Support team discovers 'official' vendor paper doesn't rob you blind

Sticky tape refocused robotic tape library's lazy-eyed laser

On-Call Hello, Friday. And hello, therefore, another instalment of On-Call, The Register's week-ending reader-contributed tales of support jobs that occasionally work out for the best.

This week, meet “Ben”, who told us that “In the early 'noughts I worked for a large tape/disk vendor.”

In his early training some of the tape support guys told him a story he shared with On-Call.

The story Ben was told started with a brand spanking new, top-of-the-line, robotic tape library that could not not reliably inventory new tapes. Even tapes that the team put on shelves by hand weren't being detected.

“The robot sometimes even tried to place other tapes in those 'empty' slots,” Ben was told.

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“Given that tape inventory is probably about the most basic function of a tape library and is not exactly difficult, the engineers were baffled. The normal troubleshooting steps of cleaning the laser window, and replacing the module with the scanner in it were ineffective.”

The vendor tested the relevant parts, which of course deepened the mystery by performing flawlessly.

“By this point the customer was getting furious,” Ben was told. Fair enough, too: it had bought the library as a replacement for an older model, so expected better performance rather than worse. The client was also tiring of paying “some very busy temps manually reading mount requests off a screen and pulling tapes off shelves to stuff into drives”.

Fortunately, the client wasn't far from the vendor's development site, so “the developer responsible for the robot” and some support techs piled into a car filled with “piles of spare parts and some test equipment.”

“After many hours of fruitless troubleshooting, somebody idly noticed that the tape labels looked a little different than the ones that they used back at the lab. On further investigation, it was revealed that the customer used a third party vendor for their tape barcode labels, which, quite predictably, were cheaper than the 'official' ones.”

The printer of the pirate labels had used “a glossier finish on the labels, and this was scattering the laser light in a way that prevented a reliable read of the barcode.”

“Instead of waiting a couple days for a new batch of custom-printed official labels with the right numbers on them, one of the engineers hit upon a way to fix the problem: they simply took a 3/4" strip of frosted adhesive tape and placed it over each of the existing labels, providing the necessary finish without obstructing the barcode beneath.”

The laser was once again able to read the tapes, the robot responded with robotic perfection, and backup/archiving/retrieval/restoration quickly worked so well that “The now-happy client later became an important reference customer for the product, and everybody lived Happily Ever After.”

What have you fixed with sticky tape? Or other forms of tape? Write to share your story with On-Call and perhaps we'll shine a light on your memories next week. ®

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