The art of the cliche

FRAMINGHAM (10/03/2003) - The Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA) recently spent a fair amount of time and money encouraging seven high-profile security gurus to create a 25-page report that boils down to "don't put all your eggs in one basket."

I first heard that sentiment from my grandmother when I was but a wee lad, and it's one I've tried to practice through my personal and business life. But the cliche‚ wasn't enough for the CCIA. The group needed to drag in crop science in the form of "monoculture," theory that holds that it's best to rotate crops in a field. Maybe we should rotate the operating systems in our servers every three years also. Then it co-opted "complexity" theory from applied math, but attempt to pass it off as stating that the more complex a system is, the less secure it can be. If you had to secure a door, would you choose a complex lock or a simple piece of string? Yes, I've hopelessly confused the theory. But, then, so does the CCIA report.

Still, that would only make the report a dozen pages or so, and the CCIA wouldn't publish it without the required 50 percent content disparaging Microsoft Corp. The more purple the prose, the better. It starts in paragraph two of the very first page: "Microsoft's efforts to design its software in evermore complex ways so as to illegally shut out efforts by others to interoperate or compete with their products has succeeded."

It's helpful to know, by the way, that the major money source for CCIA is Sun Microsystems Inc.

Still, the sentiment is worthy. Tying all of your productivity to a single thread can be dangerous. Don't put all your eggs in one basket. But don't throw the basket away and certainly don't encourage the government to mandate multiple baskets. And I shouldn't have to say this, especially to seven supposedly dispassionate experts, but it's bad policy to let emotion sway your choices of business tools.

Kearns, a former network administrator, is a freelance writer and consultant in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at

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