strategic IT

Lessons from Apollo 11: Is IT ready to go mission-critical?

Cliff Saran

IT has changed radically since 1969 when Nasa’s computers helped Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins fly Apollo 11 to the moon.

In 2009, Computer Weekly interviewed Pat Norris, one of the team of programmers who had worked on the Apollo 11 expedition, which culminated in the first moon landing.

the-chosen-three-apollo-11.jpg

With six million lines of code, the software was considered at the time to be the most complex program ever written.

Today’s bloated software, which runs on everything from smartphones and tablets to datacentre servers, often uses far more code, but the teams that manage that code and the computers are less relevant to the organisations they work for than their equivalents on the Apollo programme.

Unlike the moon landings, where the programmers and computer systems were part of the engineering function, the challenge for modern CIOs is that the business often regards IT merely as a back-office function.

Analyst Gartner uses the term ‘operational IT’ to describe the phenomenon of IT becoming a key component of a business’s products or services. The internet of things is driving businesses to add intelligence to their products.

IT already has the expertise and best practices for managing complex desktop environments. In the largest organisations, IT service management supports hundreds if not thousands of configurations across many thousands of desktops spanning a global footprint. Scaling this to support simpler internet of things-connected devices is entirely possible.

The team that supported the lunar astronauts had only one live configuration, one lunar landing module, one command module and three users. IT today is undoubtedly not only more complex but also has the tools and methodologies to support mission-critical, operational environments.


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