Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Is Failure An Option?

I once heard former NASA Flight Director Gene Kranz speak about the Apollo 13 mission, in which he repeated his famous quote, "Failure Is Not An Option".    For the last month and a half, our nation has been puzzled as to how BP could have failed so miserably to prevent the tragedy in the gulf that is still unfolding.

The backups designed to prevent this exact problem failed, and it appears that additional backups were deemed too costly.    The best analysis on this subject that I have read comes from Kenneth G. Brill over at Forbes Magazine.

As you read his analysis, keep in mind what Brill is famous for.  According to Brill's page at the University Of Redlands, "Brill is the founder and former executive director of the Uptime Institute and the Site Uptime Network, an organization that provides many opportunities and resources for the data center industry and data center professionals."

Basically, he has devoted his professional life to studying the why machines and organizations fail and how to prevent it.   Brill, who has a degree in electrical engineering from the Redlands College of Arts and Sciences says that very few business even need to have a "never failing" approach to their activities, as the cost of creating such a system are incredibly high.  Unfortunately, companies are designed to accept the possibility of failure, so long as the risk is low enough and the cost of preventing it is high enough so that, on average, the cost of failure is less than the cost of preventive measures. Simply put, from the standpoint of a corporation, failure will always be an option.

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