Spotting the danger – knowing the risks

Published on 25th January 2013 by Ambrose McNevin

With the World Economic Forum conference winding down in Davos, Switzerland – I’m taking the opportunity to read the WEF’s global risk report 2013. The report maps economic, environmental, geopolitical, societal and technological risks. Among the areas of risk are persistent global economic fragility, hubris to human health, wealth imbalance, digital wildfires and unforeseen natural disasters.

Despite this investors have had a good week – unless that is you recently bought Apple shares, in which case it was not so great. I read the IBM, Microsoft and Apple results announcements. Data centers, these engines of economic growth, hardly merited a mention. Fair enough that Apple and Microsoft watchers are more interested in the consumer impact these companies exert but one would think IBM might have more to say on the subject. That said it does have a decent web site explaining its data center business

But back to the WEF report. While the volatility of energy prices was highlighted, the only fleeting reference to data centers in there was in the section on climate change. It said: “A limited amount of data and constraints on computational power have been strong impediments to bringing greater clarity into predicting future climatic developments at a local level….Greater support for scientific research, better computational power and data are needed to shed greater clarity into predicting future climatic developments, especially the climate and weather extremes.”

Good news for those supplying the meteorology market but again a surprise as many of the world’s supercomputers boast of having at least some climate modelling use.

What is clear from the report is that it is more not less data that is needed to tackle global risks.

When assessing the risks posed by the digital world the WEF chose to focus on the disruptions caused by malicious or non-malicious falsehoods and their almost instant dispersal through media such as twitter. It called these ‘Digital Wildfires.’

One example given was Tweet during Hurricane Sandy in the US which said that the floor of the New York Stock Exchange was under three feet of water. This was rapidly disproved but nonetheless was reported as fact. It said: "The actual misinforming tweets posted by @ComfortablySmug and @CNNweather peaked at significantly fewer re-tweets compared to the correction posted by @BreakingNews, even though the corrected information was posted within an hour of the misinforming tweet. One can speculate that people may have been more willing to re-tweet the photos of sharks and the Statue of Liberty because they were harmless and surprising and, most important, had significant entertainment value. The entertainment value may also explain the lack of interest in circulating the correction tweets from @BreakingNews. People may have been less prepared to re-tweet information that could be tied to serious consequences, such as NYSE flooding, before verifying.”
BTW the current estimated bill for Hurricane Sandy is estimated today at over US$70 billion for New York and New Jersey alone.

As I wrote above I read the Apple, IBM and Microsoft financial reports and the only reference to data centers I found was in the Microsoft forward looking statement caveat.

It said: actual results could differ materially because of factors such as… “outages and disruptions of services provided to customers directly or through third parties if Microsoft fails to maintain an adequate operations infrastructure.” They know the risks!

Those risks faced and the contingencies and continuity plans needed to maintain adequate operations infrastructure will be discussed at length during the DatacenterDynamics Converged New York conference on March 12th.

See you there. All things being equal.  

The WEF report is here

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Ambrose McNevin is the editor of DatacenterDynamics Focus

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