Don’t Be a Dodo

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The Dodo was a flightless bird that lived on the island of Mauritius near Madagascar.  This unique creature was first sighted in 1598 and was known for its relatively large size (3 feet tall, up to about 50 lbs) and inability to fly.  The Dodo lived a life of tranquility without predators and so it never developed traditional defense mechanisms like flight, a sharp beak or even birthing large flocks of offspring.  (It is interesting to note that each Dodo female only laid one egg which further decreased survivability.)  Tragically, the Dodo was unprepared for the arrival of the ultimate predator – humans.

When sailors arrived on Mauritius they were surprised by the Dodo’s blissful ignorance of the new human threat.  Unfortunately, the Dodo’s would live to regret this choice as many ended up on a platter.  Sadly, by the late 1600s, the Dodos were extinct, and today, they are only remembered in written descriptions, drawings and a few lingering skeletons.
dodo-skeleton

The tale of the Dodo is a cautionary one.  Here is a bird that had adapted to its native environment only to find it changing radically.  Some look back and suggest that the Dodo was vapid or otherwise clueless; however the latest research suggests that it was reasonably intelligent and instead was caught in an impossible situation.

The most important lesson that we can learn from the unfortunate demise of the Dodo bird is that we must always look forward.  It is easy and often more comfortable to focus on past accomplishments or implementations, but limiting ourselves to a backward view puts the future at risk.  By looking forward, we become more agile and flexible and better prepared to deal with the rapidly changing world around us.

The same conversation is highly relevant to IT.  Our datacenters are full of a range of technologies many of which are less than cutting edge; however, just because these systems are outdated does not mean they can be ignored.  As an IT practitioner, we must remember the past (e.g. keep existing systems operating) while looking to the future to understand how our operations can evolve to embrace new technologies.

I met with a customer a couple of years back who was a great example of the Dodo challenge.  This end user relied exclusively on tape for data protection and was unwilling to consider newer technologies like deduplication or even traditional disk-based backup.  After an extensive discussion, it was clear that they were set in their ways, but I at least convinced them to perform some test restores to validate their backups and quantify recovery times.  I later found out that the majority of their recovery tests failed and those that completed took way longer than expected.  As you can imagine, they promptly upgraded their infrastructure and things ran much better.  Can you imagine what would have happened if they had not run the tests and faced a real disaster?  The word “extinction” comes to mind.

In summary the Dodo bird was a unique creature that was caught in an untenable situation.  The Dodo could not evolve fast enough to respond to the changes in their environment.  IT practitioners must evolve too or face a similar risk of extinction as technology passes them by.

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