October 13, 1997

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LanTimes Magazine

Nuclear gigabit network

Zeroing in on the problem

Brief: LapLink, the next generation

Review: Internet Mute interMute 1.2.7

From the Editor: Power to the people with LANs

Perfectly acceptable

Brief: Feed your need for network speed

Review: BorderManager Authentication Service





It was a dark and stormy night

By Martin E. Maxwell

Last year, I was systems administrator for a field division of a state Fish and Game department. We'd been working on a big interagency ecological research program, and on this day all the fish data from several locations was going to be posted on our World Wide Web server as it came in from the labs.

At 3:30 p.m. a major storm moved through the area, downing several power poles. Our metal office building was battered by wind and rain, and with a loud bang we experienced a spectacular power failure. The computer room went pitch black and five UPS (uninterruptible power supply) boxes shrieked loudly.

We shut down the LAN server and closed down the various root shells we were working from on the two Internet servers. After 20 minutes we finally powered down the Internet server and router and went home.

At 8 p.m., I returned and found a very broken router fan bearing. I heard horrible changes in pitch cycle up and down in frequency as well as random noisy oscillations. I called the state's data center help desk, explained the situation, and waited for a call back. Since it was the first day of our Web project, we needed to get back online as quickly as possible.

At 10:45 p.m. a contract service tech called me, saying he could come that night, but he had no spare routers. As we were talking, the router fan gave a last grinding rattle and died. I sighed and reached for the UPS switch, taking us offline.

The tech admitted he had never seen our model of router and didn't have a fan in stock. He agreed that disassembly might be a prudent move, but we were not supposed to perform such a task. But heck, a router is just hardware, so I grabbed a screwdriver, took the case off, blew a huge dust storm down the hallway, pried off a scorched matting of compressed dust bunnies, and removed a dead, squished fan.

Ten minutes later we were back up on the Internet. The router was now under a big 15-inch diameter fan running at full bore, blowing a small gale toward the exposed power supply and motherboard.

I returned the next morning with a three-fan unit salvaged from an old minicomputer. Using sheet-metal screws, I attached it to legs fashioned from drive trays and placed it over the router. The breeze from the fans was almost enough to make the thing hover, so I quit worrying that the unit might overheat. The following afternoon a replacement router showed up, and the tech was greatly amused at the workaround. The fan assembly that I hacked together is still on my spare-parts shelf, just in case.

Martin Maxwell is the director of Looking Glass Research, an IT consultancy in Lodi, Calif.