In a recent conversation a friend of mine used the expression “two nines” in referring to the fact his most recent round of golf had been played on a nine-hole golf course and he had done two nines to complete his eighteen-hole round. “Two nines” is also an expression from the lexicon of Information Technology professionals about which I will elaborate more in a moment.
Sometimes people who live in Mexico fail to appreciate how lucky they are to live where they can have access to so much reliable and affordable modern technology. The two leading Internet Service Providers in my area (San Miguel) are Megacable and Telmex, both of which have good records of reliability. On those occasions when internet connectivity is interrupted for a few minutes or hours, people are quick to forget that two decades ago two of the most commonly asked questions were “Could you get a dial tone yesterday?” or “How many hours was your electricity off?” Today the electric and communications services in my area have been modernized and are far better than 99% reliable. This is what we in IT call “two nines.”
Three nines (99.9%) is better than two but more expensive, and four nines even better. Among computer techs the holy grail of reliability is called “five nines” or 99.999 percent uptime. At first glance this sounds like what everyone needs and what every service provider should offer their customers, but before you sign off on that you need to take time to do the math.
In order to achieve 99.999% reliability a system cannot not have more than five minutes 35 seconds of downtime in a calendar year, that is less than one second per day. As a practical matter achieving this would require that there be a redundant system in place and that any and all connectivity problems would automatically switch your internet connection to a backup system in a split second. That is the kind of redundancy large online vendors such as amazon.com use because they cannot afford to be off line for one second. To serve the home market the electric company and internet providers have to deal with the fact that trees fall down across overhead lines, squirrels chew through wires, or when it rains water can get into lines. These outages simply cannot be rectified in a matter of seconds because repair crews cannot possibly respond that quickly, and so a realistic and achievable goal for most infrastructure systems is two nines.
Corporate bean counters can verify there is an unscientific albeit fairly accurate collation between cost and reliably: Every extra decimal of increased reliability equates more or less to an extra decimal of cost. As applied to the individual internet user what this means is that in your home if you are using a low-cost internet service that is 99% reliable and paying say 300 pesos a month for it, taking all the steps necessary to improve the reliability of your internet service to three nines or 99.9% could cost you 3,000 pesos or more per month. For the home user the cost of redundant connections to the internet, battery backups or emergency generators and the fuel to run them is hard to justify when you realize how seldom those measures would be needed. Another point to consider is the reality that introducing more hardware components also introduces greater technical complexity and more potential points of failure.
The fact is that internet connectivity and the electric utility are very reliable here. I once measured my internet uptime as 99.6% over one year, and judging by the number of times my digital clock says 12:00, 12:00, 12:00, I would estimate that CFE is achieving better than four nines or 99.99+% reliability. So the next time you experience a service outage, just remember in Mexico you are not shoveling snow in the winter nor paying for air conditioning in the summer; and that your services are rarely interrupted for very long.
Charles Miller is a freelance computer consultant with more than 20 years IT experience and a Texan with a lifetime love for Mexico. The opinions expressed are his own. He may be contacted through his web site at SMAguru.com.