Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Tuesday 8/3/2005Much sound and fury among Redbus customers, who are still waiting to hear what sort of compensation they can expect from last week's extended - and expensive - power supply outage. Details tricking out make it sound like a doozie: a short across one of the phases of the incoming mains tripped safeties but only after muscular spikes went walloping up through the distribution cables and fried various bits of equipment along the way.

Tuesday 8/3/2005

Much sound and fury among Redbus customers, who are still waiting to hear what sort of compensation they can expect from last week's extended - and expensive - power supply outage. Details tricking out make it sound like a doozie: a short across one of the phases of the incoming mains tripped safeties but only after muscular spikes went walloping up through the distribution cables and fried various bits of equipment along the way. A glance at a multiway socket halfway down this ISP's status page might give you an idea of how much fun was had - when your earth and neutral lines are blown out, you've got troubles indeed.

Some of the uninterruptable power supplies did kick in as hoped, although these were not always as useful as they might have been. Not only were main routers already toast, but the accompanying fire alarm meant that everyone was out of the building for some time -- certainly longer than the UPSs were prepared to hold out. As all the security was also connected to the same failed supplies, when access was allowed again it was possible for anyone to get in -- fuelling further discontent.

As anyone who's been involved with a power supply crunch involving large amounts of mains wallop will know, these are forces we have barely tamed. Huge amounts of energy in the wrong place can spread havoc in all directions, and the only truly guaranteed solution is to have a hot backup ready to roll somewhere far from home. Any disaster which hits both will have consequences diverting enough to distract the customers from their web sites.

If you can't do that, then you make sure that you do the best you can -- but be honest about the limitations. You don't promise, as Redbus did before the event, to have a local power system so over-engineered that utter reliability is guaranteed, and you don't leave the consequences of a major disaster uncovered in your contracts. Otherwise, you end up with a smoking ruin in the power room and smouldering resentment among your shortly-to-be-ex customers. It's not as if there isn't plenty of competition in this market, and it's not as if you can't lose everyone overnight.

Oops.