Open Insights 27: Fragile Foundations

Issue 27 – Fragile Foundations
January 5, 2007

by Sean Hull

Founder and Senior Consultant
Heavyweight Internet Group

Happy New Year and welcome back to our Open Insights newsletter. Our readership is
now north of 3000 subscribers and growing everyday. Thanks to everyone for your
support and for forwarding us on to friends and colleagues!

Reading from your blackberry or other handheld device? We’ve made some formatting
changes which we hope improve the appearance on mobile devices. Let us know
if you have any suggestions or comments.

In This Issue:

1. Feature: Fragile Foundations
2. New Articles
3. Audio Interviews
4. Current Reading
5. Lightweight Humor
6. Past Issues
7. Technical Articles
8. About Heavyweight Internet Group

1. Feature: Fragile Foundations

The technologies we have surrounded ourselves are tremendously powerful and liberating. With many of the newest mobile phones, it’s quite easy to carry our office in our pocket. And with undersea cables wiring the globe, we have almost limitless telephone, and data capabilities turning the world into one very global marketplace. But as we’ll see in a couple of very familiar examples, these technologies remain quite fragile.

The Pacific Cable

If you follow international news, you probably heard about the earthquake in Asia that took out a few of the Pacific undersea cables. These provide internet & telephone connectivity from Taiwan to North America. Although there are four cables, two of them were damaged, leaving them at 40% normal capacity. Very quickly the bottleneck caused havoc in businesses, especially those doing financial transactions. Pen and paper quickly came back in vogue as businesses scrambled to hold things together. Fragile indeed.

A Story Closer to Home

I rang in the New Year with nary a blip on the radar. Clients were happy, and things were
generally quiet. Just three days in, and I drop my mobile phone. Now I’m not normally one to
be careless, but this was not a drop on the concrete, but rather just knocking it from the couch to
the floor. Sounds harmless enough, until I pick it up to see the screen begin to fizzle out, and
then go completely blank. Fear strikes. Panic, what am I going to do without my phone.
After trying to turn it on and off a few times, the first thing I thought of was, I need my contacts
and numbers. Being that my phone is a T-Mobile sidekick, I login to their website to find my contacts all faithfully stored, and available to me. I dig through the menus and find I cannot
export them to a simple datafile. In fact all I can really do is print them, all 18 pages worth!
I choose to print two pages per sheet to simplify things, and then get on the phone with
T-Mobile. After the usual struggle to get a helpful person on the phone, they attempt to transfer
me to the right department, only to drop the call. I can already see this turning into an all-day

After getting back on the line with T-Mobile, I spend 3/4 of an hour convincing the manager that
I did not do any undue damage to the phone, it effectively just stopped working. He finally accepts my explanation, and provides details on sending it to T-Mobile for replacement. Fortunately
there is a UPS store right here in Union Square, and luckily, they’re open for another hour! I rush over to the store, and the woman smiles at me. We get a lot of those phones in here, battery trouble, screen problems, etc etc. I know just where to send it. Do you have the Department Number?

Luckily I have T-Mobile, which uses SIMM cards. By removing the SIMM and placing it in my old RAZR phone, I’m back online after 20 minutes, albeit without all my contacts. But the experience as many of you can attest, is not rare. In fact I find every few weeks a friend or colleague returns a message left on voicemail or text, saying “Sorry, who is this? I lost my phone, and all my contacts…” or something to that affect. Unfortunately mobile phones still are not built to be interchangeable, grabbing information from the internet, though that technology is evolving.

Some Lessons

The first thing you’re probably likely to think after something like this is behind you is, thank god that’s over. But as quickly as it becomes a faded memory, a systems failure can happen again. What both of these examples illustrate, one small, and one huge, is we should strive first to build robust systems, second to have redundant copies of important information, and lastly to have redundant ways to perform the same business function.

In cases where systems cannot be built as robust as we would like, we need to be doubly vigilant, and build reasonable expectations into our business and our contracts. In addition we should consider these risks when we choose a solution. In some cases we may do well to choose lower tech solutions, out of technologies that have become commodity, those that are easy to replace, and where problems and issues are already well understood through years of past experience. It’s likely that those solutions won’t be as sexy as cutting edge technology, but when your business and reputation are at stake, what’s more important is consistency and reliability.

2. New Articles

Oracle 10g RAC versus DataGuard for High Availability

3. Audio Interviews

This month we have the opportunity to talk with William Hurley aka Whurley, the Chairman of the Open Management Consortium.

In our interview, we discuss open-source, and it’s impact on commercial software and solutions, and wrestle head on with some of the concerns people have on both sides of the fence.

William Hurley is the CTO at Qlusters, where he launched the openQRM project. He has been awarded IBM’s Master Inventor title, multiple awards for innovation at Apple Computer. Prior to joining Qlusters he was CTO and founder at Symbiot. He holds 11 patents for research and development at IBM, Tivoli Systems, and Apple Computer. He was recently elected Chairman of the Open Management Consortium.

4. Current Reading

If You Don’t Have Big Breasts, Put Ribbons on Your Pigtails: And Other Lessons I Learned from My Mom by Barbara Corcoran

Barbara Corcoran is the CEO of The Corcoran Group, the famous real estate company in New York City. By comparing the lessons she learned from her mother growing up, she puts her wisdom within our grasp. In story after story, she retells how she built her business offering up the successes and
failures for us to benefit from.

The Scientist in the Crib
by Andrew N. Meltzoff, and Patricia K. Kuhl

In this very readable book, Meltzoff and Kuhl discuss some of the latest discoveries in language, and human development, offering us insight into who we are, how we learn, and ultimately what makes
us tick.

The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene

Greene has distilled down human nature into forty eight simple laws. All of them we may not like to hear, but I think they resonate with how people are, whether that’s the way we’d like them to be. Use the laws to limit the power of others over you, or to build your own empire!

5. Lightweight Humor

The onion strikes again with Americans Celebrate 10 Millionth ‘Bring Yourself To Work Day’

6. Past Issues
Issue 26: Logistical Fitness
Issue 25: Which Red Button
Issue 24: Consulting Conflicts of Interest
Issue 23: Devil In The Details
Issue 22: Beware of Software Fashion
Issue 21: Open Season, Open Sesame?
Issue 20: Better Web Better Business
Archive: Past Issues

7. Technical Articles

Oracle DBA Interview: click here
Tools for the Intrepid DBA: click here
Oracle9i + RAC on Linux/Firewire: click here
Migrating MySQL to Oracle: click here
MySQL Disaster Recovery: click here

8. About Heavyweight Internet Group

In a nutshell, Oracle. Everything related to and surrounding the database technology we specialize in, but specifically setup, admin and tuning of Oracle technology. I have 10 years experience with Oracle, wrote a book on the technology, and write and lecture frequently. I’m founder and senior consultant of the company. In capacities where your company might hire Deloitte, AIG, or Oracle Consulting we can bring the same level of service and experience, at about half the price. Simple equation.

Looking for top-flight a DBA? Visit us on the web at