Data loss prevention emergency tactic: keep your finger on the power button for the foreseeable future

When switches really were switches, one reader managed to avert a potential disaster

Who, Me? Welcome, gentle readers, to another instalment of Who, Me? in which citizens of the Reg universe (Regizens?) recount their tales of technological near-misses.

This week, cast your mind back to the halcyon days of the late 1990s, when computers were made of metal and the power button was an actual physical button. That's important.

You see, in this story, our reader – Regomized as "Tom" – was working for the NHS (the UK's government health insurer) and participating in an upgrade of the computers there. Both the old hardware and the new were made by Compaq (there's a name we've not heard in a long time …) and encased in durable metal shells.

The computers therefore boasted considerable weight, so out with the old and in with the new was heavy lifting that required a two-person crew.

What's more, with this being the NHS, there was no such thing as "down time". Even then the idea of taking a server offline before the new one was ready would have been unthinkable.

Thus, the transition was carefully planned, and the old servers' power buttons clearly labelled in the order they could be switched off safely. This scheme included a big clear label on the production server that absolutely positively could not be turned off until the very last thing.

And it all went according to plan so everyone went home happy.

Just kidding. Why would it be in Who, Me? if that happened?!

Instead, as Tom and his able-bodied assistant, "Jerry," were unracking a server, Jerry reached over to switch it off. As his finger reached the button, Tom noticed the label next to it – a moment too late.

"Wait, isn't that the production server?"

<click>

Color drained from two faces as the wrong button was depressed. Expletives were exchanged.

Now, the thing with these buttons was that they were the type you clicked down, but power kept going until you lifted your finger off. The server – and pretty much the NHS – would continue to function until Jerry let go.

Tom dashed from the room, up two flights of stairs, to the senior managers and hurriedly explained the situation. An announcement went out that all open work should be saved immediately as there would be "emergency maintenance" in 15 minutes.

But it was lunchtime. People were out. Work would inevitably be lost. How much, no-one could say. Were there backups? Maybe, maybe not.

Tom went back to the server room, where Jerry's white finger trembled on the button. Sweat trickled from his brow. The two of them mentally updated their CVs. The button was not the only thing depressed in the room.

After 15 minutes, the order: "Go for it."

Now, here's another thing about those old mechanical buttons: if you press them again fast enough, you might – might – be able to get the power back on before it's actually powered down. Not a risk you'd take without getting people to save their work, but certainly worth a try.

<clack><click><clack>

The barest of flickers, and the server continued on its merry way.

The work of transitioning to the new server fleet continued in stony silence. And all labels were double-checked before pressing anything.

Have you escaped a disaster by the skin of your teeth? Pressed just the wrong button at just the wrong time? Maybe you didn't have the National Health hanging by a thread, but if you've ever jeopardized a critical system by misreading a label we want to know about it in an email to Who, Me? We promise we won't tell … except here using a Regomized name!

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