Admin needed server fast, skipped factory config … then bricked it

Where did that smoke come from? What does the switch marked 120/240 do?

Who, me? Welcome to another edition of “Who, me?”, The Register’s confessional in which readers explain how they broke things.

This week meet “Pete”, who way back in 1986 “was installing a dedicated file server for a small advertising agency.”

And not just any server – a 3Com “3Server”, an oddity that tried to improve on early PC servers and also just-about offered NAS functionality.

Pete recalls it as “a headless unit about the size of a Dansette record player (or for young people a modern all-in-one inkjet printer/copier/scanner). Intel 80186 cpu, 36Mb hard disk and 1Mb RAM, all yours for £13,000.”

“Because we were running late and the clients were getting testy I was calling 3Com UK on a daily basis to ask when our precious unit was arriving from the States. Finally they announced that it had arrived at Heathrow and would be delivered to us in a few days after they had checked it over.”

Pete needed it faster than that, so asked 3Com "please just send it straight to us".

“So the next day I was unboxing the wondrous device at the customer's site. Being headless all I had to do was plug in a standard mains lead, connect to the LAN via the ethernet interface (10BASE2 coax, natch) and turn it on.”

‘I broke The Pentagon’s secure messaging system – and won an award for it!’


With those simple chores done Pete expected the Hum Of Success™. What he got instead was “An audible pop and a distinct smell of burning.”

“The Unit completely dead, nothing on the 2-line LCD status screen, no lights, no disk noise, no nothing.”

“It was then that I noticed the small ‘120V-240V’ switch on the back, next to the on/off switch. Yes, in those days before near universal auto power switching supplies, you had to choose the correct voltage for the country. And that was one of the things that 3Com would have done if I'd let them prepare the machine for me instead of insisting that I have it straight away.”

“I followed my bad decision of rushing through the delivery with a good one of confessing all to 3Com and throwing myself on their mercy,” Pete said. And 3Com, to its credit, let him drive the dead server to their office “where they gave me a cup of coffee and took the server away for repair.”

And a happy ending, too.

“30 minutes later they re-appeared with a working server (the power supply had blown but no other damage) and to my huge surprise and gratitude announced that there would be no charge for the service.”

“Classy outfit 3Com were, back in the day. Foolish I was, back in the day,” Pete concluded.

Has rushing things landed you in trouble? If so write to share your story and it might just pop up in a future edition of Who, me? ®

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