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Principle of disproportion saved us millions this time

Use disproportion to set right the system

principle of disproportion

All things we make and use are in proportions we accept. When such a proportional relationship is violated we might feel something is wrong and take action.

Case story

We were closely involved in building a large data centre that time. Site preparation progressed stage by stage, floor by floor. It was quite an advanced stage. Rows of computing and storage resources all were in their appointed place.

As was the practice, being the heaviest, the battery and the power plants were housed on the ground floor. The unending stacks of power equipment surprised us all. We never could imagine so much power would be required to run the main equipment. With quite a bit of difficulty we could make space for the power equipment.

In this situation when we received an order from HQ for immediate expansion of the already bloated power equipment we were shocked. Being disciplined soldiers (the installation was like a war alright) as we were, we started wracking our brains how to squeeze out the extra space needed. Space was at a premium on the ground floor and on top it a continuous hall was needed.

It was a multi-vendor complex installation and someone somewhere made a recalculation of the power requirement to come up with the expansion proposal.

Going through multiple passes into the problem we could somehow arrive at a less than optimal solution that kept me dissatisfied with its awkward nature. Somehow I couldn’t reconcile myself to the ungainly solution.

This created a niggling discomfort in my mind and over a week off and on it surfaced as a rough edge.

Then one fateful day while walking along the corridor on the ground floor, suddenly I visualized all the floors one superimposed on the other in my mind as layer upon layer. I suppose deep concern caused this visualization.

And in a few minutes the glaring disproportion lay before me crystal clear – after the expansion, the size of the power plant space is going to be same or more than the main computer equipment space that it would drive!

The principle of disproportion, I was not at all aware of its formalism at that time, confronted me with this huge incongruity.

I was no expert in electrical matters. I called our electrical chief and explained the situation briefly, requesting him to review the power requirement in as much depth as he can. His antenna was also up and being a thorough man and an expert to boot, he produced in two days the irrefutable three page paper demolishing the grounds of power expansion thoroughly.

Now we needed to convince the HQ. Sending the proof to HQ, immediate formation of the organizational expert committee by HQ, and literally split-hair dissection of the problem from unimaginably (at least I never could imagine so many angles of examination) large number of angles finally sealed the fate of the awkward power expansion proposal in a week.

It was a quick corrective action that saved us millions in capital and recurring costs.

All because of chance application of principle of disproportion, a vague and abstract idea deeply buried in my chaotic pool of conscious knowledge. While requesting our electrical chief for in-depth review of the power requirement, I simply asked him, “Can you imagine a laptop battery to be larger than the processor chip?”

End note

Now when I analyze, I understand this principle as a special case of more general “Spot the odd technique” that we routinely employ in R&D, Criminal investigation, Computer program debugging or any type of fault finding in a system.

Without being aware of the name of the principle or technique, the alert and inquisitive mind always looks for the unusual that may hold the promise to break down the problem or at the least give a hint about a lurking problem lying dormant.

Principle of disproportion is one of the vaguest types of oddities nonetheless holding promise of great positive results if exploited to the hilt.


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