Friday, September 23, 2011

Time Travel to the Past - Today's Airline Cabins

During a recent flight, while I was suffering the indignities that befall travelers these days, I was struck again by how primitive the experience remains inside the cabin, particularly flying domestically on US carriers.  This is not not the mindset of an Information Technology / CIO speaking, rather the thoughts of an experienced traveler.

Quite literally, it is as if time has stood still in those airline cabins. Thinking back to some of my earliest 
airline travel memories on the Lockheed ConstellationDouglas DC-7, and the Boeing 707 not much has changed, and what has, is for the worst!

Domestic airline cabins today are the equivalent of technical “Death Valley” devoid of and hostile to technology life. It seems inconceivable that Wi-Fi broadband access is not available. Moreover, the lack of personal video screens for everyone strikes me as an opportunity lost for the carriers.

To begin, the screen’s absence, certainly impacts customer satisfaction in my view. I think this is especially true when there are delays. More importantly, there are a number of lost revenue opportunities for the airlines (maybe they could reduce bag fees!). Pay-to-view movies or even for basic access is just two examples. The ability to order food from the galley, take advantage of special from the in-flight magazine, book another flight or other possibilities.

The only airline flying in the US that seems to have figured this out, for the most part, is Virgin America. My few flights with them have been on new aircraft that were well equipped. I was impressed with how well they technology worked and its level of integration (cabin Wi-Fi, personal video screen, video-on-demand, food orders, and more). 

On one trip, a coast-to-coast flight, I worked for a number of hours maintaining a VPN connection with the network of my employer at the time. The only downside, was that midway through the flight, I got a call on the soft IP phone which I had forgotten to turn off.

The situation is a bit better on international flights, even with US carries. I have flown a lot internationally over the years. I find the experience inconsistent and with significant room for improvement. Virgin Atlantic has been one of the leaders in providing the most consistently advanced technology environments to their passengers from my experience and the input I have received from colleagues.

Although I do not wish to be in the position of being expected to “work” throughout a flight, it is nice to have the option. Regardless of what is driving your travel need, business or pleasure, traveling back in time to a place technology has missed is not my idea of a good time.

I can only hope that Virgin America is inspiring other airlines to follow their example.

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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Spring Thaw: Good Time for CIOs to Check Their Offsite Data Centers

It has been a long winter for many of us in the US. Many horror stories were common, spanning from the humorous to the downright tragic. I am not sure if homeowners or business were harder hit this year, I just know that everywhere I went it seemed that I saw damaged property, especially roofs and people with assorted winter related injuries --- many from too much snow removal.

Focusing on the business side, my impression was that most commercial buildings suffered leaks at one point or another. Flat roofs tend to precipitate that outcome, particularly in a year with more than 2x the average snowfall as we have had here in the greater Boston area. More troubling, as Murphy would have it, the leaks make their way into conduits and/or data centers in some cases.

I had a recent conversation with an associate who thought they had made it through the winter unscathed until some of the ice recently started thawing. At that point, water started flowing into a wiring room.

For those with data centers off site in commercial facilities now would be an appropriate time for Chief Information Officers (CIO) and their leadership teams to conduct a site inspection. Hopefully such inspections are part of an ongoing process. Nevertheless, taking a tour at this point would provide a perspective about the status of the data center: is that tier 2 / 3 site is performing like a tier zero site?

SIDE NOTES: Tier levels provides a link to a bit more on how data centers are classified.  An excellent resource relating to data centers can be found at: Uptime Institute

I would be surprised if there were waterproof tarps in place, but I have seen that before. Look inside for stained roofing tiles, recently moved equipment, unused space (particularly around roofing tiles that look new) and so on. Bad signs are roofing crews or commercial dumpsters filled with roofing material. In most cases, provider relationships are transparent enough that such information would have been already communicated, but I am a firm believer in the “trust but verify” model. 

Now is the time to figure out what, if any, corrective actions are required.  Hopefully, the work can be completed before next winter.

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