When 99 is greater than 100

It's a few years ago, and the company where this pilot fish works has part of its operations on a mainframe -- and mostly that's fine.

"The start of the month -- running reports from the prior month -- was the busiest time," says fish. "Fortunately, there was enough capacity that only at month-end did the system hit its limits, and sometimes not even then, if things were spaced out a bit.

"Then we got notice that the group responsible for making such decisions had decided to cut the capacity of the system by half and sell off the units making up the excess capacity."

The system engineers behind this change claim it's a win-win: The company will rake in some money, and the system will be utilizing more of its capacity more of the time.

Fish and the IT operations staff try to explain that this is a spectacular misunderstanding of how the system really runs, because if a computer system is running at full capacity, it's not "efficient" -- it's overloaded.

"The correct analogy is to a pipe trying to drain off flood water," fish says. "If the pipe is running completely full, that means there is more floodwater accumulating than the pipe can carry away. While this situation exists, your flooding will get worse. Only if your pipe has more capacity than is needed is it actually running efficiently."

But that doesn't move the decision makers. The equipment is sold off -- and as expected, month-end jobs immediately take three times as long to complete. Meanwhile, day-to-day transactions during the month-end crunch are running at a crawl or locking up and failing completely.

Executives and managers aren't getting the reports they need as quickly as before. Users are frustrated because everything seems to take forever.

And everyone in IT who has to cope with the struggling system and the outraged users knows exactly what the problem is.

Well, except for one group.

"The idiots who precipitated the whole thing were still patting themselves on the back because they'd made the system more efficient," grumbles fish.

"I finally just started telling my users that corporate had decided it was a good thing to bring the mainframe system to a standstill one week a month."

Sharky's got plenty of capacity for handling true tales of IT life. Send me yours at sharky@computerworld.com. You'll score a sharp Shark shirt if I use it. Add your comments below, and read some great old tales in the Sharkives.

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Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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