Solving a big, yellow IT problem: If it's not wearing hi-vis, I don't trust it

Throw in a clipboard and you look like you're the business


On Call Welcome to On Call, the The Register's Friday celebration of those called out for the most spurious and silly of reasons.

Our tale today comes from "Ivor" and concerns the time a whizzy new minicomputer was being installed in the dealerships of a company known for heavy duty machinery that was big, yellow and driven by hard-hatted individuals garbed in high-vis jackets.

Unlike the earth movers, the computer itself was of the Big and Blue variety, and was an upgrade from the weekly centralised batch processing of old. Used to big iron of a different nature, those in charge regarded the new-fangled hardware with suspicion, but went along with the plan regardless.

"We were finishing up installing the software developed by corporate," recalled Ivor, "so data entry personnel could start updating all of the databases required to run the organization."

Crunches are not a new invention, and Ivor recalled the huge pressure to get things up and running. Data entry personnel worked the weekend in order that everything could be tested and validated ahead of a Wednesday start.

Ivor was placed on call at the site to support the activities for five long days of double shifts but, finally, it was done. "Inventory was up to date, customer accounts were complete and balanced. It was a go."

At last the big day, Wednesday, arrived. Processing began. Hardware purred along as planned… and then everything died.

"Everyone panicked," recalled Ivor. "Some department heads were calling for ours: 'Everyone knew computers are a bad idea. Too finicky…'"

And then it all came back up. Purring resumed. Processing carried on. The only indication of trouble was a log event noting a loss of power, but other than the blip of Big Blue's machine, everything seemed fine. The terminals, printers and other office equipment showed no sign of power problems.

Perhaps wishing to pre-empt the inevitable call from this most important of clients, Ivor and a colleague were stationed on-site until the dealership felt comfortable that the computer could be trusted.

The days ticked past, and we fervently hope the duo got the chance to play with some of the big, yellow digging machines while the computer steadfastly refused to go wrong again. Until Wednesday rolled around once more and the system abruptly shut down.

"This time," said Ivor, "the other member of the team was standing in the doorway to the huge maintenance shop lined with huge machines in for repair. It was on the other side of the wall of the computer room."

The shutdown had coincided with a tremendous noise from the shop. Grabbing the shop manager, the duo asked what the source had been.

"It turned out that Wednesday second shift was when they repaired damaged frames. They had a massive welding machine that was only turned on when it was needed because it drew so much power."

Big Blue's mini had been faced with an unsurmountable power slurping foe and, in the absence of a UPS, had collapsed into a heap.

While popping in a new transformer and changing the computer to the new circuits dealt with Welder Wednesdays, Ivor's headache did not end there and then.

"It still took months before some managers quit bad-mouthing the system," he sighed, "expecting it to fail at any moment."

Ever found yourself faced with smug technophobia only to find that your woes coincided with the dimming of the lights? Or spent your on-call time playing with the customer's big yellow toys? On Call is waiting to hear from you. ®


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