best, most elegant of plans crashing down in ruin.

Recently, one of our upstream carriers experienced a significant outage.  While outages are always troubling, the impact to our network was limited to certain blocks of telephone numbers not being able to call in.  However, the impact on the carrier's infrastructure was much more significant--not only were their VoIP transport services disrupted, but their support systems and even main website were affected.  They encountered the dreaded "single point of failure" in a major way.

What was the cause of this outage?  Hardware failure.  A key storage subsystem died unexpectedly, and the process of replacing that unit proved more challenging, more time consuming, and more disruptive than previously anticipated.

For the want of a hard drive, an array was lost.
Small failures can cause big problems
For want of an array, a storage server was lost.
For want of a storage server, an application server was lost.
For want of an application server, a service was lost.
For want of a service, a network was lost--
And all for the want of a hard drive!

I am, obviously, guilty of egregious oversimplification with that adaptation of the proverb. However, it does emphasize the continuing relevance of the tiniest of details, even in the most advanced of technologies.  No matter the application, no matter the vendor, no matter the infrastructure, all details matter--always.

Technology vendors in all forms are quite willing to boast of the sophistication of their technology.  Often, their boasts have real merit.  At Voice The Right Way, we pride ourselves in our leveraging of Open Source Voice over IP and network management technologies to deliver cost-effective telecommunications and network support services that are scalable and valuable to organizations large and small.  

Yet we also pride ourselves in our willingness and ability to address the tiny details.  We pay attention to network inventories and architectures when onboarding customers.  We emphasize the importance of working through the client's preferred dial plan, to ensure their calls are actually handled in the manner they want.  We are always striving to make our network more resilient and more fault tolerant, using redundant systems and a variety of failover protocols to achieve maximum uptime.

We do not claim perfection. We do not pretend our systems are invulnerable.  They are not, and they never will be.  
All Details Matter

What we do claim is a commitment to an ongoing process of improvement, of uncovering and addressing vulnerabilities. While we admit to our human capacity for mistake, we also claim a commitment to learning from all mistakes, to turning past failures into future successes.

Technology can be a valuable resource to any enterprise. Yet, to achieve its full potential for your enterprise, your technology partners must be able to address all the tiny details connected to their products and services.  Failure to address those details raises the risk of technology failure to your project, and ultimately to your business.  As the proverb suggests, all such failures are absolutely preventable--simply by paying attention to details.

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