The Perfect Storm - Boating and IT

Yesterday began as a melancholy day - the official end of my boating season. Due to a busy fall schedule, I was giving up and bringing the boat to the yard to be dealt with for the winter and readied for spring. (That's nice boating talk for "prepare to spend a crap load of money.") I'm always bummed out when it's time to end the season.

Boating, like IT, is not a game of absolutes. Stuff happens. Sometimes both will beat you in the head with a baseball bat.

I should have known that things weren't going to go as smoothly as I'd like when I woke up and saw that the perfectly sunny day in front of me was going to have 20MPH+ winds and 3-4 foot seas. That's boating talk for "get ready to get kicked in the head for two hours." Alas, it was my window. I was going to take the boat from Martha's Vineyard to New Bedford.

First I had to clean out the boat and take valuable stuff off of it, like booze. I enlisted the help of a friend - a well qualified accomplice, Neil. Neil is a professional bartender. From Miami. Thus, comfortable with both booze and water.

Neil and I went down to the dinghy dock, where I obnoxiously keep my "dinghy" (which is really a 17' skiff that I use as my own water taxi) only to find said skiff was not there. Oh oh. I grabbed a passing harbormaster guy (87 years old at least) and asked if someone from their office may have moved my skiff. He said no, but that he thinks it might have floated across the harbor and landed on the beach of Chappaquidick (yes, that Chappaquidick, of Ted Kennedy fame). He took me to look. 50 yards away I saw my skiff neatly tied to a mooring. When I told the capt. that was my skiff, he said "Oh yeah, I found that floating and tied it there." Why he didn't recall that earlier is another matter. He is 87 after all.

I untied said skiff and headed back to the dock to pick up Neil. We then made it out across the harbor to my big boat. (44' big heavy lummox of an English vessel, 28,000lbs.) Neil tied the skiff on to the big boat and we began removing all the evidence of a summer well spent and a liver poisoned. Minutes later, we were ready to head back and haul out the skiff for the season, only to exit the big boat and see the skiff floating 100 yards away - and moving at a good clip. Neil can fix a mean cocktail, but his knot tying is somewhat suspect. We then looked like morons chasing a little boat around the harbor in a big giant boat. That added 30 minutes of folly to the day.

For reference purposes, the trip was approximately 20 miles. The boat I have has a "flybridge" meaning I sit way up top, high up, out of the way of everything with great visibility to drive. I specifically bought this type of boat because it has a ton of outdoor sunning area, but inside is like a condominium. It has a second "helm" inside (redundant system to drive) - which I specifically bought in case weather became an issue some day. Guess what? Weather became an issue. The winds were so strong and I was heading perpendicular to the waves so that for the length of the journey, (which took 2.5 hours - and normally is done in 1 hour) I was pelted with eye burning wind whipped ocean. Now the funny part - I couldn't figure out how to switch helm control to the nice, warm, dry interior control station. I had to sit and try not to die. It was touch and go for a bit. My 28,000 pound boat was being tossed around like it was a toy. I couldn't see because I was constantly pelted with waves crashing on my head. The wind and current were pushing me way off course so I had to fight the boat constantly. In short, it sucked.

When we finally reached New Bedford, I went down looking for Neil. He looked like a prisoner. The sliding glass door to the cabin had slammed shut during the beating, and somehow broke the locking mechanism. Now Neil was imprisoned on the yacht. Fortunately, he is skinny, and was able to climb out a tiny window. Otherwise, he'd be wintering here. Without any booze.

What's this have to do with IT? Redundancy and planning. I had completely redundant systems, but didn't know how to failover. Thus, they were useless. Therefore instead of remaining happy and dry, I looked like a waterlogged rat, and I'm fairly sure I was close to hypothermia. Terror aside, stupidity ruled the day.

Building contingency plans and teaching people what to do when things happen seems like a good idea to me now. It's one thing to design redundancy into your architecture, but if no one knows how to use it, it's a waste.

Running your business on Amazon might sound like a good idea - but what happens when it goes down? What happens when you figure out that it's only cheap to set up - but it can be outrageously expensive to actually use? How do you pull back or move?

We've become too accepting of redundancy - so we don't ask, "Ok, but what exactly happens IF xyz occurs?" and then plan for it. Murphy's Law remains a valid starting point in our IT design departments.

On a positive note, by the time I got close to home my wife made me go pick up sushi. By that time I was 80% drier. The only thing still soaking wet was my light grey pants. From my belt to my thighs. A good look for a grown man in a restaurant.

P.S. I've been on a giant sailboat (150+') that has so much computer power on board that a single human can sail it around the world. Normally, a boat like that would require a crew of 4-8 but with automation, one person can master a craft like that. It's amazing. Computers are good. People remain the problem!

Topics: IT Infrastructure