For generations IBM has been colloquially referred to as "Big Blue" and the corporate nickname seemed particularly appropriate for the technology giant's New Zealand outpost this week.

It pulled off a big blunder on Sunday when major client Air New Zealand's IT systems crashed on a hectic travel day - the end of the school holidays - stranding more than 10,000 passengers.

IBM is responsible for managing the airline's data, stored at IBM's Newton Data Centre in Auckland.

On Sunday IBM had apparently turned off the uninterruptable power supply used at the centre because it was carrying out maintenance.

Problems arose when the backup generator it was relying on kicked the bucket. Mains power was quickly restored, but the glitch had a knock-on effect for Air New Zealand, which suffered "data corruption and reboot issues", according to chief information officer Julia Raue.

This left staff at the national carrier without the IT services they rely on and having to resort to long-forgotten practices such as hand-writing boarding passes.

The airline's forthright chief executive, Rob Fyfe, promptly delivered IBM a bollocking, in an internal email quickly leaked to Computerworld magazine.

"In my 30-year working career, I am struggling to recall a time where I have seen a supplier so slow to react to a catastrophic system failure such as this and so unwilling to accept responsibility and apologise to its client and its client's customers," Fyfe fumed.

"We were left high and dry and this is simply unacceptable. My expectations of IBM were far higher than the amateur results that were delivered [on Sunday], and I have been left with no option but to ask the IT team to review the full range of options available to us to ensure we have an IT supplier whom we have confidence in and one who understands and is fully committed to our business and the needs of our customers."

In the normally gentlemanly world of corporate affairs it is rare to see such a spirited cross-company telling off. It may have been an internal rant, but Fyfe clearly knew his message would make it into the public domain and it was squarely aimed at making an impression on IBM.

The incident provided something of a baptism of fire for IBM country manager Jennifer Moxon, who is just six months into the top job, and the company seems to refute Fyfe's allegation it was slow to act. IBM says it "immediately engaged a team of 32 local IT professionals supported by global colleagues and management to restore impacted client systems".

The harsh attack from Fyfe is in part a function of his background. He's a technology guy and obviously believes he knows when he's been let down by an IT provider. He has a degree in mechanical engineering and has worked in several technology roles, including a stint at Telecom.

Technology has also, to a large extent, been a hallmark during his time at the top of Air New Zealand. He recognised early on the airline needed to embrace IT as a differentiator in a ruthlessly competitive market and a tool for boosting efficiency.

The airline has rolled out some world-class technology over the past few years, including a highly successful ecommerce website and a very efficient passenger processing system that includes bells and whistles such as radio tag and cellphone check-in for frequent flyers.

The only trouble with all that wizardry is that it is of no use when the computer screens go blank. And Fyfe clearly took Sunday's IBM crash as a serious slap in the face.

Now that the posturing and fuming has played out, it will be interesting to see how much of a return slap is delivered to the airline's IT supplier.