(“In Case You Missed It Monday” is my chance to showcase something that I wrote and published in another venue, but is still relevant. This week’s post originally appeared on THWACK)
If you hang out around a particular segment of the SolarWinds® crowd, you’re likely to hear the story of how monitoring helped one former Head Geek™ score front row tickets to Aerosmith.
This is not that story. This story was, however, inspired by that story.
The original story involved the aforementioned Head Geek, Destiny Bertucci, using SolarWinds Web Performance Monitor (WPM) to monitor the ticket sales website. When tickets for her city showed “on sale now,” she got an alert with a direct link to the page. After a few more taps on her cell phone, she’d scored the seats. Her success has been the stuff of legend (and more than a couple of conference talks and THWACKcamp™ sessions) over the years. It served as an example of the surprising flexibility one can achieve with robust monitoring solutions. And it’s also a great story about monitoring engineers using our powers for fun as well as to save the day.
But what about using our powers for actual “good”—as in helping people in a direct way, not just by keeping their routers routing and servers serving? This question is where this story begins.
It’s news to nobody we’ve all lived through a challenging year. The truth is, far too many of us have lost more than just time over the last 12 months. As IT pros, we’re wired to solve problems, but many of us have felt powerless to help in the face of the pandemic. The key to regaining any sense of normalcy—for individuals, communities, and humanity as a whole—now lies in getting as many doses of vaccine into as many arms as we can as fast as possible.
Each government has approached this challenge in varying ways. I’m not here to say whether any one methodology is better or worse than another. What I am going to comment on is how vaccination distribution has displayed a consistent challenge across the world familiar to IT practitioners: the so-called “last mile” problem.
In tech, the greatest effort often lies in bridging the distance between a new service and the users who want it. The term was first used in telecom, describing the spike in cost and effort to connect each home to the main circuit. The cost to connect any two points by cable is about the same, but expending the cost for a single user often appears far greater than the ROI. However, if you don’t bridge the last mile, nobody will use the service at all. Though the telecom aspect is easy to visualize, the term has been used to define issues with everything from public transportation to cryptocurrency.
And I believe it applies to vaccinations as well. In telecom, the challenge was bridging both distance and dirt. But with vaccines, it’s overcoming both complacency and confusion.
Governments can move vaccines and staff to various locations on the map, but they can’t reasonably go door to door—and even this idea is based on the false assumption that everyone who needs a shot has a door they can be found behind. Meanwhile, individuals aren’t waiting by the phone for their turn, nor are they able to instantly stop what they’re doing to race to a distant vaccination site. Twice. Three weeks apart.
This is the “last mile” problem as it relates to vaccinations. It’s the problem I’ve been focused on for myself and my family as much as the wider community. In my immediate area, there are hundreds of potential vaccination sites spread across a half dozen providers. But each one has their own scheduling system. Making things even more difficult, appointments are snatched up as quickly as they appear. I spent many groggy 5 a.m. mornings managing multiple screens and tabs, hitting refresh surreptitiously until I got a hit, to no avail.
Which is when I remembered the story about the front row tickets, monitoring, and the power of automation.
My advice to folks in a similar situation is to look no further than their own backya… I mean data center. Look at the tools you have at hand and think about this like the IT problem it is. Set up the appropriate monitoring. Make sure your alerting provides detailed information (like a link to the scheduling site) so you can immediately act on the message when you receive it. Watch the watcher, meaning be certain you can verify your monitor is still working. And ensure you aren’t overaggressively polling the information source, causing it to shut down or (worse) block your IP.
Lest you think I’m the first—or only—person to think of this, I’d like to point out there are now folks who have earned the title “vaccine angel,” spending their free time finding and securing vaccine appointments for complete strangers (https://www.salon.com/2021/04/01/vaccine-angels/). I’m just bringing my resources and experiences to bear as I approach the problem.
My seventh grade English teacher used to tell our class, “Only Superman does good. The rest of us do well.”
I’m not sure she’s right.