"Sprawling Systems Teeter on IT Chaos"
New Scientist (11/27/04); Graham-Rowe, Duncan
The linkage of critical European Union IT networks to the Internet,
coupled with the increasing complexity of those systems, raises the
danger of "emergent behavior" that could result in devastating system
The British government is planning to spend 10 million pounds to
establish a national center focusing on IT complexity in the hopes that
the research conducted there will help avert such a scenario; the
facility will be managed by the Engineering and Physical Sciences
Research Council. U.K. government chief scientist David King explains
that last year's severe power grid outages in the United States and
Italy "show that patterns of unexpected and negative behaviors can
arise, and when they do they are often disastrous."
David Cliff with Hewlett-Packard's Bristol Laboratory and the
University of Leeds' Seth Bullock furnished a report that spurred the
U.K. government to launch the project. Cliff notes that a computer
program's increase in size is accompanied by an exponential increase in
debugging difficulty, making it financially prohibitive to fully test
the program. The traditional process for building computer systems
involves segmenting problems into smaller components and assuming they
will function as intended when integrated, but it becomes tougher to
predict how these components will interact as they increase in number.
A large distributed system's behavior cannot be explained in terms of
the sum of its parts, given the mathematics of complexity; this is why
emergent behaviors or system failures can be triggered by security
threats such as viruses and denial-of-service attacks.
The risk of this happening is increasing as all EU government
departments, educational systems, and health care services are
interconnected via the Internet.
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Found at http://www.acm.org/technews/articles/2004-6/1129m.html#item2