The server broke because it was designed to invisibly break • The Register

When calling The week, and indeed the year, may ebb to their respective conclusions, however The registry continues to work on On-Call, our weekly reader-contributed story about techies triumphing in difficult circumstances.

This week, meet a guy we’ll reinterpret as “Kris” who arrived at his desk one Monday morning to find the phone ringing non-stop, a full voicemail inbox and his pager pinging with urgent messages from his manager.

The cause of all this urgency was a dead server running an important application.

Kris quickly inspected the machine, which was plugged in and had working UPSs. No telltale odor indicated anything had gone off inside. Turning everything and everything off and on again had no effect.

“The unit was dead as a nail, as they say,” Kris wrote.

So all that remained was to call the company’s service provider.

“This was one of those situations where I really didn’t want to deal with them because in most cases, by the time they sent a tech, the issue had already been resolved either by the user or by myself,” Kris said us. But at that point, a second opinion was the only option.

“About five hours later, the technician shows up smelling like he’s lived in his car and slept in his ashtray,” Kris told On-Call. Within five minutes he had diagnosed the server as defective and new power supplies as the solution.

That hardware arrived two days later and — after Kris and the techie groaned and picked up the server to install it — the dead box couldn’t be fixed.

Kris confessed The registry that part of him didn’t mind at all, because watching the smug techie pull down a hook was quite fun.

But at this point — three days after an incident that deprived the company of a vital application — Kris was under more than a little pressure.

So he agreed with the tech’s amused observation that the server was still broken and the motherboard must be the real problem.

Three days later a new motherboard arrived and – after more lifting and sweating – did nothing to get the server working again.

But all that work set Kris on a path to finding a solution, because handling the case sparked another thought: Were the interlock switches working?

Interlock switches are safety mechanisms for the uninitiated that stop the flow of electricity when enclosures are open. Which is a good idea, because nobody should get electrocuted while working on a server.

It turned out that one of the switches on this server had failed, but the fault was invisible and undetectable.

“I’ve never had the server open in my time at this job,” Kris said. “I made a quick trip to R&D and one of the engineers pulled a similar switch out of their parts and gave me one. The technician wired a new switch and we were good to go.”

This incident is not a typical on-call triumph.

That came – or rather didn’t – in the weeks and months that followed, when Kris’s inbox never contained an invoice for his outside contractor’s attempted repair. Although the incident was unpleasant, at least it didn’t cost Kris’ employer a penny!

On-Call will run in its usual Friday time slot on the 23rd and then offer some seasonal specials. So if you have stories like Kris’ or stories about tech support over the holidays, click here to email On-Call. ® The server broke because it was designed to invisibly break • The Register

Rick Schindler

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