Where you live

Posted by Wayne Sheddan on 23 June 2016

I have come to realise that where you lay your head at night has the significant impact on how you perceive the Internet.

Firstly consider someone who sleeps in a central Auckland suburb:

  • Water comes treated, clean and from a tap on the wall connected to the countries longest river, with a catchment of pretty much half the North Island.

  • Electricity comes clean, continuous and without interruption from a socket on the wall.

  • The Internet comes from a multi-gigabit fibre connection to a resilient fibre network.

  • Mobile telephony is rock solid 4G all day, every day with coverage from a multitude of cell sites.

Now, for my sleeping location, from where I can see the Auckland Sky Tower:

  • Water comes from my roof, untreated, with a catchment the size of my roof and subject to the vagueries of summer rainfall.

  • Electricity disappears for hours at a time after any particularly windy storm. Or errant driver vs power pole incidents. About once every 3 years it disappears for a day or so.

  • The Internet is via an ADSL line that gives 5Mb/s line speed when it has been sunny for a while and can drop speed significantly after the same storm that has taken out the power.

  • Mobile telephony – I can manage 3G from one corner of one bedroom while on the other side of the house you have no coverage at all.

Which got me thinking: How much does a person experience of day-to-day infrastructure alter their expectation of internet based services?
Me? My infrastructure is mostly reliable. I have contingency plans – a generator to run the fridge/freezers/water pump, a chainsaw to clear the road and the internet is kept as a luxury.
That central Auckland resident? They have no daily experience of any infrastructure outage and have basically no contingency because everything is 'always there'. Hence, the central Auckland cries of “the sky is falling, the sky is falling” if there is so much as a blip of power/water/internet/mobile supply.

Given my home infrastructure experience, I am wary of becoming dependent when it comes to using offshore IaaS/PaaS/SaaS. Yet my central city colleagues, with their always-on power/water/fibre have considerably less wariness – in fact, there's often a full-on embrace.

I look at the map of internet connectivity and am struck how New Zealand is pretty much the Internet equivalent of a rural backwater. We're almost a tail end of another tail circuit when it comes to Internet connectivity. I find myself considering that we're not the Internet 'centre of town' - Wichita or Frankfurt. We are in fact the Internet equivalent of Wairoa.

How much do my central city colleagues have in their mind that we have resilient connectivity to the rest of the world – like Wichita or Frankfurt? Because where they sleep has pretty good water/power/telephony/internet it would be easy to slip into this mindset.

What is the reality?

Certainly the minimal nature of New Zealand's internet connectivity makes me wary of putting business critical workloads off-shore – and for that matter anything targeting the domestic market. Sure there are a couple of extra submarine cables on the way – but that is hardly going to change things. I suspect bandwidth demands are going to overwhelm any links that remain after the failure of others.

I find myself considering one submarine, laying 3 or 4 simultaneously timed charges 20km offshore. Bang! NZ offline for months – at least. If you've put your business critical stuff in AU/US where does that leave your business? Like the Internet connection – your business is gone.

Now, I know many of my IT colleagues will say 'that's a pretty extreme example'. To which I reply: 'Let your business owner decide if it's extreme or not. Don't leave them in ignorance of the exposure your technical choices have created.' After all, as IT people, we are paid to help the business achieve its goals, not potentially destroy it by blindly following a trend.

And above all – remember that where you lay your head at night is likely having an influence on how you perceive the situation.

Wayne Sheddan is Storage Practice Lead at Open Systems Specialists. Wayne has over 25 years in the IT Industry and specialises in Storage consulting and architecture.