Editorial: Poor comms from IBM over outage

IBM has yet to explain the outage in its Highbrook datacentre last week

This is what we know. At 3am on Monday February 18, IBM’s New Zealand Virtual Server Services, located in its $80 million datacentre in Highbrook, Auckland went offline due to technical issues. The outage affected a number of local companies, including Eagle Technology.

“It’s caused us quite a bit of sleeplessness,” CEO Gary Langford told journalist Randal Jackson “Twenty-five of our clients were at Highbrook.”

The issue wasn’t resolved until two days later at 10am on Wednesday February 20. An IBM spokesperson in Melbourne emailed the following statement to Computerworld an hour later.

“The New Zealand Virtual Server Services environment has been restored. We are actively working with all impacted clients to ensure they are fully operational. All other service offerings delivered from our Highbrook datacentre continue to be fully operational.”

That was it, no explanation as to what happened, no discussion of compensation to affected clients – worse still, no apology.

Computerworld readers have filled the online comments sections on the two — very brief — articles we posted online

“Can someone explain three days downtime? Seriously? Why?,” sums up the tenor of more than 100 comments wanting more information about this mysterious outage.

Now it may be that IBM is providing fulsome explanations to its client base. But when Jackson spoke to Langford on the morning it was fixed, he appeared as in the dark about what had occurred as everyone else.

“The system only came up in the past hour, and we’re now checking every thing and working through it,” he said.

“Once the dust has settled, we’re going to have a need to understand what went wrong.”

Langford then went on to comment that the outage was ironic, given that Eagle was last year named IBM’s Cloud Partner of the Year.

But questions remain — what happened, why did it take so long to fix, and why were media enquiries directed to Melbourne?

Where was IBM New Zealand’s managing director Jennifer Moxon in all of this? Given the fact that an outage had occurred in IBM NZ’s state-of-the-art datacentre surely a statement from her was warranted?

That’s a pretty hefty title ‘managing director’, it must come with media clearance.

And what about IBM’s other clients, who may or may not have been affected, and who must surely be wondering what occurred?

IBM is one of just three companies on the government’s infrastructure-as-a-service supplier panel. The other two are New Zealand-owned businesses Datacom and Revera. There has been a lot of industry lobbying lately about “buy Kiwi made” when it comes to major government IT contracts.

So you might think that IBM would be especially keen to be seen to be responsive and communicative.

And to be fair to the international vendor, they are a responsible corporate citizen when it comes to paying tax in this country and they have always appeared to be good employers.

In 2013, when outages happen, it’s arguable that more reputational damage will occur when companies don’t front up.

Perhaps it was possible to ride it out when publications came out once a day, or once a week and readers’ only course for expression was the letters to the editor page. Now they can comment directly online, not to mention that thing called social media.

Just as Computerworld was happy to take a media tour of the Highbrook datacentre, and attend its official opening, so too are we available for an interview with anyone at IBM that would like to explain to our readers what happened.

In the meantime, I’d suggest those interested in cloud adoption in New Zealand take a look at the comments posted on both online stories.

Many of the comments raise interesting and important questions that will probably keep the reporters on this publication occupied for some time.

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