Blue Screen Of Death, mainframe-style


It's 1979, and a big university hospital depends on this mainframe in its data center, according to an IT pilot fish who works there.

"Every building in the mile-wide complex was tied to the IBM System/370-148 computer running DOS/VSE," says fish. "We had IBM printers as well.

"One day, one of the very best IBM techs was called in to work on one of the printers. He needed a 'P 00E' command issued so he could work on that printer. But instead he requested a 'DVCDN 00E' command -- which removes all the system assignments to that device."

Fish keys in the command that the tech requests. The mainframe crashes.

He tries to restart the big machine, but that fails almost immediately. Turns out that the second command in the startup sequence is one that directs output to the printer known as 00E -- which the mainframe no longer knows how to use.

And because nothing is working, fish can't issue the necessary command to bring the printer back online, so the mainframe can finish starting up.

Fortunately, there's a retro-style workaround: Restart the machine from a deck of punch cards. Unfortunately, there's a catch: The data center doesn't have any of the equipment it needs to do that.

"The hospital had to have a card reader shipped in and installed," fish says. "And in order to punch the two cards required to run the command to repair the system, they also had to bring in a card punch machine."

And once those machines are in place, they're ready to restart the machine -- almost.

It seems no one remembered to get any keypunch cards.

So a call goes out to all the IBM techs in the state for keypunch cards. They're finally located in the state capital, 100 miles away.

An IBM tech from the state capital grabs a fistful of the precious pasteboard, jumps in his car and races down the freeway to meet the IBM tech from fish's site halfway, so fish's IBM tech can race back to the hospital data center to punch the cards and restart the mainframe.

"So the system was finally restored -- after being down for four days," says fish.

"And IBM did confess to requesting the 'DVCDN 00E' command, so I didn't get fired for this fiasco."

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