Silence of the IBM

Silence of the IBM

Summary: Having one of your biggest customers roast you in the media as "slow to react to a catastrophic systems failure" and "unwilling to apologise" for it is not a good look for IBM New Zealand.


Having the CEO of one of your biggest customers roast you in the media as "slow to react to a catastrophic systems failure" and "unwilling to apologise" is not something you'd expect to hear in conjunction with global giant IBM, but that's exactly what happened yesterday.

Air New Zealand's check-in systems went down yesterday morning, leaving thousands of passengers and airports in chaos for hours and the airline's CEO Rob Fyfe seething with anger over what he termed "being left high and dry" and "amateur results" in an internal email. Fyfe's anger at inconveniencing over 10,000 customers and losing millions in bookings will come to a head in meetings with IBM, which may end up losing Air New Zealand as a result.

Incredibly enough, what appears to have caused the issue was power failing to reach a mainframe, and the back-up generator not starting up in time. As excuses go, it probably won't fly with Air New Zealand. If a nuclear strike had annihilated the mainframe hosting site, or a huge earthquake caused the city to slide out into the sea, sure. But a power failure? That's what "mission-critical systems" are supposed to handle, right?

What's curious here is how little IBM is saying on what happened. Obviously, the whole thing is hugely embarrassing for a company that prides itself on being able to run big systems reliably but will it help if IBM clams up about it? Wouldn't it be better to be open here, and explain what actually happened? And, of course, to learn from the mistakes so that they're not repeated but that's a given, one hopes.

This isn't the first time IBM has been embroiled in controversy over a big IT system in New Zealand. In 2007 Computerworld reported that Project Sam, a combined billing and CRM system for Vodafone's Australia, New Zealand and Pacific operations had overrun its budget by hundreds of millions of dollars and was delivered late. The project started in late 2003 and again, IBM's response to the media reports about budget overruns, delays and customer dissatisfaction was ... silence. Instead, Vodafone had to front up with the answers and that can't have been enjoyable.

But wait, there's more: this year, the New Zealand Government Shared Network or GSN was deemed a failure, and canned. Reports released under the Official Information Act slam IBM's role in the GSN fiasco saying the IT giant's "performance has been characterised by non-delivery and high staff turnover of resources that did not appear to have the promised skills." IBM didn't have anything to say about the GSN fiasco either.

It looks like IBM has some work cut out to repair a dented reputation in the region, in other words.

Topics: IBM, Data Centers, Emerging Tech, Enterprise Software, Outage, New Zealand

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Welcome to outsourcing

    "...characterised by non-delivery and high staff turnover of resources that did not appear to have the promised skills." ... pretty typical outcome from an outsourcer. They get what they pay for as far as people go. Pity the customer does not. When will people learn???
  • One generator for a critical system

    I read another report that inidcated a bad oil pressure switch prevented the generator start up. I can't lay this at IBM's feet without knowing more. Was a proposed option for a second generator for this mission critical system declined, did the customer system spec call for N+2 capability, did the customer test the generator as required and have preventative maintenance done as recommended. Why didn't they have a failover to another stack of servers in a different geographic location like mission critical systems should. I imagine the local generator supplier would have the service contract for the generator not IBM. Too many executives cut corners on the project and play the blame game when it blows up in their face. This is a good example of why it pays to outsource to people that have a properly designed data center that meets mission critical modes.
  • IBM had sole responsibility

    "I can't lay this at IBM's feet without knowing more."

    The whole system was entirely outsourced to IBM. It was their own data centre where this problem occurred. AirNZ had no input in the running and management of the BigIron. That was entirely IBMs responsibility. AirNZ's brief to IBM basically being "Make it work. Make sure it works. Make sure it always works."
  • IBM HA

    Well IBM in Australia just made me and 80 other people redundant when they say there core values for the recession is to hold onto and look after there employees!! Also shifting there call centres overseas while signing up multi million dollar deals!! what a joke!!
  • I heard it was a secondary Generator

    I also heard that it was a bad oil pressure switch. But that it was on a secondary generator. But to get to the stage that the failure of a secondary generator causing the system to fall over means that many other systems have failed before hand...

    And worst of all is that services where not restored in what appears to have been a timely manner. But then again we do not know what the SLAs between the two parties where.

    Goes to show you Management have to be willing to pay for the SLA they need/want and put in penalties so the outsources fixes the issues otherwise they are toothless.
  • that sucks

    Sorry to hear about you losing your job, good luck and im sure you will get something even better soon. :)