A little too future-ready

Flash back a few years: This university's computer department upgrades several computer labs and actually works with the facilities people to get things done right, according to a pilot fish on the scene.

"They put in raised floors in the all the labs and even the halls, to run cables effortlessly and make future changes," says fish. "And several whole-room UPSes, one for each student lab, and a line conditioner.

"Even the air-conditioning units were sized correctly and had future capacity. It seemed a dream come true -- until the first week of class."

Almost immediately, students using one of the labs discover that their floppy disks are being scrambled or wiped. No one can figure out why, but no one wants to lose his work either. And a month into the semester, the lab is a virtual ghost town.

Skip ahead a month or two: A professor whose office is across the hall from the Lab o' Doom decides he wants his office hooked into the lab's UPS. And because the lab is hardly used, he has no trouble getting the department head to sign off on the project.

The day comes for Facilities to wire the office into the UPS -- under the raised floor, of course. A few floor tiles come up, power conduit is pulled, and the job is almost done.

That's when one student employee looks again at what's under the raised floor, remembers what he just learned in a physics class, and then goes looking for his boss.

"It seems that when Facilities wired the labs, they misjudged how much wire they would need to run from the outside transformer to the line conditioner inside," fish sighs. "Misjudged in a positive way -- the wires were too long.

"Rather than trim them to length, they just coiled the excess under the floor, in case they ever needed it in the future: several loops of three-phase, 400-volt, 400-amp cables, right under the doorway into the lab, producing a large, directed magnetic field that happily scrambled the data of every passerby..."

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Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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