Oh, no one knows what goes on behind locked doors... so don't leave your UPS in there

Company safe... telephone gear... Is this the cleaner's cupboard?


On Call The weekend is almost within touching distance, so break out the beverages and enjoy another tale of On Call shenanigans from The Register's put-upon readership.

Today's story, from a reader Regomised as "Paul", is a reminder that it isn't only network cables that have two ends... and two plugs.

Paul's yarn takes us back to the early 1990s and the mighty MicroVAX II, as the minicomputer business was undergoing its decline.

Introduced in 1985 as a follow-up to the unsurprisingly named MicroVAX I, the machine was part of a range of relatively low-cost minicomputers (or minis) from Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC). While it could run DEC's own variant of Unix, ULTRIX, VAX/VMS was the operating system running on the hardware Paul was supporting.

Paul's task was handling service calls for hardware and software for various clients. "One business," he told us, "was very diligent in following recommendations, even to the point of equipping their payroll machine (a MicroVAX II) with a 1.3KW UPS unit so it could gracefully shut down in a power failure."

A sensible precaution to our mind, although he noted: "Unlike PCs and Windows, VAXes and VMS were particularly robust on abrupt failures, but management declined to take the risk anyway."

However, even with all the precautions, Paul still received The Call. The payroll server was down and no amount of jabbing the power button would bring it back. The building had power, and that whizzy UPS should have kept things ticking regardless, but the MicroVAX was dead.

Fearing the worst, and expecting to find a smoking ruin of a circuit board waiting for him inside the server case, Paul made the trek to the site.

He hit the power switch and, sure enough, nothing happened. Just like the customer had said. "But then," he told us, "I notice the console, a venerable VT420 dumb CRT terminal, is also dark and cold."

A bit odd. Even if something had gone catastrophically wrong within the MicroVAX, the terminal should at least be showing some sort of baleful power light, but it too was dead.

Curious, Paul plugged it into a handy wall outlet. The VT420 lit up.

Using impressive deductive reasoning, he followed the power cord to which the MicroVAX and terminal were connected (at least until recently). It led to a locked door behind which was the company safe, telephone gear and, thanks to some dubious planning, the UPS.

It took a little while longer to track down a key in order to unlock the door before – hey presto! – the mystery was solved.

"It seems someone had unplugged the UPS from the wall and not bothered to plug it back in," he sighed. "After about an hour the UPS shut down, taking the server with it."

The phantom plug puller was never identified.

A swift reconnection and flick of the switch, and service was resumed. And Paul, of course, was hailed a deductive genius with near-Sherlockian powers.

We've encountered servers bricked up into secret rooms many times, but never a UPS hidden behind a locked door. Ever had to follow the power lead only to discover another person's stab at security? Let us know with an email to On Call. ®


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