On Call After a long, hard week, what better way to start Friday than with a dose of On Call, El Reg's weekly column for tech traumas, mishaps and eureka moments.
This time, we meet "Robin", who tells us of a time he was consulting for a group building a web-based billing system in the early 2000s.
In some cases, he said, the development platform and production platforms were stood up using trial versions of software licences.
"To keep costs down for the database product, measures such as binding the DB software to a single CPU in each server's multi-CPU hardware were tried, and worked successfully," Robin said.
"Trial versions of software components were used where possible, to reduce costs in the development phase – in some cases exceeding five digits – for what was going to be development-only infrastructure."
The project – which took more than 12 months and involved many thousands of hours of effort – was a classic waterfall affair: "Nothing much to see until it was all complete."
As the application neared delivery status, the banks that had been on the project steering committee – which had vetted all the designs, changes and feature requests – asked for a demo of the "look and feel" of the platform before sign-off.
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The date was about a month away, and system testing, fixes and so on proceeded frantically. "Infrastructure was tested; features, like firewalls, failure, redundant databases, servers, were all tested and verified to be in place and functioning as designed," Robin said.
Several days before the demo, Robin said that the team was happy and confident and so rebooted the platform's servers overnight to provide a "clean" example of the system the day before the demo.
"First thing next morning, the bank representatives all wheeled into a conference room, with multiple displays all set up to demonstrate the application.
"The project team, management and business analysts were all on hand to present each of the features and functions in the new system. And coffee and doughnuts were on hand."
But once the demo began, their confidence quickly shrivelled.
Because when the lead designer went to log in via the browser interface, it failed. Password and connectivity checks were fine, but the web application wouldn't allow logins.
Across the room, hand-waving explanations attempted to placate the guests as the team started feeling rather hot under the collar.
Then Robin looked up at the console screen in the demo room that was set up for the database server. And that's when the penny dropped.
Because on it read: "Trial License expired."
Suddenly it all fell into place. "The initial 30-day trial licence for the 'big end of town' database had expired months before, but never upgraded – and the database servers had never been restarted to re-check the licence key throughout the entire project," said Robin.
With little else to do, the group slurped down the coffee and hoovered up the doughnuts before agreeing to try again the next week – by which point, Robin said, all the requisite licences had been verified and or upgraded.
"Two morals of this story," he said. "First, the money you save now might end up costing you in the future. Second, before demos, check that the object of the demo actually works!"
If you've enjoyed Robin's tale of a licensing close call, why not share your own story with On Call. We'd love to hear of head-scratching problems solved, near-misses – and of course experiences where the issue is rather more of a PIBKAC situation.
Send them straight to our On Call Vulture's mailbag and they might be featured in a future column. ®