I’ve been running an EDI VAN since 1996. From those first days of watching data move across the system I’ve been mesmerized. Every day people buy food, products, clothes, cars, etc. and they have no idea about the Data Dance that occurred in perfect harmony, which allowed them to enjoy the benefits of this economy. I never forget the day a few years ago in Chicago on a way to an X12 conference with my fantastic staff. Crystal looked up from the car as we headed downtown from O’Hare and commented, “Look at the billboards: Toyota, Ford, Macy’s, Walgreens, etc. We route their data, and their data, and their data, and their data!”
Probably, because of my degree in Chemistry and Materials Science I am fascinated by the characterization of what I cannot directly see, but can measure, interpolate, extrapolate. As a matter or principle, we do not look at the data itself at Loren Data, unless something goes terribly wrong and we need to see the data to diagnose and correct a problem. So for me, it is the number of transactions and the number of bytes; the state of flux and flow over and through the systems.
The first real data on the system was an intensive 24-hour load test for the Department of Defense’s FACNET system. Based on some projections we gave them, they initially wanted to run something like 23 million transactions over our network in 24-hours. After I got over my initial shock and talked reason with them (and the fact that they didn’t even have the bandwidth to run that at the time), we settled on something like 23,000 over the 24 hours, about one every three seconds. (After we went live, it took months to see 23,000 transactions from them). Not bad for a few Pentium 800-mhz machines with 512k RAM running Windows NT 3.51.
At our current loads we run that amount each hour, and I am still mesmerized watching the dance of the data. Mailbags coming in, mailbag acknowledgements going back; interchanges processing, routing and going out; and 997s being returned within moments.
I see the data spikes turning holidays (Cyber Monday looks more like Cyber Week and maybe Cyber Month from here). The relative lulls each night and weekends, but still continuous activity; data always moving…and growing during “off hours” every month as our client base and their trading partners become more global and more on-line purchase directly trigger EDI transactions on the back-end, real-time.
I also see the outages when our graphs go flat because a major network or customer’s system is down. Sometimes for minutes, other times for hours. Is it us? Is it a customer? Is it another VAN? Automatic e-mail and text messages are generated. The real people, who make this all work communicate, work out a resolution to the problem and everything returns to normal. (Why do systems always seem to go down at 3am on a Saturday?)
The system has a pulse, a life of its own. There is something invigorating about seeing all these systems dance in concert with each other: the end users systems talking to their service provider, the interconnect handing off data to us on one end, and us then pushing it through to the network on the other side, carefully logging and tracking every step.
I think about all the types of transactions, the commerce it represents; all the companies doing business and the products eventually getting to the consumers as some point in the game. There is a reason the company’s middle name is Data.
We, the movers of electronic commerce traffic, are the unsung heroes of the economy. We make “Just in Time” work, we keep the assembly lines moving, the shelves well stocked and the on-line purchases ship the same day. In all the craziness and mundane-ness of this industry, I encourage my colleagues to remember Crystal’s words: We route their data, and their data, and their data…
Loren Data Corp.