Microsoft server crash nearly causes 800-plane pile-up

For three hours last week 800 airplanes were left flying in the air with no way to contact air traffic control. This serious problem was a combination of human error and a 'design glitch' in Microsoft's Windows 2000 server software.

According to the Los Angeles Times, "Microsoft's software contained an internal clock designed to shut the system down after 49.7 days to prevent it from becoming overloaded with data." In order to avoid this automatic shutdown, technicians at the airport are required to restart the servers manually (every 30 days), and as you can guess last week one of the technicians messed up. Even after all that the airports software analysts still say such a feature is preferable over others to prevent an overloaded system, as an overloaded system might very well give controllers wrong information about flights.

No system is perfect, but I would have thought that the airline industry would have been better prepared. Still you have to give credit where credit is due, and Laura Brown a FAA spokeswoman said that "the agency plans to install a system that would issue a warning well before shutdown." Surely this Windows server feature could have been disabled, and if not is it really Microsoft's fault for someone else's choice to keep it enabled? I say no (assuming it could be disabled), because there are other alternatives out there and if you're running something this major on Windows 2000 servers you're kind of asking for it. Luckily no one was harmed from this incident, and that gives us another chance. A chance that I'm sure won't be wasted.

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