When the Tsunami hit Japan one of the oddities that emerged was one of the major banks could not distribute cash or process payroll. I have been patiently waiting to hear why. To date there has been no official answer but I am pretty sure I know the answer.
This is the last piece of information I have seen:
"Mizuho said it did not know the exact cause of the shutdown.
The bank operated 5,622 ATMs and 440 branches in Japan as of
September, making it a key component of the Japanese financial
About 570 billion yen ($7.3 billion) worth of transactions
had already been disrupted by system troubles in the two
business days following Friday’s massive earthquake, with
consumers unable to conduct cash transfers, money orders and
Having consulted for Banks and Mutual funds I have seen first hand what exactly is running their backroom operations and it is not pretty. This is what you may see if you can get past all the security.
This is a 30 plus year old VAX system. So why are the banks still using ancient VAX systems. Well to get any change done in a banks IT system takes 6 months of discussion followed by months or years of testing and implementation. It's a monster task to port and test the programming onto a modern system. It took a year of testing just to debug the code these monsters use to make them Y2K compliant. Rewriting the software would take a lot longer. Show me a bank exec that wants to take on that task and I will show you a bank exec with a wish to get canned because chances are his inexperienced or rusty VAX coders are going to screw it up.
The last time I looked these monsters are still doing the bulk of day to day processing of customer transactions. The reason they are still in place is the expertise required to port the code onto something a little more modern has died or retired for the most part. A lot of the banks will be tempted or have been tempted to kick the can down the road by virtualizing the whole machine. In essence making the VAX software think it is is still running on a VAX system but in reality it is running in make believe VAX hardware on a Dell Server. Kind of like the Matrix inside the Matrix.
What's the problem you say? The problem is the VAX system is running really fast BUT it is still running the old software and still has the old problems. When computer nerds talk about systems running 64 bit and 32 bit code what they are really saying is 64 Bit can handle more transactions and bigger numbers.
So my theory is that Japanese bank didn't go down because of unknown reasons. The reason is their systems cannot handle big numbers and it cannot handle large amounts of transactions. At a certain point they will break and it won't matter how fast these virtual VAX systems are running if they cannot understand big numbers in money terms or big numbers in transactions. They will break and it's only a matter of time.
Other systems that are at risk are older gas stations and other Point of Sale transactions.
Other risks have been identified here:
A quick search on the Ferrengi trading network / eBay for VAX will show you these ancient systems and parts are still valuable.
Anyone want to take a guess as to how much physical money is bouncing around the system per person (inside the USA)? Not as much as you think is the answer. This is a DYODD moment.
Considering the push into a cashless society physical dollar bills may actually become valuable.
How is that for irony :)