Sprawling systems teeter on IT chaos

November 29, 2004 | Source: NewScientist.com News

The UK government is spearheading a 10 million pound program aimed at finding ways to avert catastrophic failures in large IT networks.

Hidden flaws could lead to crashes in critical networks like healthcare, banking systems, and power grids.

Now all government departments, health services and education systems across the 25 countries of the European Union are being linked to the internet. But there is a real danger that such massive interconnected systems will exhibit potentially disastrous “emergent behaviours,” says David Cliff of Hewlett-Packard’s laboratory in Bristol, UK.

The task of debugging computer code grows exponentially with a program’s size, Cliff says, making full testing prohibitively expensive. “Systems don’t always fail because the programmers are incompetent. It’s because they didn’t know about these unforeseen problems.”