Thanks, boss. The accidental creation of a lights-out data centre – what a fun surprise

At least nobody said 'watch this!'


Who, Me? Another tale involving buttons of the big and red variety arrives for today's deposit in the Who, Me? archives. There are some things that are best left unsaid. And unpressed.

Naming no company names, our reader (regomised as "Jim") told us "I was a shift leader in a data centre that ran the European IT for a big American pharma way back when."

These were the days of big metal, and the data centre housing the mighty IBM 3081 mainframe was co-located on a manufacturing site. The site also had its own IBM System/34 to handle local site operations.

The System/34, which was introduced in the 1970s, was one of the last great hurrahs of the breed. By the time of its withdrawal from marketing in 1985 the world was moving on and its original concept as a "low-cost approach to distributive data processing for businesses of all sizes" was beginning to look a little dated.

The IBM 3081 was launched in 1980 and lingered on until 1987.

Back then, however, the bosses of the manufacturing plant were proud of the kit entrusted to their location and never missed an opportunity to show visitors around and "boast about the big shiny boxes that were located on their site," as Jim put it.

"We often had to play host to gawking tourists," he sighed.

And so it was, on the fateful day in question, that a bigwig was once more dragging a gaggle of onlookers around Jim's domain. Puffed up like some giant corporate peacock, he waxed lyrical about investment, new technology (yes, the System/34 was once considered new) and the expensive infrastructure that was required to keep everything ticking over nicely.

Jim and his fellow shift workers kept busy as the corporate effluent flowed overhead. A shame, because one of them might have managed to stop what happened next.

Turning to the shift workers, the bigwig pointed to a big, red button on the wall and loudly asked: "What's that one do?"

Without waiting for a response (or pausing to read the notices above) the manager jabbed the button, keen to show off both his seniority and technical prowess to the visitors.

"The world," said Jim, "went silent." The bigwig's face turned the same shade as the emergency stop button he'd just pressed.

It took the rest of the day for the team to recover both the mainframe and minicomputer; computers reacting badly to a surprise shutdown has, after all, always been a thing in the IT world.

A precursor, perhaps, to the lights-out managed dark data centres of today. Just with those pesky humans to really mess things up.

Tell us about your slow-motion moment as a manager hit a switch that should have been left alone, or when some innocent showing off to tourists went catastrophically wrong. All it takes is an email to Who, Me? ®

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