On Call A seemingly innocent uplighter looms large in today's On Call tale of NetWare nefariousness in which a reader takes observability to new lengths.
"Dan", for that is not his name, was working as departmental support for a UK local authority "more famous for its wild animal park" than its IT prowess. This was back in the 1990s, and Dan told us "we had only just managed to gain permission to have networked PCs (council rules stated only Unix was allowed for networks)."
The layout had one server per team, and the open-plan nature of the workspace meant that each server was located within the relevant work area.
On the day in question, Dan was called out to tend to the needs of a Novell NetWare box running a variant of version 3. In our limited support experience, NetWare 3.x was a relatively robust beast (unless one opted to use one of the flakier NetWare Loadable Modules) and an unexpected reboot tended to be the exception rather than the rule.
"Sure enough, there was the login prompt," Dan told us. A bit odd and, naturally, "the team denied any knowledge of server-related subterfuge. So I sorted and left."
The next morning the same thing happened again. Again there were the same denials, and again Dan brought the server back up. And so it went on – every day a call would come in; the server had rebooted and, no, nobody had been near it.
Tiring of the daily trudge to the NetWare console (this was, after all, in the days before such a chore would be a bonus for a fitness tracker), Dan elected to stakeout the server and turned up ahead of the users.
"The team manager was first to arrive," he said, "and [I] watched him like a hawk – well, a yawning vaguely awake hawk."
As the manager hung up his coat, Dan watched the screen and was rewarded with a spontaneous reboot.
"What did you just do?" he enquired in what he claimed was "the politest tone I could muster."
"Nothing," replied the manager, "I just hung my coat up and put the light on."
"Light?" The room lights were all on by default.
"This fluorescent uplighter – we like the light they give."
Dan examined the uplighter's cable and traced it to its source, which just so happened to be the same socket as the server.
"The back EMF on a fluorescent is known to be 'spiky' to say the least," he explained, "so I grabbed the plug and yanked it out."
"I don't care where you plug this in but not here!"
"No more uplighter equated to no more reboots," he said with satisfaction: "Job's a good 'un."
The act of leaving the users in the dark is something many in IT have proudly (and not so proudly) accomplished. Ever staked out your users in the hope of solving a seemingly impossible problem? Let us know with an email to On Call. ®