We spend a lot of time talking about reliability because we know it is a key concern for our customers. Whether it is the reliability of our products or the overall reliability of their mission critical applications that we help deliver, reliability is something that I know all of us at F5 take VERY seriously. The tradeoffs that exist between pushing the envelope of possibility while keeping an eye on reliability can be a difficult balance to maintain. So, I always tend to look at reliability in a different light than most.

That's what makes the current Volvo Ocean Race so intriguing. Sailing - especially racing - is a passion of mine and something I have done for years. It's amazing to see reliability and risk intertwined when human lives are on the line in pursuit of sport.

Let’s just say that if the Volvo 70 yacht designers and builders were responsible for reliable application delivery solutions, they wouldn’t be in business for long! On one side of the coin, these boats are incredible. They are so fast and so advanced that they look like huge surfboards blasting through the waves. They are so fast, in fact, that many have been concerned that with such great speeds, a man-overboard situation would be disastrous as they would not be able to slow the boat down, change sails, and turn around fast enough to recover the crew. Others suggest that a crew member tethered to the boat with a safety harness would probably be severely injured if they were to fall over and snap back when the tether reaches the end of it’s length. (For a landlubber comparison, tie a 7ft rope around your waist, tie it to your car bumper, get a friend to drive your car at about 45mph, and jump out the back window… that’s the type speed and force we’re talking about). Mind blowing speed…

But, it appears the balance has been overloaded on performance with too little attention given to reliability. Here’s just a short list of things that have happened to these extreme boats since the start in Vigo, Spain, on 12 November, 2005:

Leg 1:

  • 2 out of 7 boats had to withdraw from the race after only a couple days en route to the leg 1 finish in Capetown.
  • All boats, except for one, had some sort of mechanical or structural failure
  • All boats from legendary designer Farr had some sort of structural failure

Leg 2:

  • One boat has retired
  • Another has had a repeat structural/mechanical failure
  • Another just lost it’s mast

It’s important to note that these guys are driving these boats through the treacherous Southern Ocean, miles away from assistance in the event they – knock on wood – suffer a catastrophic failure that could lead to sinking boat with crew in the water (the evenings are particularly nice!). Pundits have actually called on Volvo, the primary sponsor, the cancel the remaining legs of the race because they fear the boats not reliable enough to handle the tough ocean conditions combined with their blistering performance.

A very fine balance – pushing the limits of performance while keeping reliability and risk mitigation in mind.