It's easier when the errors arrive on schedule

Flashback to the 1990s, when this big lumberyard hires an outside IT company to manage its systems, according to a pilot fish who's part of the new team.

And there's a reason help is needed. "We had calls every day from their onsite IT guru," says fish. "He complained that there were SCSI errors on the disks for their nice beefy Unix server every day at exactly 1:45 p.m."

Day after day, senior engineers are dispatched to the lumberyard from fish's company. None of them can track down the issue. The Unix disk-checking utility returns no errors, so the engineers always give the server a clean bill of health.

Then the next day the problem is back -- and when the engineers return, it's gone again.

Fish is just a low-level tech, but he checks the logs remotely. The error is at almost exactly the same time every day, and it lasts just two minutes, like clockwork. Surely there's something going on.

"I implored my boss to let me go to the site and see what was happening at 1:45 p.m.," he says. "What a crazy thought -- being there during the errors."

Boss gives the OK, so the next day at 1:40 p.m., coffee in hand, fish is at the site and staring intently at the server, a pedestal on wheels in the lumberyard's office.

Everything is quietly humming along until fish hears something: the blaring horn of a freight train in the distance.

Five minutes later, the train roars past the office -- and fish watches as the server literally bounces across the floor, with SCSI errors scrolling across the screen like mad until the train is gone.

"The next day I brought out a small rack, mounted it with bolts and placed the server inside," says fish. "Wheels removed, errors removed.

"That landed me the first of several promotions at this company."

Keep Sharky on schedule. Send me your true tale of IT life at sharky@computerworld.com. You'll snag a snazzy Shark shirt if I use it. Add your comments below, and read some great old tales in the Sharkives.

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