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Sunday, 04 April 2010 15:12

No iPad for Australian journo while NAB has daylight savings shutdown


Clock-related issues are a scourge of sysadmins worldwide. Even so, who would have expected the National Australia Bank (NAB) needed scheduled downtime to cope with the regular annual ending of daylight savings time?

Fellow tech journalist and blogger Dan Warne is presently in the United States and I was keenly following his tweets as he sought to purchase a new Apple iPad on its launch date.

Warne turned up at the San Francisco Apple store braving eight degree Celsius (46 degrees Fahrenheit) cold, noting his surprise both at how short the queue of iPad-hunters was on arrival, and then how swiftly it grew to over 200 hopefuls.

Yet, when it came to Warne's turn to hand over his hard-earned for one of Steve Jobs' latest must-have gadgets, he was let down - not by Apple, not by his own bank balance, not even by the complex infrastructure of global inter-banking connections.

His transaction was repeatedly declined. Being 3am on Sunday Australia time Warne battled to find someone at the National Australia Bank (NAB) who would take his call. Eventually he made it through to the 24-hour lost-cards line.

The operator explained there was no problem with Dan Warne's card. While such a problem would be frustrating and embarrassing, a reasonable explanation would have to be accepted and acknowledged.

The truth was worse in my opinion; the entire NAB systems - card transactions, Internet and telephone banking - were down. The reason the operator gave was that they were down deliberately 'for daylight savings.'

In a stroke of unfortunate timing, 10am Saturday in San Francisco happened to coincide with the transition from daylight savings time in NSW, Australia back to regular time. At the stroke of 3am the clock went back to 2am, to relive that hour all over again.

Any reasonable person can appreciate the problems daylight savings causes for transaction-based systems. You can have transactions occurring at 2:01am, 2:59am, then 2:01am again, for instance.

In the industry I work in during my 'day job' we have many skilled workers punching in attendance at time clocks. We always need to cater for the fact someone who works across the daylight savings split is due an additional hour's wages and this is coded into timeclock and payroll software.

I felt Warne's pain at waiting in line for something he keenly wanted and then having his card declined through no fault of his own. After I digested that, I felt a secondary twinge of discomfort - because, to be honest, it truly bugs me that in this day and age there are organisations who need downtime to cater for what is, frankly, a predictable event.

If the NAB told Warne an unexpected outage occurred that'd be bad enough but that happens; you can get over it and you know in your own business you sometimes have unfortunate events that prevent you giving the level of service you would prefer.

However, to require downtime to cater for something which happens each and every year on dates known years in advance genuinely stuns me.

In fact, it even raises the question of whether the NAB does deal with the issue of daylight savings or just avoid it by turning everything off over that magical repeated hour so they have no out-of-order transactions.

On the one hand, you can appreciate downtime at 3am Sunday is not going to affect the bulk of Australians, but for those it does affect - both at home and abroad - it's more than a minor inconvenience.

Imagine being left without funds and without explanation because your bank chose to ignore an issue rather than deal with it?

In my industry we deal with it. We make it work. We don't tell our workers and our clients we can't supply labour for that hour.

Then again, we don't charge our clients for the privilege of being clients either.


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David M Williams

David has been computing since 1984 where he instantly gravitated to the family Commodore 64. He completed a Bachelor of Computer Science degree from 1990 to 1992, commencing full-time employment as a systems analyst at the end of that year. David subsequently worked as a UNIX Systems Manager, Asia-Pacific technical specialist for an international software company, Business Analyst, IT Manager, and other roles. David has been the Chief Information Officer for national public companies since 2007, delivering IT knowledge and business acumen, seeking to transform the industries within which he works. David is also involved in the user group community, the Australian Computer Society technical advisory boards, and education.

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