Mythic Monday – Ozymandias
A bit of poetry to start your week:
Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away”.
Ozymandias (who we now know as Ramesses the Great) was an Egyptian king who many consider to be the most important one ever.
( probably translates as “World’s Greatest Pharaoh” and was found on a mug*, probably given by Prince Ramesses-Meriamen-Nebweben in a desperate plea for attention.)
As tempting as it is to go off on the typical history geek listing of great accomplishments, I’ll just point you to the Wikipedia Link instead. Besides, it’s more fun to look at Shelley’s poem. The point, fairly obviously, is that Ozymandias was one impressive guy in his day. He was the Grand Poobah of all of Egypt, did a lot of impressive stuff and was well neigh irreplaceable. Today, little remains of what he did, we get his name wrong in history and make fun of him in blog posts. He was vital in his day and was utterly erased by the sands of time.
(Granted, due to advances in archeology, we know that this isn’t historically true… but we’re talking about a poem from from 1818 (and this blog is ostensibly about IT security anyway, so we’re going to ignore the truth in favor of the lesson.))
We all know people like Ozymandias. Many of them, for some reason, seem to find jobs as IT administrators or developers. They may protect their knowledge within a little silo whilst claiming “job security”. They may build large and complex systems and brag about how they are so complex that no one can ever figure out how to support them. They may resist applying updates or integrating their systems in with everything else, because it’s their legacy. They may also be laid off in the next round.
The problem is that actually, Ozymandias was pretty impressive. He was the most important person in his sphere (being Egypt between 1279 BC to 1213 BC). However, he was clearly not the most important person ever (Bing says that was Juanita Gooden’s mother, Google is less certain) and his works have clearly not survived. The same applies to those special isolated IT systems.
The sad fact is that people don’t last forever, and whether they retire or move on, the systems they leave behind won’t last forever either. In fact, if there is a system that others were never allowed to maintain, it will often age even more quickly than other legacy solutions. No one will be able to troubleshoot it or update it for changing business conditions. It will begin to fail and then the business owners will likely look at purchasing a system to replace it.
Sadly, when this occurs, it serves to commoditize the business just a little bit more. Over time, that which makes a business unique will be eroded by the sands of time and when the business fails, nothing will be left but ruins. Then, three thousand years later, some historico-business-poet* will write something about the former technology and how greatness doesn’t last.
*OK, you tell me when they’ll call industry analysts in three thousand years.
The thing is, this could have been avoided. An empire does not exist solely for one man… nor does a business. If the business can identify those protectionist silos and work towards integrating them with the rest of the operations, not only can technological similarities be leveraged but it would be possible to add developers or maintainers and accelerate the adaptability of the business. This would drive the business away from becoming a commodity… then they just have to wait for the other businesses to slowly crumble into dust and they emerge victorious.
(Image by Hajor.)