Events in Iran have changed how society should define mission critical.
In the past it has been possible to argue that our society equates mission critical by letting the market decide. Large concerns decide that the financial losses associated from downtime are greater than the investment in Tier 4 facilities, only after checking that they have the cash on hand or credit. Poor institutions like hospitals and schools must settle for less, even though lives or the future may depend on the success of these institutions. It's a fact of life worldwide, explained by the same imperative that leads us to pay star actors, singer, and athletes hundreds of times more money than teachers, cops, and firefighter. I have argued that large reliable data centers may often support completely non-mission critical, even trivial, functions because they are profitable to someone.
In fact, I made this exact point during a publishers meeting at BNP Media just last week, arguing that Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, and LinkedIn could hardly be called mission critical, just because their operators are embarrassed by downtime or lose revenue as a result.
But events in Iran have tipped that argument on its head. Twitter, NTT America, and the U.S. State Department have begun to rush to credit for deferring a network capacity upgrade because of the important role played by Twitter in disseminating information about the disputed election in Iran.
“We received a request from Twitter that we have to postpone,” Gomi said. The provider heeded the request because Twitter is an important client, he explained. Gomi estimated downtime associated with the upgrade to last no longer than 30 minutes. In delaying the work, NTT America took a risk. “Risk is that traffic … generated by Twitter is getting so big, (it’s) basically eating up a lot of our data center network resources, especially the segment where Twitter is hosted,” NTT America COO and CTO Kazuhiro Gomi said. “Other customers are riding on the same segment.”
Similarly the Wall Street Journal reported, "At a conference Tuesday, Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey thanked the service’s hosting provider, NTT America, for delaying the upgrade." The Journal report also said that Reuters and CNN had reported that the State Department had requested a second delay.New York Times went so far as to identify Jared Cohen, a 27-year-old State Department official, as the individual who had e-mailed the request to Twitter.
Finally James Cowie on the Renesys Blog used traffic figures to speculate about how Iranians and the Iranian government might be using the Internet to further the aims in the conflict. Cowie looks at three different theories about why Iran hasn't just shut down the Internet in that country. Pick your own theory if you wish to fit the facts, Cowie does. But his traffic numbers make clear that both sides consider Twitter and the Internet to be mission critical services.