SPLat Controls' aperiodic newsletter
1 June 2011
The (very expensive) case of the lost SPLatWare
A customer visited us yesterday with a broken SPLat controller. It was an ancient MMi99
(great-grand father of today's MMi202). It had been controlling a sophisticated hydraulic steering mechanism in a gigantic fruit picking
machine for the last 6 or more years. It failed because rats had nested in the machine and chewed up great slabs of wiring, leading to a
short circuit. The machine downtime was reportedly costing the owner $10,000 per day.
This machine control had been programmed by a sub-contractor to the machine builder. This
programmer had long since departed the scene. He left behind a number of re-writable CDs with the various SPLat programs he had written.
When the smelly stuff hit the fan 2 days ago the machine maker dug out the CDs, only to discover that the one with the critical program
So yesterday the auto electrician from site had driven 8 hours overnight to Melbourne with his
assistant and one severely smoked SPLat board. Along with the machine maker they visited us yesterday, hoping we might be able to
magically solve their problem.
Could we help?
Well, the board was totally wrecked, with the processor dead. That meant there was no way to
read out the SPLat program (which, by the way, we don't have the tools for ... once a program goes into a SPLat it cannot be extracted,
something we consider a security feature). We tried reading out the CD on several computers, with no luck. We did a quick google and gave
them the name of a local data recovery service.
So here we have it: A $10,000 a day machine sitting stalled, and fruit rotting on the tree,
because there was no way to get a program into a replacement board. A fine SNAFU!
When we write SPLatWare for a customer, we provide the customer with a copy of the source code, once
they have signed off on it. We also keep it on our systems. We have a series of portable backup drives, which are moved off site every
night (and replaced every few years). All in all every file exists on at least 8 different computers or removable drives in at least 2
locations. It would take, literally, a small nuke to eradicate all copies.
What do you do to protect your valuable programs and business data? Are you in a situation where
you have a moral (and possibly legal) responsibility to be able to repair and reprogram your customers' machines quickly? Keeping secure
copies of the programs is at least as important as good mechanical drawings and wiring diagrams.
Computer writable CDs are not a reliable storage medium. There are reports of retention
times as low as 3 years. Leaving one in sunlight can damage it sooner. One of our technicians records a lot of CDs and DVDs, and reckons
1 in 20 fails to write, but every-day software does not by default verify after writing! No electronic medium is 100% reliable. You must
devise backup strategies that allow for imperfections, using redundancy and periodic re-generation of data.