IT pros share their horror stories

Hold your flashlight under your chin and enjoy the following tales from the IT crypt

Anonymous: About two years ago I arrived at work at about 6 a.m. and had a voice mail from our recreation office saying they could not get on their cash register system (they open for business at 5:30 a.m.). I called their phone number to find out what was going on but got their voice mail and left a message figuring they were with a customer. I did look at their T-1 connection and it was down. So I tried to call again. When one of my staff arrived, I had one of our support techs drive over to the office. There was a sign on the door that they were closed because their power was out. The tech went into the darkened building to find out what was going on and asked who called. The clerk said they had called on their personal mobile phone (but didn't leave that unknown number) at 5:30 and still couldn't understand why we couldn't get the network and their PCs working. And how come the UPS next to the cash register was beeping and not letting the PC stay on? Come to find out the power panel had shorted out and almost caused a fire -- the panel was as black as if it had burned. The network and phone connections were in the same little room. And it was very dark. . . .

Bill H. -- Georgia: This is a story that is frightening by the magnitude of the effect -- deleting a complete directory tree on more than 300 computers with a simple (mistake) change. I was working for the HP Response Center in support engineering, the group that was helping all the engineers in the U.S. taking calls for customers. To help track all the test systems and let all the engineers know where equipment was located, I created an inventory script to document the hardware and software. This was running just fine for months, with some 300-plus systems updating their information every night. I decided it would be useful to store copies of helpful scripts and tools on the systems but picked the wrong directory. When I discovered the problem, I modified the inventory script to remove the files from the wrong directory and store them in the correct one. Unfortunately, due to a spelling error, I removed the entire /usr/local/bin directory and all subdirectories -- on 300-plus machines. I had to send out a very apologetic e-mail to dozens of engineers and learned that all scripts must use the spellcheck option --u.

Richard Buckle -- California: Disaster averted. Back in '89 I had brought a team of developers up from Sydney, and we were on the Tandem Cupertino campus when the "big one" hit -- an earthquake of 7.1. And even having fallen through false floors and on their sides, the Tandems in the support center kept right on running. Unbelievable.

Buik is president of Encompass, HP's largest enterprise technology user group and senior vice president of MindIQ, an IT training and eLearning company.

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