Using the network at 37,000 feet

One of my favorite questions to ask during my Enterprise Fallacies presentation is how you're going to use your thin-client application at 37,000 feet, because the airlines don't have network access. Now, as I write this, I'm on board a Scandinavian Air Service flight to Copenhagen (on my way to JAOO), using the wireless service on the flight to access the thin-client blog-entry interface on the site--this wasn't written offline and posted later, as so many of my other blog entries have been.

Which means, of course, that I now face a dilemma--do I retract what I say in that part of the Fallacies talk, and admit that, finally, the network really is available everywhere? After all, even though it's only the European carriers that are offering it (Lufthansa and SAS are the only two I know of thus far), and even then only on their international flights (so far as I know), the actual connection is "Connexion By Boeing", so you know Boeing is going to offer it as a retrofit on US aircraft before too long--it's just a matter of the FAA getting around to realizing that the signal isn't nearly as much of a danger as they've made it out to be.

So, is it time to abandon the first fallacy?

Duh--of course not. :-)

Truth is, the network access from the plane is horrendous--latency is terrible, which makes a lot of sense, given how far these poor little bytes have to travel in order to actually reach the site. In fact, if you consider the fact that they're traveling through a tight-band satellite connection, which has been known to be somewhat flaky due to nothing more than aircraft movement, it's pretty amazing that they get there at all. But more importantly than that, the point still remains that even if the network is there most of the time, it's not there all of the time, and the partial-failure scenarios that have been with us from the beginning are still scenarios we need to worry about for the enterprise systems that we build. And, more importantly, by taking network outages into the design/architecture of the system, we build not only redundancy in case of accidental failures but also ability to function even in the face of administrative outages (patches, upgrades, hardware replacements, etc).

The First Fallacy isn't just about network availability, it's about network outages, and the more we spread wireless around (and become dependent on it), the more we'll find that network outages are more and more common, something that we'll have to take into account when building systems. So don't expect the First Fallacy to go away any time soon. :-)

Update: Well, turned out I was more right than I knew; while I was able to surf to the entry page to fill this entry out, I couldn't manage to get it submitted--kept timing out when I'd push the button to send it in. A couple of other States-based sites were timing out, too, so I'm guessing that the gateway (whether that's on the plane or on the ground, I'm not sure) is giving up because the latency is so high. So apparently the First Fallacy is still with us, airplane networking or no. (Interestingly enough, though, MSMessenger and Google Talk worked just fine, so apparently the latency either doesn't bother them or the conversations were just that much slower and I didn't realize it.)