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16. Confessions of a cyber conveyancer

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Last Friday, I’d closed the office at 1.00pm because (a) it was Friday and (b) I had a round of golf to get in.  I can do this because (a) we don’t care about our clients and (b) we are fundamentally bone-idle.

It’s at this point that it dawned on me that this article is destined for a lawyers’ publication rather than a wider audience, so I have to reassure readers that none of the last paragraph was true, apart from it being Friday.  It had just gone five thirty, and I was experiencing the simple pleasure of sitting outside a pub in the centre of London.  The day had gone well – we’d exchanged a decent number of matters and all our completions had actually happened.  On time. Which was nice.

The serene tranquillity that is All Bar One in Leicester Square was shattered by a phone call from my IT manager, who explained that “we’d just moved a couple of desks, plugged in a phone and that had caused the entire network to fail”.  Even though it was after close of business, the call did bring the mood down a touch.

Fail to prepare, prepare to fail

No doubt you, like everyone else in the working world has been given the time honoured lecture about how much more successful you would be, if only you took time to prepare.  Obviously, no one ever takes that advice, but I reckon even if they did, it wouldn’t make much of a difference in any event.

Over the last twelve months we’d focussed all our efforts on our cloud migration strategy – it was time well spent but in doing so, we had ignored technology’s poor relation; hardware.  Anyone with a passing knowledge of technology knows that software is the equivalent of the long-haired surfer dude who just moved into the penthouse flat upstairs, as compared to hardware, who is the maiden aunt who’s been renting the ground floor maisonette since the 70’s.

Hardware typically sits quietly in the corner of the server room; the most excitement it exhibits is an indicator light that blinks orange instead of the usual steady green.  With software, it’s distributed cloud solutions that eliminate the afternoon All Bar One upsets, whereas with hardware, protection is provided by hot and cold standby equipment.

The number of users we have in our Guildford office means we need two standard 48 port switches – not expensive and easy to install, but the sort of thing that typically ends up as a hideously multi-coloured spaghetti-like mess of wires.   The best thing about switches is they never go wrong – at least, these hadn’t in the last 10 years.  Ideally, you should have an identical switch that is wired up, ready to kick into life immediately in the event of the switch failing – the hot standby.

But we didn’t have a hot standby.  We weren’t even sure how to wire one up, and so, to quote David Mitchell in Peep Show “we stuck it on the laterbase”.   We did have some spare switches in the cupboard – a 48 port and a 24 port, which meant we were annoyingly, 24 ports short. We had another 48 port in London, but naturally, it was wired into a server cabinet that was 40 miles away up the A3.

All we had to do was find someone competent and sober enough on a Friday night to go into the office, unwire the switch and bring it down to Guildford before 8.00am the following morning.  Obviously, such an individual was tricky to find, so we reached a compromise on the sobriety bit and managed to extract the switch and get him on an early train down to Guildford.  We then spent an entire Saturday trying to work out why half the ports on the new switches weren’t recognised.  By 8.00pm that evening after a herculean effort, the operations team managed to get the thing working.  Apart from a couple of phones in our meeting rooms.  Obviously.

What did we learn from this?

Without working hardware, businesses simply cannot function.

You need much more spare kit than you think you could ever possibly need.  We figured a single switch failure was remote, but never considered that both could possibly fail at the same time.

It’s worth remembering that it’s the dowdy maiden aunt on the ground floor who is going to sign for that critical Amazon delivery you’ve been waiting for, while the surfer dude in the penthouse is more likely to flood your flat because he left the shower running.

Peter Ambrose is the owner and Managing Director of The Partnership – a boutique legal provider specialising in the delivery of transparent and ultra-efficient conveyancing services.

Peter Ambrose:, 01483 579978

Press enquiries: Tracy Holland, 01483 579978

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