Thursday, July 12, 2012

Bad Configuration Management? Kaboom!

I'm no genius when it comes to computer code -- I may recognize it but all I could intelligently say about it is "Wow. Look at all the letters and numbers." -- but it sounds like the problem that led to San Diego's Fourth of July fireworks all going off at once, instead of over twenty minutes, is a simple matter of configuration management.

According to an article in the New Jersey-based Star-Ledger newspaper, the reason San Diego's fireworks all went off at once is that a backup file with an extra bit of code injected into it was used to fire the sequence, rather than the original file that did not contain the extra code.

The article describes a "complex, procedural explanation" issued by the New Jersey company in charge of the fireworks. It's not quite clear in the article what happened, but there are enough clues in the quotes from the company to indicate to me that the wrong backup file was used to fire the fireworks display.

That's got configuration management issues written all over it.

I'm no angel when it comes to configuration management, and I often pay the price for my sloppiness. Fortunately, most of the sloppiness occurs with some of my personal files, rarely with the files I work with in my full-time job -- which is a good thing, since working with multiple iterations of the same forms and procedures I work with on a daily basis could cause an awful lot of headache if the wrong file were used in the wrong place. We're pretty strict about storing just the latest and greatest of the files we're working on in a secure server, with ancillary versions and other files being hidden in the same server elsewhere -- so it's clear, if someone else has to pick up where we left off, which file is the one to be trusted and used. I do the same at home with critical files -- from my rough draft novels to my resume -- but I have slipped with some other stuff that leads to pain.

Configuration management, in this case, literally meant the final outcome blew up.

Another reason to keep your files tidy appears here. (Warning: You'll feel like you're coming in on the middle of the conversation here. I know I sure did.)

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