Hear no evil, see no evil, 'spec no evil

Date: 2015-12-04 08:31 am (UTC)
hairyears: (0)
From: [personal profile] hairyears
No, the worst systems aren't designed: they congeal.

Specification? What's that?

Picture, if you will, a bright and beautiful day in 2005, when a a sloppy contractor is told to organise a heap of spreadsheets into a departmental reporting system...

...Well, he's already made a good start on that by providing the data for these spreadsheets from an unstructured morass of SQL and SSIS jobs on a dev/test server running Microsoft SQL server.

So what he does next, is he inherits the license on an old Business Objects installation, on a server that nobody wanted but couldn't decomission because someone ran a legacy report on BO.

Business Objects is the flower of IBM-style corporate interface design from the mid-1990's. Only, without corporate-grade administration interfaces...

So... BO generates daily, quarterly, and hourly reports, for about 20 reports, and saves them in folders...

As MS-Excel files.

A web gateway is built in undocumented vbscript, in which a simple menu system allowes the users to download their familiar Excel reports.

So far, not so dreadful.

BO can also email out copies of reports on a schedule, and soon it is doing that. On a management console web page which does not support corporate-grade tools like listing users, overview of scheduling and the server load, and (say) labelling reports by sensitivity and integrating access/mailouts with Active Directory. Which is to say: once you go over a dozen users, you can't manage the accounts: it's easy to say "take me off report Foo, I'm moving to department Bar', if you know it's report Foo and you've got ten to twenty minutes to do it... But "Is user FuFu on your system?" and "List all of BaaBar's reports" is unknowable and unimaginable.

This comes back to haunt us, four hundred reports and ten years of user turnover later.

But the missing management interface that *really* bites us is the inability to list reports with undocumented VBA scripts embedded in them, generating secondary data files which act as essential data feeds for the SSIS scripts that load the dev database every morning...

Some of these files are feeds for unrelated systems. This, too, is undocumented.

...Secondary files that cannot be listed out: you can only know where they come from, and where they go, by knowing which of the hundreds of BO reports emits them, and opening up the VBA in Business Intelligence Studio.

You can see where this is going.

So, ten years of expansion and accretion and congealment down the road, over four hundred business-critical reports and undocumented feed files for other systems are running on an unsupported BO version on an unreliable server at 100% cpu load.

Reports running unmaintainable spaghetti SQL on the BO server, inside BO's incomprehensible 'data dimension' design framework, on top of a spaghetti morass of bad SQL, SSIS objects, and hundreds of tables in a SQL server on an unsupported 'Dev' box, reading data from dozens of undocumented data services everywhere in the company, with a critical dependency on dozens or hundreds of mystery files emitted by the very same Business Objects reports.

The SSIS jobs and the BO mystery file emissions are, of course, sequence-dependent and running on two different servers... One of which has a proper scheduler with an overview of what runs when, and the other one is Business Objects management console on a server at 100% cpu and a queuing problem.

The contractor who constructed it, expanded it, altered it repeatedly and without the slightest thought for design or consistency, and allowed it to accrete and worsen over the course of a decade, departed a year ago.

He left us a medium-sized spreadsheet documenting his opus magnum.

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