There is an old saying in politics and entertainment that there is no such thing as BAD publicity. Unfortunately, the opposite is true for IT, especially in the Database realm. If your name gets mentioned outside of a technology publication, you can bet it is something bad. Data losses, system outages, privacy disclosures, and other public failures are how DBAs get famous. Unfortunately, that is the world we operate in. Today we have another poor soul to add to the roll call of failure. The anonymous person in charge of the Webkinz web site database is now one of the most reviled people in IT, not to mention one of the most overworked. He has managed to single-handedly kill Christmas joy for untold numbers of small children (one of mine amongst them).
For those who do not have kids in the 5-12 year old range, here is the quick version of Webkinz. Take a Beanie-Baby like plush toy that costs pennies to make in China (slight upcharge for the unleaded version). Put a "secret code" on a toe-tag. The "Secret Code" gets you access to an on-line "world" where a virtual avatar of your pet can play. More activity on the site earns you points towards virtual stuff for your "adopted" pet. Sell plush toys for $8-$15 each to parents of demanding children. Expire accounts that do not register a new code within one year to drive ongoing demand. When you get "critical mass" sell ads in the virtual world. Of course, don't mention your plans for the last step until you actually do have critical mass. J
Sheer genius. Moneymaking gold mine, right? Except what happens when you sell more plush toys than your web site can handle? What happens when you end up with one of the most popular toys of the Christmas season amongst the tween and pre-tween age set? You would think that scalability would be easy to plan for here. You write a code, you add a user slot into your infrastructure. It ain't like a Super Bowl ad where you can only guess at the response. Plus, you plan that ALL of your customers will want to play with their new toys during Christmas. Free clue to site administrator: Kids are out of school during this time of year.
As of this writing, the Webkinz World web site has been effectively unusable since sometime early on Christmas day. The site operators threw in the towel late yesterday and took the entire thing offline for "maintenance". So, either we have a hopelessly incompetent IT Staff and DBA that cannot do basic math, or a company that willfully refused to put enough resources to fulfill their promises. Promises made to children. I doubt this is the image or publicity that Ganz (the parent company) wanted. Of course, they can always make it worse with a bad or nonexistent public communications response, but that remains to be seen.
So, what are you doing to make sure your employer never gets this kind of publicity? Capacity planning is not optional in our profession.