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the IT department

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I used to work for an IT department at a well-known UK-based global insurance company.network monitoring room

One of the most important pieces of software was our network management system or NMS. This system monitored the network and alerted us when something went wrong. But because the network was designed to be fault tolerant, the users (usually!) did not notice when part of the system failed. So, the senior managers at the company were always bemoaning the cost of the network management system and any time we wanted to implement improvements the reaction was “but nothing ever goes wrong so why are we paying all this money for software that draws pretty graphs but adds nothing to the bottom line?” You can see where this is going can’t you?

Our network had at least two separate connections into each major branch location. If one of these failed, service to the location was unaffected.

Imagine if one of those lines failed and nobody knew about it. Service would continue pretty much as normal. But at some point in the future you can bet the other line would also fail. Then, chaos! The business would be severely impacted for the hours or even days required to locate and fix the fault. That’s where monitoring systems prove their worth. When one element fails, the support team can schedule a repair, the service remains unaffected and, importantly, prepared for the next single failure. Same goes for upgrades. One element can be taken out of service, upgraded, tested, and then reactivated and in this manner the whole network gets upgraded with no loss of service.

Can you say the same about your IT systems?

eek a mouse

About the Author:

John Sanderson is the Chief engineer at the IT Department, a division of Clantec Solutions Limited,
helping individuals and small businesses with their IT challenges.

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Fake news is highly topical just now, least of all due to President Trump’s infamous speeches and prolific tweets. It is easy to think that he is talking mince but maybe, once in a while, he is not wrong – who knows?

mobile 157039 640I was at a networking meeting last week when I was reminded by one of the attendees of the story of the guy who successfully sued the manufacturers of his motorhome because he crashed when, having set the cruise control to 70mph, he left the driving seat to make a cup of coffee. The motorhome, of course, according to the story, went off the road and overturned. He was subsequently awarded a humungus amount of cash by the court.

Despite the very low probability that he would have survived a crash at that speed, just how likely is that someone could be so stupid? Or that the courts would be so idiotic (well maybe the law is an ass!)

Another story was about a mother who was awarded a massive sum after she broke an ankle when she tripped over a toddler who was running amok in a store. The punch line is, of course, that the child in question was her own! Strangely enough this story was included in an episode of the TV drama Boston Legal (“Tabloid Nation,” original air date 8 April 2008).

So why are we so ready to believe in such nonsense?

Well, generally because it tends to reinforce our built-in prejudices – something the scientific community would call “confirmation bias”. In this case the stories illustrate how daft the legal system is – usually aimed at Health & Safety laws, often aimed at the USA legal system, where litigation seems to us Brits to be particularly aggressive. Something we all “know to be true.”

Great stories and who wouldn’t want them to be true? And, even if proven to be false, who cares – they’re just a bit of fun, right?

The trouble is that when we stop questioning things, we start to believe stuff that is simply not true and the more, shall we say unprofessional, marketing companies profit from our gullibility.

The Internet has made the spread of these so-called Urban Myths much faster and wider than ever before and Facebook in particular seems to be rife with hoaxes and untruths like the recent one that warns not to read posts by a particular person or he will hack you (not possible). The goal seems to be to get us share it with as many people as we can.

But the Internet also provides a ready means to check them out – and I would urge you do so before deciding to pass on a funny, interesting, or possibly scary, anecdote.

The website snopes.com is an excellent resource for quickly checking whether a particular story is fact or fiction. See www.snopes.com/legal/lawsuits.asp for the truth about the two stories mentioned here and more besides. It can be really interesting, and much more fun, when you discover that the unlikely story you just heard is actually true!

We used to say, “don’t believe everything you read in the papers.” Perhaps now it must be “don’t believe everything you read on the Internet” (or hear at networking meetings!)

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About the Author:

John Sanderson is the Chief engineer at the IT Department, a division of Clantec Solutions Limited,
helping individuals and small businesses with their IT challenges.

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1980 portable computerIt’s a well-worn phrase that is used, perhaps overused, as an excuse for procrastination. Sometimes it is because business managers have other priorities and only think about their IT systems when something has already gone wrong or when they get an inkling that something is not quite right.

The cost of fixing a problem after it has already happened can often be much higher than preventing it in the first place. To quote Benjamin Franklin, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

The longer a problem is allowed to continue or a risk is not addressed, the more difficult (and expensive) it becomes to resolve. Like the untreated stone chip in the windscreen that eventually shatters, a minor annoyance that is easily resolved can quickly become a catastrophe. The chances are that if a computer is running slow or producing the occasional error message, you have already missed the opportunity to prevent the problem, or at least mitigate it.

So what should you do?

The most important thing to do is act in a timely manner. An independent health check will help you to identify potential issues in time to enable corrective or, better preventative, actions to be taken. Those actions may need to be implemented quickly and efficiently, so be honest about your own capabilities and availability – if you need help, get it!

Even if there are no major problems uncovered by the exercise, there is almost always a payback in terms of opportunities for improvement. This is where the external perspective can really help.

Finally, let me leave you with this thought: the 1980's portable computer in the image worked fine at the time...

eek a mouse

About the Author:

John Sanderson is the Chief engineer at the IT Department, a division of Clantec Solutions Limited,
helping individuals and small businesses with their IT challenges.

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