Mitigating human error in the SP

Paul Corrao pcorrao at
Tue Feb 2 14:09:30 UTC 2010

Humans make errors.  

For your upper management to think  they can build a foundation of reliability on the theory that humans won't make errors is self deceiving.

But that isn't where the story ends.  That's where it begins.  Your infrastructure, processes and tools should all be designed with that in mind so as to reduce or eliminate the impact that human error will have on the reliability of the service you provide to your customers.

So, for the example you gave there are a few things that could be put in place.  The first one, already mentioned by Chad, is that mission critical services should not be designed with single points of failure - that situation should be remediated.  

Another question  to be asked - since this was provisioning work being done, and it was apparently being done on production equipment, could the work have been done at a time of day (or night) when an error would not have been as much of a problem?

You don't say how long the outage lasted, but given the reaction by your upper management, I would infer that it lasted for a while.  That raises the next question.  Who besides the engineer making the mistake was aware of the fact that work on production equipment was occurring?  The reason this is important is because having the NOC know that work is occurring would give them a leg up on locating where the problem is once they get the trouble notification.


On Feb 2, 2010, at 8:16 AM, Mark Smith wrote:

> On Mon, 1 Feb 2010 21:21:52 -0500
> Chadwick Sorrell <mirotrem at> wrote:
>> Hello NANOG,
>> Long time listener, first time caller.
>> A recent organizational change at my company has put someone in charge
>> who is determined to make things perfect.  We are a service provider,
>> not an enterprise company, and our business is doing provisioning work
>> during the day.  We recently experienced an outage when an engineer,
>> troubleshooting a failed turn-up, changed the ethertype on the wrong
>> port losing both management and customer data on said device.  This
>> isn't a common occurrence, and the engineer in question has a pristine
>> track record.
> Why didn't the customer have a backup link if their service was so
> important to them and indirectly your upper management? If your
> upper management are taking this problem that seriously, then your
> *sales people* didn't do their job properly - they should be ensuring
> that customers with high availability requirements have a backup link,
> or aren't led to believe that the single-point-of-failure service will
> be highly available.
>> This outage, of a high profile customer, triggered upper management to
>> react by calling a meeting just days after.  Put bluntly, we've been
>> told "Human errors are unacceptable, and they will be completely
>> eliminated.  One is too many."
> If upper management don't understand that human error is a risk factor
> that can't be completely eliminated, then I suggest "self-eliminating"
> and find yourself a job somewhere else. The only way you'll avoid
> human error having any impact on production services is to not change
> anything - which pretty much means not having a job anyway ...
>> I am asking the respectable NANOG engineers....
>> What measures have you taken to mitigate human mistakes?
>> Have they been successful?
>> Any other comments on the subject would be appreciated, we would like
>> to come to our next meeting armed and dangerous.
>> Thanks!
>> Chad

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