Who knew this network stuff was so tricky?


Flashback to the pre-Internet days when the standard way of sending lots of data between sites is on reels of magnetic tape -- but the company where this pilot fish works is looking for a better way.

"I was responsible for supporting the manufacturing inventory system, from which we generated the bi-weekly mailing to customers with our offerings," fish says. "Tapes from keypunched data were used as the medium of supplying manufacturing instructions, and air-freighted to the plant in the midwest.

"The company was very technology oriented, so when an IT vendor introduced a way of transmitting reports and data over a telephone line, we went for a trial run."

The manufacturing system is an obvious choice for a pilot -- there are twice-daily reports on sales and inventory that play a critical part in decisions on what to make more of.

Sure enough, the pilot is a success, so hardware is purchased and the company starts looking at more applications of sending data electronically.

One analyst who's assigned to review the process notices that 95 percent of the traffic originates at the plant -- it's all going in one direction. Analyst knows about the data that gets air-freighted to the factory, he knows the telephone link's speed, and he calculates that a tape's worth of data can be sent in 45 minutes over the phone line.

"That would save the cost of air-freighting the tape to the plant in the midwest, and ground shipping the tapes back from the plant," says fish. "There's just one problem: It wouldn't work."

The production control team has already scheduled a trial run to transmit the next biweekly keypunch tape's data, and fish doesn't find out until the weekly status meeting.

When he does hear about it, fish says he agrees with the analyst's financial argument -- but he points out that the transfer system is specifically configured for data originating at the plant, because the reports being created were deemed more important across the entire financial department than the data being sent to the plant.

Analyst disagrees. But everyone decides to try a transmission using old data one week before the next biweekly tape is generated.

"Arrangements were made for the test, the previous week's tape was mounted, and the transmission was scheduled," fish says.

"After four days, the tape was still not fully transmitted. We went back to using air freight.

"Three months later, additional hardware was purchased and configured for bidirectional transmission -- and those tapes were the first to go."

Transmit your true tales of IT life to Sharky. Send me your story at sharky@computerworld.com. You'll snag a snazzy Shark shirt it I use it. Add your comments below, and read some great old tales in the Sharkives.

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