Dawn of the Dismal Data Conversion Stuart Robbins, founder and director of The CIO Collective, a nonprofit association of senior IT executives providing strategic guidance to emerging businesses, and author of "The System is a Mirror" (John Wiley & Sons, 2006), had his worst professional nightmare come true almost 10 years ago, when his group attempted to migrate from a very old to the then-current version of Sybase.So, just how badly did it go? Cataclysmically, it could be argued. "There were so many problems that we needed a triage team dedicated to resolve issues that we had caused by the work on the previous day, and after delays of more than a year and many hundreds of thousands of dollars over budget, we backtracked and moved the data to SAP," said Robbins. Robbins added that in almost every nightmare project hes heard about from colleagues, custom data conversions, such as his Sybase disaster, were the root cause. "They never work and should be outlawed," he said. "No matter what the vendor promises, major vendor changes involving critical corporate data should simply be re-entered by hand using inexpensive Kelly Temp resources." Night of the Living Zero-Divide Jerry Luftman, now an associate dean and distinguished professor at Stevens Institute of Technologys School of Technology Management, was a young IBM systems engineer supporting one of the major television networks during the 1976 Carter-Ford presidential election when disaster struck. "Like today, even in ancient times, everyone was glued to their televisions (yes there was color, but we did have to get up to change the channel) watching the returns unfold. The networks competed heavily on who could predict the outcomes the fastest and the most accurate," said Luftman. A new security survey reveals that the majority of IT pros are most afraid of hacker attacks. Click here to read more. Suddenly, at the network where Luftman was supporting, each of the three mainframesone primary and two backupswithin 5 seconds of each other crashed at the peak hour of 9 p.m. "At first, the team from IBM and the television network looked at each other in fear and puzzled. We then looked at the TV monitor and saw that our [television] star did not skip a beat. They kept looking at their terminal, and without any sign of concern kept relaying the status of the election," said Luftman. As the stars were reciting the election results from memory, Luftmans team scrambled to find the cause of the outage, frantically trying to figure out how to get the systems back up quickly. "Within 5 minutes the core dump was printed and we were analyzing the problem. There was a local election in the Southwest that had a candidate running unopposed. Did you figure it out yet? There was a zero divide, and the systems just could not tolerate it," said Luftman. As the clock still ticked and the broadcasters continued to present the results, someone came up with the ingenious idea to add a fictitious candidate to the local race and give them one vote. "It worked. The three computers came back up, and the broadcaster had current information on their screen. ... And we were the first to predict that Carter won, and we were the most accurate." Next page: Exchangergeist and The Nightmare on Vendor Street.
"We were attempting to leap six versions [4.x to 11.x] because our third-party vendor promised it was the only way to maintain the viability of our Scopus data, which depended upon the Sybase upgrade," said Robbins.