Jul 022012

Along with a storm disrupting cloud computing services, last weekend also saw computer networks being disrupted by the leap second.

Servers needed to rebooted, websites froze and – as usual whenever there’s a technical glitch – airline check in systems fell over causing chaos for thousands for travellers.

It’s all very reminiscent of what we thought would happen with the Y2K bug. While sensible people didn’t think planes would fall from the sky, dams collapse and the world financial system grind to a halt (we had to wait another eight years for that), we did think there would be a lot of dumb little things to irritate us over the first few days of the year 2000.

That no real disruption happened, not even the airlines check in systems failed or tried to check in people for 1901, was credit to the entire IT industry. It a shame that the success in dealing with the complex unknowns of what was called the Y2K “bug” – which wasn’t really a bug but a feature – ended up being portrayed a scam by the entire IT sector.

A couple of years ago I was talking to a finance guy who claimed “the whole global financial crisis was a scam, just like Y2K.”

That view overlooks how the IT industry knew it had a problem and dealt with it, as opposed to the banksters and their friends in government who denied there was a problem right up to the moment it happened.

Of course it’s easy to ignore your business or industry has a problem if you know your friends in government will make sure your bonuses, holiday homes and private school fees will be guaranteed by the taxpayer, the taxpayers’ children and the taxpayers’ grandchildren.

Last weekend’s leap second and the cloud computing outage teach us that technology isn’t infallible and that things do go wrong.

For most of us when they do go wrong, we won’t have the government to bail us out.

This isn’t anything new. In any complex society, the unexpected can disrupt our comfortable way of living in ways we don’t expect. It’s something all of us should occasionally think about.

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