I recently bumped into an old university friend of mine who has made a career in public health administration.
Morale in that industry, he says, is never high because it is always a political football. A couple of unfortunate, high-profile, incidents happen every year or so and the result is often a media frenzy in which politicians assert that public health care just isn’t good enough.
Along the way, generally excellent success rates and service are forgotten or ignored.
Health administrators, meanwhile, know that to achieve the perfection expected of them would require massive and politically-unacceptable injections of cash. The way my friend tells it, improving services a little bit requires a lot of spending. An outcome like extending instant admission times to emergency wards to another five percent of patients needs 20 percent more spending and results in considerable idle capacity. Of course if the mainstream media discovered emergency crews sitting around playing cards, it would soon unleash a different species of hysteria.
I offer this analysis because we will soon see many stories asking what lessons data centre operators and disaster recovery professionals can take from the natural disasters in Japan.
I argue they can learn very little, because competent IT professionals already have decent disaster recovery plans in place. Those plans will be sufficient to cope with most foreseeable risks. Some will take into account exceptional or extraordinary events and will have funding, and a business case, for the extra effort required.
But as the public health community knows, unless you are willing to expend truly exotic sums of money, you’ll never be able to prevent or forestall every threat.
So by all means, use Japan as a reminder that it’s good to review one’s disaster regime, the risks it guards against and whether the technologies that deliver the plan are working.
But let’s not get sucked into the same situation as the health industry and let a rare incident lead to an expectation of perfection without the possibility of being able to access the resources needed to achieve it.