Airbus Lessons for Debugging A350 could apply to Data Centers

Businessweek has an article on how Airbus is debugging the development of its latest aircraft the A350.

Reading the article it gave some good tips/lessons that can apply to data centers.

The term debugging is used which also equates to reducing  risk.

The company has put unprecedented resources into debugging the A350—“de-risking,” as it’s called.

The big risk is not the safety risk, but the cost of the plane.

The engineering risk with the A350 isn’t that it will have chronic, life-threatening safety problems; it’s cost.

When you get into the details the discussion can sound like a data center issue.

The challenge, Cousin says, is that “in a complex system there are many, many more failure modes.” A warning light in the cockpit could alert a pilot to trouble in the engine, for instance, but the warning system could also suffer a malfunction itself and give a false alarm that could prompt an expensive diversion or delay. Any downtime for unscheduled maintenance cuts into whatever savings a plane might offer in terms of fuel efficiency or extra seating capacity. For the A350 to be economically viable, says Brégier, “the airlines need an operational reliability above 99 percent.” That means that no more than one flight out of every 100 is delayed by more than 15 minutes because of technical reasons.

Airbus realized the past methods of slowly working the issues out was costly.

Instead of a cautious, incremental upgrade, Airbus went for an entire family of superefficient aircraft ranging from 276 to 369 seats, with a projected development cost of more than $10 billion. The goal was what Airbus internally calls “early maturity”—getting the program as quickly as possible to the kind of bugs-worked-out status that passenger jets typically achieve after years of service.

Many companies make it seem like the data center comes from their company, but in reality almost everyone is an integrator like Boeing and Airbus.

Much of the early work was done not by Airbus but by its suppliers. While the company might look to the outside world like an aircraft manufacturer, it’s more of an integrator: It creates the overall plan of the plane, then outsources the design and manufacture of the parts, which are then fitted together. “We have 7,000 engineers working on the A350,” says Brégier, “and at least half of them are not Airbus employees.”

And a smart move is to change the way you work with suppliers to be partners.

Throughout the development process, teams of engineers were brought in from suppliers to collaborate with Airbus counterparts in Toulouse in joint working groups called “plateaux.” “You need to have as much transparency with your suppliers as possible,” says Brégier. “With such a program you have plenty of problems every day, so it’s bloody difficult.”

And just like operations is critical to data center, airplane operations is the reality that needs to be addressed.

The idea is not just to put the systems through every combination of settings, but to see how the whole aircraft responds when individual parts are broken, overexerted, or misused. That, after all, is how the real world works. “Every plane in the air has something wrong with it,” Cousin says.

Name the number of companies who think about their data centers in the above way.  The list is pretty short.