This is the blog of Ant Miller, senior research manager and dilettante geek at large at the BBC.
I wail moan and cuss about the challenges and fun to be found here.
These are my personal opinions, and not those of my employer. Or anyone else here for that matter.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Snow Day!

quentin the snowman, originally uploaded by meeware1.

Quite a few people have blogged about the BBC's central role for our audiences during the recent weather events,but you might like an insight into the way the corporation as a whole coped. Whilst you'd be absolutely right that our public facing infrastructure held up magnificently (offering travel info when so many train companies web sites gave up the ghost), some of our internal business support systems weren't so fortunate.

Perhaps it's obvious, since I made this spectacular snowman yesterday, but our ability to allow staff to work from home all came to a juddering halt around 9.15 yesterday when the majority of the staff in the south east tried to log in from home. I shan't go into the details of the whys and wherefores- it'll take a while to figure those out, and much of it will remain 'private' to the BBC, and rightly so. What's particularly interesting from my point of view is that there were so many other ways to get on with work. Twitter, Gmail and especially Yammer provided a vital channel for us to coordinate efforts and continue work.

Whilst it is critical that the BBC retains control of the excellent audience facing infrastructure that lets us continue with our Television, Radio, Web and other IP based services throughout the most trying of challenges, when it comes to the 'non-broadcast critical' bits and bobs that keep the office going, I'm wondering if we may look more to the cloud and to distributed and open systems to provide, if not the core functionality, then at least a managed backup.

The BBC does have to be careful about it's cyber security- we are, in the eyes of many, a 'valid target'. It's shocking the number of people who see us as an arm of the UK government, even in the UK! Sensitive data, critical communications, the whole of the broadcast chain is, and should remain a well protected central spine of the business. However, we've recently been debating the use of Yammer, and whether we'd be better to run our own servers internally for the same function. I think we've just had one good illustration of why that might not be such a great idea.

After all, those Darpa guys did have resilience at the top of their wish list all those years ago,


Anonymous said...

Agreed. Twitter provided the heads up regarding access to remote mail. After extensive tests I then took myself for a spot of frolicking in the snow ..

Anonymous said...


IRC proved more than adequate for the task

meeware said...

To be honest, though I did use IRC for a while, and I do appreciate it's robustness, it is not an ideal 'pick up and go' fall back system. Unless you use it pretty regularly (or have in the past) some of it's command line functions are tricky to get to grips with. Additionally it does take a little configuring to get it talking across proxies etc. Where twitter, yammer and the rest score is the immediate availability of their functionality within seconds of finding the url in a browser.

Roger, Online PR Agency C&M said...

i'm an ex-ibmer. i agree. the other thought is the social/cultural adoption of expensively developed internal tools... there's a massive cost/benefit risk as well as a resilience risk. what if we spend all this money and people don't really use it? why not go and use tools/systems that are already being used instead? ibm used to try and flog gigabytes (and $$$'s) of 'knowledge management' frameworks. then facebook arrived. d'oh! i'd be all in favour of letting the crowd decide what's best...

meeware said...

Hi Roger- spot on, it's rather like the 'Not Invented here' problem. There's a variation on it emerging; 'Not Hosted Here'. Even if you use the new Web2.0 tools, there's a temptation to buy a server, set it up internally and get the OS tools running inside. Which is kind of ok, but doesn't help in this case (and rather misses out on all the advantages of the cloud and scaled support services).