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The trials of the Hogwarts IT director

Beyond Hogwarts Guest Article
by John Cox

[originally published in Network World, reprinted with permission]

Plucked from the personal archives of the late Albus Dumbledore, headmaster

To: Albus Dumbledore, Headmaster
From: Coxrid, IT director, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
Re: My resignation

Headmaster:

I regret that I must resign my position, effective two weeks ago, at least. It is simply impossible under these conditions to create a modern, integrated, flexible IT architecture aligned with the school's educational mission and objectives.

Deployment of the OC-3 fiber backbone met insuperable difficulties, as you know, when the cabling crew was attacked repeatedly by Dementors. Cabling staff rarely are effervescent people in the best of times, and having their life force sucked through their faces by cloaked, shadowy horrors as they lay paralyzed in icy terror is a serious de-motivator.

I may say that your presumably jocular suggestion that the Cisco Certified Network Professional training be modified to include instruction in casting the Patronus Charm was not well received.

As you know, it was considered impractical to deploy CAT5 cable in most areas because of the prevalence of solid granite walls, floors and ceilings and your adamant refusal to consider installing drop-down ceilings -- not to mention the difficulties imposed by randomly moving staircases.

But attempts to deploy a wireless LAN have been frustrated by first-form students removing the antennas from the access points, in the conviction that these make superior wands. A conviction that proved immune to a very rigorous, indeed educational, outreach program by the school's able caretaker, Argus Filch.

Of course, this obstacle was dwarfed by the so-called magical-interference problem. Reluctantly, at your request, I did raise this issue in a series of phone calls with Cisco Technical Support.

It quickly became clear that magic was not an issue with which Cisco Tech Support was familiar, even when escalated to the highest level. I patiently explained that, of course it was not magical spells per se that were causing interference, but the transmission of the wizard's (or witch's) energy, via the wand, occasioned by the spells. This explanation was met, variously, by expressions of confusion and outright disbelief and not infrequently, by ridicule.

"This sounds like a spectrum-regulation issue for the FCC," said one Cisco employee, nearly choking in laughter at his own leaden attempt at humor.

A supervisor finally confirmed that Cisco had no plans to modify its radio-frequency management software to detect and compensate for magic, but that I could file a request for change through my Cisco account representative. In retrospect, I believe this, too, was intended as humor.

Even usually mundane issues proved burdensome. Just one example suffice. One of the main wiring closets was to be the rarely used second-floor girls' bathroom, which when renovated would be an ideal location. Except, of course, for the ghost. Moaning Myrtle's initial flooding of the bathroom resulted in the loss of switches and associated equipment worth in excess of 18,000 galleons. Negotiations proved fruitless in the face of her unceasing moaning and crying, and the project was abandoned.

Also abandoned was a plan to create a wireless mesh network to cover the outlying Quidditch pitch, when beaters on both teams repeatedly used the mesh nodes as practice targets for their bludgers.

Despite all this, one could have persevered (IT professionals are uncommonly stubborn, which is often mistaken for thickheadness), but for the quite unexpected and even more stubborn resistance by Hogwarts faculty to the introduction of modern technology into the classroom.

I made a thorough and elaborate PowerPoint presentation on the benefits that an online learning management system would deliver for faculty and students (Professor Snape's contemptuous dismissal of it as the work of a "PowerPoint wizard" was uncalled for).

In vain did I describe how online courses could increase the school's revenue stream and achieve profitability goals; the greater flexibility, not to mention safety, of using 3-D online simulations of boggarts instead of the shape-shifters themselves; the desirability of an online potions catalog, cross-referenced with the Ministry of Magic's database of potential side effects; an interactive, voice-automated Parseltongue translation system; a Defense Against the Dark Arts curriculum based on next-generation gaming software; a digital library to replace the heavy, often musty tomes of incantations; and an information security infrastructure to block access by He Who Must Not Named.

Yet when Professor of Divination Sybill Trelawney said the proposed IT architecture was "insensitive to the Inner Eye," I realized my efforts were hopeless.

I have done all I can, Headmaster. I'm afraid that despite my best efforts, Hogwarts' IT communications infrastructure remain dependent on owls, talking letters, the use of Floo powder and a fireplace network, and of course, divinations, dreams and visions.

I am returning (once the full moon is past) to the Muggle world of cellular data services and high-tech IPOs. They at least, appreciate the true magic of information technology.

Your obent servant,
Coxrid


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Published August 17, 2007

This article is Copyright © 2007, John Cox, and may not be reproduced on other web sites or in print, in whole or in part, without expressed permission


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