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April 2010
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A large part of system administration is planning at one level or another:
* strategic planning
* tactical planning
* contingency planning

Strategic planning is a fancier way of saying “long-term planning”. This is important as you need to know where you are going so that you can take steps along that route and not in the opposite direction. For example, if your strategic direction is that you will run everything on Linux and move off Solaris, you need to start ensuring that products are purchased or developed with this in mind. Otherwise your long terms goals will drift or be missed entirely.

Tactical planning is more short term, you could even call them “stop-gap” solutions in the worst case. Ideally they are actually steps towards that strategic goal, however this isn’t always possible. When they aren’t aligned with your target, you probably want to minimise your expenditure in them as you are hoping to replace the stop gap solution with something better and so the last thing you want to do is build upon it.

Contingency planning is fairly self-explanatory, however several recent issues has brought this more into focus for me and also highlights the important step of mitigation. There was a recent plane crash which tragically resulted in the deaths of many top Polish government officials. Contingency planning here would hopefully allow others to take over the roles of the deceased with minimal disruption. Mitigation would have ensured that there were restrictions on how many people were in the same form of transportation in case the worst happened.

The second event that’s happened recently was the volcanic ash cloud from Eyjafjallajokull in Iceland. After earlier problems that jets have encountered with volcanic ash, the airspaces over much of Europe were closed. After six days they were reopened once the authorities were satisfied that it was safe (and no doubt due to pressure from airlines and the public). The best information available at the start of the troubles from all the manufacturers involved (covering both the engine and the airplane) was that the planes should _not_ fly. It was only later after more tests were hurriedly carried out that the “safe” concentration of ash was increased substantially – this is what allowed the airlines to fly once again.

Six days to perform these test doesn’t seem very long to me. There are thousands of flights each day with an excellent track record – we shouldn’t jeopardise passengers just due to some pressure until we were certain. Airlines are now complaining that:
* it took to long to open the airspace
* they shouldn’t have to pay compensation to passengers at the rates entombed in law
* they want compensation themselves

I’m sorry, but they should have to deal with it. If they had planned properly (for this admittedly rare occurrence) they already have test data showing safe volumes of ash to fly through. Therefore none of the delay would have occurred. Furthermore if they didn’t want to pay those levels of compensation they could have done something about it earlier – for example take out insurance against such a case. If they choose not to do the preparation and not to take mitigating steps then it’s tough luck as far as I’m concerned. If my baggage is damaged by the horrific mishandling that occurs, I have to claim on my insurance (and if I have no insurance I have to take it on the chin as a risk of flying).