Black Swan Events in IT

By Tamara Wilhite
An IE in IT

Black Swan events are very rare events and surprising events that have drastic effects, changing the course of an organization. Yet black swan events are also potentially reasonable to hypothesize. For example, white swans were known and thus ones of a different color (i.e. black) could exist.

What are black swans in IT?

Total knowledge specialization loss

Loss of multiple key people or all of them can cripple an organization. How could this happen?

  • It’s the next best thing, one person says. The company passes on an idea that the IT group developed. One person decides to try to develop it, maybe create a startup or find another company to capitalize on it. Once the idea moves closer to reality, the dream lures others away. Those with the skills and expertise to create the next generation of product are now gone.
  • Outsourcing an IT group to a third party and expecting everyone to go to the new outsourcer but at a lower rate than the company pays. If many people or a few of the specialized ones without redundant knowledge capture refuse to migrate, the cost is productivity and sometimes the ability to function after the next hiccup.
  • The team is going to a conference or sharing a ride. Once accident, everyone is gone.

Total data loss

Data loss costs the information life blood of an organization. Loss of data can come from errors (oops, hit delete), malice (disgruntled defector deleting upon departure) or attack (mal-ware or other hack attacks).

  • Virus takes out the main system. Back up tapes turn out to be corrupted.
  • The fire takes out the server. The water used to quench the fire ruins the backups.
  • Disgruntled defector doesn’t just destroy production system but the backup on the way out.
  • The same system glitch that messes up the production system also interferes with system backups, and the problem isn’t discovered until the back up tapes are proven blank.

The Cloud is only thin air

Faith has been placed upon “the cloud” of cloud computing. In the name of solving specific risks of localized failure, decentralized risks are put in their place.

  • An electromagnetic pulse weapon could take out the electric grid and computing infrastructure of the nation. Your own server or back up tapes could have been stored in a Faraday cage arrangement.
  • The data on the cloud is still there, but the packet information and data assignment information is scrambled. Rather than a simple data backup to be recovered, the information exists in a billion bit-ty pieces, never to be reassembled.
  • Hack attacks on the cloud shut down its use. Further attacks upon the cloud could destroy it, leaving it merely thin air for those who used it for both production data management and their backup solution.
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