Consultant's Notebook

Election Night Computer Failure Caused By Lack Of Backup System

Iíd love to be a fly on the wall at the post mortem over why the presidential exit poll server crashed late on election night and didnít come up until 1:33 a.m. Unfortunately, itís all too predictable: CEO: How could this happen? CIO: We didnít have a back up system. CFO: But I saved us money!

In explaining why exit polls were not good predictors of the outcome for the second straight presidential election, Edison Media Research/Mitofsky International blamed the failure of a computer server as a cause. As reported by the media, the server malfunctioned shortly before 11 p.m., preventing access to any exit poll results until technicians got a backup system operational more than a couple of hours later. But the real failure here is not the server or the software, but a lack of vision and the will to install the necessary backup and recovery system.

Weíre not talking about extreme technology here. Backup servers, dispersed servers, error correcting storage and real-time data replication are all means that forward-thinking businesses use to ensure that necessary functionality is online when needed. However, too often, these components are deleted by the budget-minders, who dismiss them as being "redundant" - as if redundant means unnecessary. Election night coverage deserves the same contingency planning as any critical business does, whether it be the military, the air traffic control system, the financial industry or the nationís retailers.

In my consulting experience, there are two reasons why businesses shrink from investing in a mirrored backup system. First, everyone believes that it will never happen to them. Or if it does, theyíll all muddle through somehow. Second, most believe that itís too expensive to have a recovery capability that is "needed" only in the remote event of a disaster. Sadly, the data show otherwise.

An outrage such as 9/11 grabs our attention, but businesses are equally threatened by the more prosaic fire, flood, sabotage or power outage. The costs are staggering.

Failure to manage technology risk appropriately is risky in itself. A company may be subject to lawsuits if its computers go down and data or money are lost. In some instances, such a lack of management diligence could adversely affect a firmís prices on Wall Street.

To be sure, good backup and recovery does cost money. At 11 p.m. on election night, however, the exit poll server crash cost much more. The data were to show President Bush with a slight lead, but the country waited more than two hours for that message to emerge. A "redundant" system, tested regularly, would have been worth its weight in gold.

Exit polling for presidential elections is a big business. Itís obvious that the system must work flawlessly on election night - there are no second chances. That the executives in charge didnít plan for any eventuality is hard to fathom and difficult to excuse.

Success doesnít come from better, more reliable technology, although that helps. Real success comes from forward thinking management, which plans to preserve functionality when itís needed. Prescient executives invest the time and money to see that employees are ready to move to Plan B without interruption of service. One backup is worth a thousand tears.

This Note was originally published in The Virginian Pilot, Sunday, November 14, 2004, Business Section, Page D3.

Next Steps

This Consultant Note is a summary of the potential results from failure to plan for failure. We can help you improve the implementation and effectiveness of your business recovery / disaster planning initiatives. To achieve better payoff from your business recovery operation, contact us or email to


Home     Services     Case Studies     Biography     Contact Us
Christopher Technology Consulting, 1552 Lakeport Court, Virginia Beach, VA 23464
Voice: 757-373-1454 Fax: 810-885-5312 email: