On-Call Welcome again to On-Call, our regular weekend feature in which readers share the odd things they've been asked to do at odder times of the day.
This week's contributor has asked to remain anonymous, because his tale of a curious incident concerns a company that provided services to the emergency folk, among others.
Our reader recounts how he had a role in building the firm a lovely new four megabits-per-second WAN, back when four megabits-per-second really meant something.
The WAN was not just fast, it had proper redundancies too. So proper that one day the boss was showing it off to a client when “all the blinkenlights went full on red and the alarm sounded".
Unbeknown to our reader and his boss, a digger in the car park had just destroyed a fibre line.
“The boss went pale and demanded to know why I was sat there doing nothing. I waited 20 seconds, the backup kicked in and everything went green automagically as the backup link came in. The client was so impressed he signed a big fat contract on the spot.”
The universe, however, is a cruel mistress, because at 3am the next morning our reader's telephone rang with news that a phone exchange was on fire. “Yes, it was the one that my backup connection went to and everything was down.”
With the cable to the primary data centre in shreds and the secondary cable termination in flames, how did our hero save the day?
“Come the cold light of morning,” our reader tells us, “and my neighbours were agog. The front lawn had my complete comms rack standing on it (as it wouldn't go through the front door) and a network and power cable disappeared into the house.”
Relocating the data centre made sense because our reader had a 600 kilobits-per-second internet connection at home, back when 600 kilobits-per-second internet connections were a big deal.
The company figured out it could collect incoming messages, burn them to CD and then drive them to our reader's home in order to upload them for distribution.
That arrangement got the job done. But the spectacle of a small data centre on the front lawn meant “it wasn't long before it attracted the police, who sent someone round armed with a straitjacket just in case. When they found we passed a lot of messages for them and the ambulance service we got an overnight guard.”
There's a reason that data centres exist, not least the rain and the leaky tarp that complicated matters for that grassy arrangement.
Our reader's ISP also assumed, not unreasonably, that he was running a spam operation. Then came the rats, which – naturally enough – fancied a nice warm server as a nesting place.
Four days later and he was able to relocate the kit back to the data centre.
“As far as I can tell no clients even knew this happened as we maintained service throughout,” our reader says.
But there was one casualty: “Apparently Dell don't cover damage caused by rat droppings,” our reader recalls.
What have you had to do when the phone rings at stupid-o'clock? Share your story by writing to me from this lovely form. ®