True IT blooper #82: Don't touch that dial

Look, but don't touch! That's a warning usually given to toddlers. Sometimes, as this true story shows, IT managers should issue that warning to their supervisors.

Senior IT specialist Steve Ronzino still laughs when he thinks about this blooper, which occurred years ago, back when data centers were filled with control panels resembling airplane cockpits, with dials and switches everywhere.

At the time, Ronzino was a console operator for a 370/168 VM system in New York City. One day as he tended to the system's switches, buttons and lights, a company vice president strode in, apparently giving some visitors a tour of the on-site technology.

The VP stepped in front of an IBM 3705 Communications Controller, close enough to Ronzino that he could eavesdrop.

"The front panel of the 3705 had many switches and buttons to perform certain functions," Ronzino said.

One was the "Panel disable" switch, which disabled most of the buttons that covered the front panel. Ronzino emphasized that the switch disabled most -- not all -- buttons.

The VP sharply noticed that the "Panel disable" switch was enabled, and he explained to the visitors what the switch did.

"I can hit any button here and nothing will happen," the VP said.

But the VP went one step further: he tried to show off. He hit the "Power off" button, thinking the entire control panel was disabled. Wrong.

"Of course, the 3705 powered down," Ronzino said.

The VP's face flushed red, and he quickly left.

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The VP had managed to quickly shut down the 3705, a normally difficult task.

"The 3705 was quite a box," Ronzino said. "You couldn't bring it down with a stick. But when it went down, it stayed down."

It took Ronzino three days to get the IBM 3705 Communications Controller up and running again.

The VP should've kept his hands in his pockets.


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This was first published in December 2002

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