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True IT blooper #26: Instruction deduction

While the IT director's away, the bloopers have their day. The moral of this true IT story: Never assume anything!

Systems administrator Jacky Brock enjoys working for a small company. As the only IT person, she has a lot of autonomy and a workload that keeps her on her toes. When she's around, her data center runs like clockwork. When she's on vacation, however, it has been known to run on Blooper Standard Time.

Brock celebrated the turn of the millennium by taking a month's vacation. Since many other employees were taking extended Christmas vacations, Brock and her executive team decided to shut down every system on the last working day before the holiday. That included all PCs and both Microsoft Windows NT servers, as well as the accounting department's Unix server.

"Everything had been checked and should have been OK," said Brock. "But you never know."

Brock would not be on hand when everyone else returned to work, so she trained the company's financial director on powering up the systems.

"When business started up again on the January 2, 2000, he came in early to power everything up so a normal working day could be started," Brock said. "I had given him simple instructions and a telephone number of the maintenance company to use in case anything didn't start."

No calls were needed because powering up went like clockwork. "I had a lovely holiday and came back to all the usual silly IT things that had been left till my return," Brock said.

Flash forward to six months later, the month of June. That same financial director accidentally ran an end-of-year report. "No problem," Brock said. "You've been running the backups every night, so I'll re-install the data from last night's backup. We will only have lost that morning's work."

When she began the backup process, Brock discovered something horrible. "Oh no! I could find nothing earlier than December 24, 1999."

A quick call to the system maintenance provider confirmed her results. "Six months work lost," cried Brock. "What went wrong?"

Brock checked the backup device, which was working just fine. She checked the tapes. Ditto. Then Brock discovered that the servers weren't seeing the backup devices.

Like a detective, Brock returned to the scene of the crime to ask the financial director a few questions.

Brock: Did you switch the power to the backup device on before you powered up?

Financial Director: No.

Brock: Had you checked that the backup was working all that time?

Financial Director: Well, the tape started to rewind as soon as I put it in, so I thought everything was OK.

Brock: So, the fact that the backup device is external and needs to powered on first for the server to find it wasn't evident to you?

Financial Director: You didn't say that in your instructions.

Brock (to herself as she walks away):Mutter. Mutter. Grr. Grr. Wasn't that obvious?

Brock walked directly into the server room and posted signs on servers. The signs said: "If switched off, turn backup device on first."

Despite her trip into Blooper Standard Time, Brock still takes time off from work. She's learned from her mistake, however. "If you're going to be away, don't leave simple instructions," she said. "What's obvious to you may not be obvious to other people."


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