As Computer Weekly went to press, the fate of Europe's largest data network was hanging in the balance. KPNQwest, the bankrupt telecoms and Internet service provider with more than 100,000 corporate customers across the continent, was pleading with its customers to honour outstanding debts in order to keep the network afloat.
An estimated 40% of European Internet traffic journeys across the company's fibre optic network. To use a road traffic analogy, its collapse would, for corporate Europe, be the equivalent of closing the M1 motorway.
Fearing that they might lose access to the public Internet, the more far-sighted clients of the ailing network were scrambling to make alternative arrangements. For them, KPNQwest's problems were creating unwelcome network reconfiguration headaches. But for the companies that preferred to sit tight and keep their fingers crossed, nothing less than total network downtime loomed large.
Against such a background, it is ironic that elsewhere in this week's Computer Weekly IBM Global Services should be arguing the case for viewing hosted IT services as a utility.
The concept is undeniably appealing. True utilities are inherently useful, and inherently reliable. However, the worrying turn of events at KPNQwest serves to remind us how far IT provision is from becoming the new utility.
When did 40% of Europe last turn on a tap to find not a drop of water? When did the lights last go out across half of the continent at once? And when did your gas fires or cookers last suffer "downtime"?
The problems at KPNQwest must serve as a wake up call for corporate users of IT. We can call until we are blue in the face for heightened monitoring and regulation of the voice and data market, and for Ofcom to be given real teeth; but ultimately the responsibility for the smooth flow of corporate data must lie squarely with the network managers of corporate UK.
We live in the information age. When the success or failure of an enterprise can hinge upon its access to, or presentation of, timely information, a head-in-the-sand approach to your Internet and corporate data provision is sure to backfire.
It is not sufficient simply to build a service level agreement into your network provision contract and think your data traffic is guaranteed. SLAs are worth nothing if your provider routes traffic across other, third-party networks, whose quality of service it cannot guarantee.
Network managers should have contingency plans in place to counter threats to connectivity. They should avoid reliance upon a single network carrier (the Enron debacle underlined the fragility of even the most prolonged business successes). And they should explore the potential that co-location providers offer for re-routing onto a fresh network at speed.
If they do not, then as sure as taps yield water and sockets pass electricity, they will encounter data traffic problems.