Monday, December 04, 2006

Networks beat centralization

For some time there have been growing concerns about the cost of the new NHS centralised information system. The latest estimates are truly staggering: £31 billion.

What kind of a mindset creates such a behemoth?

Why is it required that the system should be centralised?

It is almost as though the Ministers forgot that the internet exists- it is totally unnecessary to centralise patient information to this absurd degree. While there might be concerns over the security of the links, these apply just as much to a centralised system - and curing the problem would not take £31 billion.

A system that re-invents the wheel to solve a problem that does not really exist- that is typical of Whitehall.

Meanwhile Microsoft has also managed to lay an egg, in the shape of its new Vista operating system- a system that has taken an enormous amount of centralised brain power to develop. Yet no one else will ever do the same. Again, the answer is the internet- linking simple units together creates far more complexity, far more quickly that any centralised system could ever originate. Thus the development of new software is coming from Open source systems, like Linux and proprietary operating systems are already losing ground in the face of this phenomenon

The same applies to public administration- the great bureaucracies, whether Microsoft or the NHS (or even political parties that manage to borrow tens of millions on low security) will not be able to compete with smaller, simpler, cheaper networks.

And, you ain't seen nothin' yet.

Cicero will be listening to Steve Forbes speaking this evening, and will report back in the morning.

1 comment:

Dr Dan H. said...

The only reasons a central system is being proposed over a dispersed networked system are these:

Firstly, the central system costs more to build and run, and is thus more profitable for the operators. Since the prospective builders and operators are the people whispering sweet nothings into Tony's ear, they are the only ones who get listened to.

Secondly, to technological incompetents like Tony, a big single building with a big fence round it and so on sounds much more secure than a dispersed system of local fileservers. Problem is, the two main threats to either system are insiders who gain access by being given it, and external attackers operating via hacked proxy machines.

Razor wire and neanderthals on the gate put off neither form of attacker; they look very good to ministerial wonks, but do almost nothing for security.

The only way to secure a big information system is to encrypt the data on the storage side, and very tightly control the access to the decryption terminals and even the access each user has to each kind of terminal.

This is certain to create an expensive bureaucracy to run it, which over time will get watered down until access to the data is relatively easy. At that point someone'll stage a break-in and nick a load of data; data which once out in the public domain CANNOT be stuffed back into the box.

All in all, this is a truly stupid move on the part of the Government, one which merely hands yet another card to the Opposition to use in an election: "Vote for us and we remove this oppression".