Sunday, June 02, 2002

Let me take you back to June 1999. Folks have said that government IT typically runs perhaps 2-3 years behind the commercial sector. That would make the timing of that last article about right - it notes a significant loss of service on Ebay. It also says that Yahoo is using the opportunity to gain business from Ebay. That's the same Yahoo that closed down a bunch of its auction sites in Europe a couple of weeks ago and said that it would promote Ebay instead. But then again, that wasn't the first time and it wasn't the last. And then there was Yahoo's DOS attack. Marc Andreessen says that sites only get famous when they go down ... AOL, Ebay, Yahoo, Etrade etc. Outages on commercial Internet sites aren't new. They aren't even new to government sites. Internet technology is new technology when technology fails it's usually not trivial or easy to diagnose (especially after it's been live for a while). The examples above are just a few of many. Typing "outage" into Google gives more than 460,000 answers and most seem to be noting hardware, software or network outages, planned or unplanned. The most bizarre, scanning quickly was at freshmeat.net - it's not at all what you think! In the corporate world, just as in the government world, if your internal systems fail then no-one but your staff notices - but the moment you put those systems on the Internet, you expose yourself to a whole new set of risks. Flaws in your internal process that can be covered up by "work-arounds" are immediately exposed. Outages that mean work piles up in the office for a while until the system comes back online affect your customers. And that means stronger controls, more testing, more rigour and, in government's case, better partnership - within government and with the private sector. Commercial sites have recovered from these issues and they did that by addressing the problem quickly and by working hard to regain the trust of their consumers. That seems like a good message to me.

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