The Third Snowman of the Apocalypse

Wayne Rash

The scene near Washington, D.C. resembles something from a bad science fiction movie. It's white everywhere you look. The snow is three to four feet deep, the wind howls. Nothing moves except for trees preparing to fall. Oh, and a couple of crazed lobbyists trying in vain to reach closed government offices.

In short, IT systems are left on their own to survive as they can. The people who support those systems can't get to work, the power is bouncing like a rubber yo-yo, and commercial data systems are failing in the teeth of the second nor'easter in five days. It would be time for a nice cup of hot chocolate with a little something in it. Except you can't heat the chocolate because your stove requires electricity.

This is not a good time to be supporting IT. But it's a worse time if you're an IT vendor, because your customers are stressed; they're cranky because they've been at work all week without food, heat, sleep or bathroom breaks. Too bad there isn't a better way.

But of course there is. While there's not much you can do when even basic services fail, you can do something to make sure your IT systems don't die at the same time. One such solution comes from SixNet, which builds infrastructure hardware that's engineered to withstand the worst that nature-or your factory floor-can throw at it. The company's EL228 Ethernet switch, for example, is running happily in Antarctica for the U.S. Navy.

While not everyone thinks they need ruggedized equipment, the requirement might be more widespread than some IT managers think. SixNet's Director of Connectivity Solutions, Scott Killian, tells me that he's seen switches fail in less demanding situations simply because they're not up to the environment. Of course, some of those switches and other infrastructure solutions were picked up at the local office supply store and are useless in an enterprise environment. But even big-name infrastructure from places such as Cisco and Hewlett-Packard is really designed for a short-sleeve environment. In extreme conditions, it has to be heated, cooled and protected from the weather.

But companies put their infrastructure into places that are exposed to the elements, directly or indirectly, or that are exposed to forces never found in nature. Cold, heat, humidity and even moisture are bad enough. Adding to this are factors that include electro-magnetic interference or radio frequency interference.

Of course, infrastructure equipment intended for harsh environments costs a little more than the stuff that lives in your office, but unless you can afford to be down when you lose your heating or cooling, then maybe saving money on cheap hardware is a false economy. And if you can afford to have your infrastructure go down on an unpredictable basis for unknown lengths of time, maybe you should take another look at your operations.

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