The hostel with out-of-band access

The past few months have brought harsh weather to the northeast United States.  Hurricane Sandy caused billions of dollars in damage to New England (especially New York and New Jersey) and recent snow storms have left many of us in the dark – literally.  Some storms left us with cell phones as our only connection to the rest of the world.

My small rural town of Jamestown Rhode Island was hit hard with 18 inches of heavy, wet snow on February 8, 2013.  We had expected power outages from downed trees and poles, but many people were still ill-prepared for the consequences of a town-wide power outage.  Since I have the only woodstove (and the only heat) on the block, my house quickly became a neighborhood hostel when temperatures dropped below 10°F.  The first few hours of group gathering were great fun – adults chatted and played Scrabble while the kids ran around in the snow.  However, the second day left us desperate for information from National Grid regarding electrical service.  We had no television, no internet connections, and our battery powered radios had been replaced by iPods years ago.  The only locally-available information was the obvious lack of plows visiting our street – not a comforting feeling.

Our only connection to the outside world was through our cell phones, which were charged when the cars were finally dug out of driveways.  We were able to text other people in town to understand where power had been restored, get estimated dates for restored service from National Grid, and browse local television websites for news updates.

Our cellular connections were truly the only Out-Of-Band connection that functioned during this minor crisis.  I couldn’t help draw the parallels between my make-shift hostel and the problems associated with remote IT infrastructure.  We had no power and my neighbors had no heat but our cell connections allowed us to keep in touch with family and get electrical service updates from National Grid.  Technology had changed my hostel to allow for full management during an outage.  Wouldn’t it be nice if all critical remote infrastructure had the same capability?

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