Centralization: The Hidden Trap

Everything is about efficiency and economies of scale now days. Thats all we seem to care about. We build vast power generation plants and happily pay the electrical resistance price to push energy across great distances. We establish large central natural gas pipelines that carry most of the gas that is eventually distributed to our homes and factories. And we establish giant data centers that hold and process enormous amounts of our private and business information; information that if lost or altered could produce immediate adverse impacts on our everyday lives.

Centralization like this has obvious benefits. It allows us to provide more products and services while employing less people. It allows us to build and maintain less facilities and infrastructure while keeping our service levels high. It is simply more efficient and cost effective. But the costthat is more effectivehere is purely rated in dollars. How about the hidden costin these systems that nobody seems to talk about?

What I am referring to here is the vulnerability centralization brings to any system. It is great to pay less for electricity and to avoid some of the local blackouts we used to experience, but how many power plants and transmission towers would an enemy have to take out to cripple the whole grid? How many pipeline segments and pumping stations would an enemy have to destroy to widely interrupt gas delivery? And how many data centers would an enemy need to compromise to gain access to the bulk of our important records? The answer to these questions is: not as many as yesterday, and the number becomes smaller every year.

However, I am not advocating eschewing efficiency and economies of scale; they make life in this overcrowded world better for everyone. What I am saying is that we need to realize the dangers we are putting ourselves in and make plans and infrastructure alterations to cope with attacks and disasters when they come. These kinds of systems need to have built-in redundancies and effective disaster recovery plans if we are to avoid crisis.

Common wisdom tells us that you shouldnt put all your eggs in one basket, and Murphys Law tells us that anything that can go wrong eventually will go wrong. Lets remember these gems of wisdom. That way our progeny cannot say of us: those that ignore history are doomed to repeat it

Thanks to John Davis for this post.

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