Overload: A one-way ticket to a madman's situation

In which our hero does some accidental load testing


Who, Me? Take your mind off Monday with a look back nearly 30 years to the era of OS/2 and chips ending in "DX". It's The Register's weekly delve into the Who, Me? mailbag.

This week's confession comes from "Jon" and takes us back to around 1992, just as the Windows juggernaut of Microsoft was readying itself to crush IBM's OS/2 under screens of purest blue.

"Email was an interesting new 'thing' on the internet," Jon recalled. To stitch together the network that we all take for granted, many email hubs used good old-fashioned dial-up technology to call each other up and perform an email transfer.

Jon's Canada-based firm had purchased some software from an outfit in Boston, Massachusetts, to do the transfer. The service would be used to regularly collect and send internet email.

"Testing went remarkably well," he said modestly. An Intel 386/40-based machine running OS/2 was used for the production installation and again, everything went swimmingly.

For those of a certain age, the arrival of the Intel 80386 microprocessor series was somewhat of a watershed moment at the end of the last century. Mostly compatible with the 16-bit era, the 32-bit i386 architecture continues to linger, despite the best efforts of modern software manufacturers to kill it off. The DX variant was the height of luxury back in the day, particularly when compared to the poverty of the cut-down SX incarnation.

Delighted to see hardware, software and operating system working in perfect harmony, Jon fired up a test script. The correct diagnostic messages duly popped up and, flushed with success, he deleted them.

"The last step," he said, "was to program our new email hub to dial the master in Boston, at 5 in the morning on cheap telephone rates, in order to pick up the day's email."

Sinking in paper

Ooo, a mystery bit of script! Seems legit. Let's see what happens when we run it

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It was shortly after 5am that Jon received a panicked phone call from the Boston-based supplier.

"Our mail hub had connected correctly," he told us, "with several hundred thousand diagnostic messages in the queue..."

That was more than enough to crash their hub, and the team at Boston would be ever so pleased if Jon could possibly fix the problem. Right now.

Realising his error, he dashed to the office and shut down the diagnostic script which he'd forgotten all about and was still cheerfully generating test messages, Sorcerer's Apprentice-style. Oops. The program was hurriedly shut down and the remainder of the queue wiped.

Steam ceased to be emitted by the Boston hub.

Being an honest fellow, Jon confessed his sin.

"To my surprise the response from both the business partners and our supplier was amazement – that OS/2 had managed several hundred thousand email messages without error."

Thanks to Jon's inadvertent load testing, it was confirmed that – yes – the company was ready for business in the email department.

Oh, and please – no further testing, OK?

Ever inadvertently set the network on fire (physically or digitally) but managed to pass it off as testing? You have? Now is the time to confess all and share what really happened with an email to Who, Me? ®

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