Vodafone: Disasters Include Theft!

Peter Judge is a bit confused by Vodafone’s disingenuous statements on its network service problems earlier today

You have to sympathise with Vodafone, which has been struck by an unusual and high-profile problem today. But you have to sympathise even more with its customers.

This morning, as far as we can tell, a large proportion of Vodafone’s customers in the south of England and Wales (maybe as many as three million) had no service. The reason, apparently, is that their SIM details are held on a server, which was stolen overnight from the company’s Basingstoke network centre.

Where was the disaster plan?

There’s some speculation still in that summary, as Vodafone is attempting to manage the information about the problem very closely.

However, the company has now confirmed to eWEEK Europe that the problem relates to a break-in at Basingstoke, during which equipment was stolen.

Was the company’s disaster plan not complete? And was this equipment really a single point of failure?

We put that to Vodafone, and got a rather disingenous answer. First we were assured that there was no network problem. Vodafone’s signal was up everywhere, because the problem involved the IT kit in the centre, not the masts or radio equipment.

But what about that kit? Was there no back-up plan – or did the back-up plan fail?

“Yes we have a disaster recovery plan in place, but this problem involved actual theft of equipment,” said the spokesperson, apparently implying that theft of equipment was somehow exempt from disaster planning.

You should plan for even this

This is of course wrong. Disaster plans should allow for the loss or failure of any equipment,  according to how likely that failure is seen to be. And all important facilities should be kept secure from break-ins, burglary and sabotage.

What seems likely is that Vodafone underestimated the likelihood of a burglary, and the consequences of equipment going missing.

As with other company-damaging failures, such as McAfee’s auto-immune error, the problem will hit its reputation hard. In McAfee’s case, it surely contributed to its eventual takeover by Intel.

For Vodafone, this failure will weaken the operator’s position in relation to its rivals in the bitterly competitive UK mobile phone market.