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Power Failure - BA Sticks to Feeble Excuse

30 May 2017 | Updated 01 January 1970
 

British Airways' excuse for its catastrophic IT failure that has seen flight schedules resume but many passengers stranded and separated from their luggage, was so absolutely feeble, ThisWeekinFM was obliged to ask was the airline hiding something more sinister.

 

Here's what we asked and the response we received:

Chief executive Alex Cruz has blamed a power surge for the disruption, which affected 75,000 people.

Willie Walsh, IAG chief executive - International Consolidated Airlines Group - which owns British Airways, Aer Lingus, Iberia and Vueling and  LEVEL low cost long haul airline has remained silent.

Given that the BA Media website is not functioning and a power surge is such a feeble excuse in this day and age for such a large organisation, can it be assumed that BA's massive and ongoing IT failures are down to something more sinister?

Can Willie Walsh or Alex Cruz categorically confirm or deny a cyber attack that would potentially strike more fear in to the flying public globally and destroy any remaining confidence in IAG Airlines than a recoverable IT infrastructure problem?

If they are sticking to the power surge line - can they identify where this power surge took place and why simple steps such as a UPS power system did not function and why a contingency plan to overcome this did not operate at all? Can they confirm that a single incident (at an organisation that surely has more than one data centre) was the cause?

 

Response

Our Media Centre is working fine.

There is no evidence to suggest this was a cyber attack.

It was a power supply issue at one of our UK data centres. An exceptional power surge caused physical damage to our infrastructure and as a result many of our hugely complex operational IT systems failed.

We are now undertaking an exhaustive investigation to find out the exact circumstances and most importantly ensure that this can never happen again.

 

Speculation

Industry commentators are so flummoxed by what has occurred, most are putting the complete IT failure at the world's (once) favourite airline  down to a cost cutting outsourcing exercise that has seen a large part of BA's data centre operations move to India -  a country where power outages and surges are not uncommon.

One speculator told TWinFM: "If it turns out to be a problem with outsourcing to India, this would still be a poor excuse. Sure, the infrastructure there is not as strong as in the US and Europe but an organisation like BA being taken out by a power surge seems unfeasible."

Stephen Peal, a director at one of the UK's largest uninterruptable power supply companies said: "A power outage for a FTSE 100 organisation that relies so heavily on its data systems and could have its image ruined by what's gone on is almost unbelievable. Any large company and any data centre will have a UPS system and backup after backup in place."

Peal explained simply how a UPS system works: "A UPS is deployed so that the building is always effectively running its power from it. It removes any surges so that you always have a 'clean' electricity supply into the building. Should the power fail, its batteries will take over instantly - it should be seamless...no power loss what-so-ever. The loss of power will trigger generators to kick-in and they will run until mains power from the grid is reconnected.

 "There are some common mistakes users make," Peal continued. "The biggest of these is not putting fuel in the generators because they are out of sight and out of mind most of the time and the batteries will only last so long. But I can't see BA making that kind of mistake.

"If they're sticking to the power surge explanation, I have to agree this is a feeble excuse for any organisation let alone one of BA's size."

 

Raw recruits replacing old hands?

"In this developing story, it’s hard to know who to believe," John R Robinson MD of INONI said. "However, I understand that back in 2015 BA sought to outsource 80% of roles in its IT Department, a total of 720 in all, replacing with recruits supplied by Tata Consultancy Services on a rotational basis.

"Yet the CEO has confirmed that '…all the parties involved around this particular event have not been involved in any type of outsourcing in any foreign country. They have all been local issues around a local data centre that has been managed and fixed by local resources'.  In any case, my impression is that BA made a heinously bad decision, sacrificing resilience for cost.  I recall well that that even back in the 1980s, some airlines made a point of maintaining complete replica data centres whose capability they would test by simply turning the power off.  So how can this happen?

 "Given that it has, why were BA unable to recover in a timeframe acceptable to passengers?  The answer lies somewhere between inescapable complexity and unforgiveable dilution of capability.  Regarding the former, BA may have faced the unimaginably delicate task of re-synchronising so their many millions of records accurately represent reality, from an untidy, unknown failure state – and with lives at stake, there is no short-cut to this and we must hope they get it right.  For the latter, if indeed the team has been rotated-in and -out since 2015, most of their hands-on time will have been spent learning, then managing the steady state of systems, with maybe quarterly IT disaster recovery tests possibly including a simulated total power outage.  Available expertise will be commensurate with this pattern.

"It seems to me that if the assertions made in the media prove valid, then Tata will have received trained-up staff at BA’s now enormous expense whereas BA may well continue to receive relatively raw recruits for the rest of the contract.

 

 "To conclude, we should all learn a lesson from this.  Resilience may seem like money down the drain and is often sacrificed easily in negotiations but it earns its keep many times over in incidents like this." 

 

The Delta Blues

A local power outage seems to be a not too common excuse for leaving passengers stranded, missing connections and without their luggage. And even once outbound flights from host airports are resumed, there are still passengers and planes in the wrong part of the world for it all to normalise quickly.

Tuesday August 9 2016 saw ThisWeekinFM report a second power outage in a year for America's Delta Airlines. This one caused 775 flights cancelled in just one day as 'a critical power control module at a technology command centre malfunctioned, causing a surge to the transformer and a loss of power. The universal power was stabilised and power was restored quickly. But when this happened, critical systems and network equipment didn’t switch over to back-ups. Other systems did but were unstable'. Read the Full Story Here 

 

Knock on

So a simple power outage could compromise the image of a whole airline - or in this case the International Airlines Group which is the third largest in Europe and sixth in the world. It transports  more than 100 million passengers each year with 547 aircraft flying to 268 destinations.

It is a Spanish registered company with shares traded on both the London and Spanish Stock Exchanges. Its corporate head office is in London.

The  firm's investors will now be fearing a collapse in share prices and wondering how in an age where investment in data centres should never see so much as a bulb go out, passengers might flock to airlines that don't fall over on a Bank Holiday weekend.

Picture: Main - Chief executive Alex Cruz has blamed a power surge for a long weekend of disruption to British Airways' flights. Below - some of the other brands in the BA stable

 

Article written by Brian Shillibeer | Published 30 May 2017

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