The Call Logger



  •  I've just moved into a serviced office in the course of setting up my IT services firm. The office I was assigned hadn't had a tenant for quite a while (as evidenced by the layer of dust coating pretty much everything). When I first walked in, sitting under the desk was an ancient beige tower PC, with its associated CRT, KB and mouse on the desk itself. It didn't appear to be doing anything, or even to be on for that matter. I had been given little to no information about the office and therefore asked the receptionist who had shown me in what the machine was doing there. She didn't seem to know, so I (somewhat arrogantly) assumed that it was a leftover from the previous tenant or had just been dumped there. I dismantled it and put it in a corner in order to set up my own PC, meaning to ask about where to move it to later.

     The next day, as I walked in, the receptionist (a different one) told me that the owner of the office complex had emailed to say that the machine needed to be put back where I found it and switched back on. 'Back on?' I thought. 'It didn't seem on in the first place!'. I naturally asked why, only to be told that she didn't know and to ring the owner directly. 'OK,' I thought, and headed to the office to do just that. It turns out that that PC was essentially the central logger for their PABX system. Without it active, no calls were being logged, and therefore everyone had been calling essentially for free for a day! Whoops.

    Hang on though, why was such a critical application running on an ancient Windows 95-era PC? More to the point why was it in an office that they were then renting out? I asked both of these questions, only to be told that there was no money and no need(!) to upgrade, and that there wasn't anywhere else for the machine to go. I had little choice but to turn the machine on and get the application working. The machine ran Windows 98 (to be honest, I had expected to see 95) and then some proprietary PABX software that looked like it had been written by a ten-year-old. Surprisingly, it booted and began logging without issue. When I called back to tell the owner that he could relax, I raised the issue of what happens when the dinosaur finally dies (with the implication that I could help him migrate to something more 21st Century). He said that the software had been running on a laptop until a year ago when that died, and that this machine was the backup. As for what happens when the backup needs a backup? "Well when that happens we'll sort something out".

    Let us count the WTFs:

    • Firstly, my arrogance. If you find a machine plugged in somewhere, and you don't know its status/use exactly, don't go dismantling it! facepalm
    • Then again, not labelling such a critical system and/or not telling the office staff what it is when someone moves in to its home isn't exactly clever
    • Running a business-critical application on a late-90s Gateway tower PC.
    • Not having a plan in place for when the aforementioned dinosaur goes the way of the, er, dinosaurs, despite the system being down for slightly under a day being cause for panic.



  • Honestly, you were being kind. Unless the contract that you signed listed this as something that needed to be there (or a lwayer could fit it under some other clause) I would have refused to set it up for him again.

     All that is assuming that I even bothered to set it aside and not haul it away that day.



  • As for the backup's backup it's quite simple, when the computer dies you use some printer instead.



  • Heh, it wouldn't surprise me if they had something else running on a printer somewhere.

     As for the contract, it certainly isn't in there explicitly, but I'm sure they'd find a way to wriggle out of it. I did get quite a cheap rate (should have been a sign, really). I was sorely tempted to say that either the machine goes somewhere else or I do, but I'll probably get quite a bit of business out of the other tenants in the complex, so babysitting their dinosaur isn't that bad.

    If they start asking me to support the thing, then that's different. Either they pay me to do it, or I'll let it die!



  • @Richard J said:

    Firstly, my arrogance. If you find a machine plugged in somewhere, and you don't know its status/use exactly, don't go dismantling it! facepalm

    Yeah, this definitely isn't your WTF. It's in your office, and you don't need it for the operation of your office. They're lucky you didn't toss it in the garbage (or the hallway, where the cleaning staff removed it). You should have asked them if they wanted their layer of dust, too.

    So, are you subletting your office to them for the use of their critical server?



  • @Richard J said:

    Not having a plan in place for when the aforementioned dinosaur goes the way of the, er, dinosaurs, despite the system being down for slightly under a day being cause for panic.
    But they do have a plan: when that happens, their plan is to "sort something out."

    It sounds promising.



  • @boog said:

    But they do have a plan: when that happens, their plan is to "sort something out."

    It sounds promising.

     

    It is quite promising for Richard J.  If he has a time with lots of calls he has access to the logging mechanism in the days leading up to it and rubber mallets can be useful for percussive maintenance.



  • I had not thought of such a nefarious thing, and would certainly never attempt to carry it out... innocent angel face

    Seriously, though, I wouldn't do it. They don't exactly like me for taking the damned thing offline, so I get the feeling that should it die while I'm there, I'll get the blame. Should that actually happen, ten kinds of hell will be raised on them: I may be a nice guy, but I'm not a doormat.

    I could edit the DB, I suppose... though I'd probably need to dig out my old copy of dBase III to do so!



  • @boomzilla said:

    @Richard J said:
    Firstly, my arrogance. If you find a machine plugged in somewhere, and you don't know its status/use exactly, don't go dismantling it! facepalm

    Yeah, this definitely isn't your WTF. It's in your office, and you don't need it for the operation of your office. They're lucky you didn't toss it in the garbage (or the hallway, where the cleaning staff removed it). You should have asked them if they wanted their layer of dust, too.

    So, are you subletting your office to them for the use of their critical server?

     

    Richard J got off easy, although it would have been nice if someone had said "there's an old PC under the desk in your new office; don't do anything to it until you clear it with the powers that be".

    I once moved into the office that had been vacated by a guy who had accepted a better offer somewhere else.  Seems he was the only one who knew how to accept what IBM called PUT tapes to patch the mainframe, and was the only one who had any clue what patches had or hadn't yet been applied, or which ones he had made his own mods to in order to get them to work in our environment.

    All that information, such as it was, resided in multi-foot-high stacks of green-bar impact-printer paper around two full walls of the office.  Not cubicle, office.  And I was under strict orders not to move any of it in case we needed to look for some critical piece of information.  In that heap of 19th-century dead tree tech with no discernible indexing or even organization scheme.

    A third wall of the office was covered with streaks of some brown substance, as if on more than one occasion an occupant of the office decided that the cup of coffee before him would be put to better use by throwing it against the wall with great force.  It was suggested that this relic was also best not altered in any way.

     



  • @da Doctah said:

    I once moved into the office that had been vacated by a guy who had accepted a better offer somewhere else...

    Yeah, that's nuts, but Richard J's situation is more like, you rented an apartment, but you can't move the sofa and coffee table, because they like to use it as an office for receiving guests.



  • @Richard J said:

    Let us count the WTFs:

    • Running a business-critical application on a late-90s Gateway tower PC.

    Not a wtf if you have some sort of plan-B. This worked non-stop for about ten years (save for a couple of power outages) before its disk died:

    [url=http://tangopardo.com.ar/2cf7/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/s7302308.jpg][img]http://tangopardo.com.ar/2cf7/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/s7302308-150x150.jpg[/img][/url]


    It was hidden behind a lot of furniture pretty much like the mythical netware server. It ran for a day with a fried disk while I configured the new router.



  • @spamcourt said:

    This worked non-stop for about ten years (save for a couple of power outages) before its disk died:





    It was hidden behind a lot of furniture pretty much like the mythical netware server. It ran for a day with a fried disk while I configured the new router.

     

     

    I have to ask. What was that fire hazard with the internal network cable used for?


  • Discourse touched me in a no-no place

    @Richard J said:

    I asked both of these questions, only to be told that there was no money and no need(!) to upgrade

    We're used to wanting the latest and greatest, but most people don't think that way. This thing works perfectly well for him, so he sees no need to upgrade. You wouldn't upgrade your refrigerator every year because it's 3% more efficient.

    Not having a backup plan, that's a bad idea, of course, but he'll figure that out, and perhaps learn from the experience.



  • @noitcif said:

    I have to ask. What was that fire hazard with the internal network cable used for?

    Looks like someone "cleverly" installed a conveniently-sized switch in the case, but by the time this photo was taken only one network cable remained in it?



  • @blakeyrat said:

    @noitcif said:
    I have to ask. What was that fire hazard with the internal network cable used for?

    Looks like someone "cleverly" installed a conveniently-sized switch in the case, but by the time this photo was taken only one network cable remained in it?

    Looking at the full size picture it appears to be a DSL modem.  There's a phone line on the left (connecting to a DSL line filter), an ethernet cable in the middle and the power cord on the right, which has been spliced into the PC's power supply wires, and the various status lights along the top left.



  • @El_Heffe said:

    Looking at the full size picture it appears to be a DSL modem.

    Damn. I think you're right. But why?



  • @noitcif said:

    @El_Heffe said:
    Looking at the full size picture it appears to be a DSL modem.

    Damn. I think you're right. But why?

     

    Why not? Maybe its wall-wart died so they took power from the PC PSU? Or they wanted everything in one box? (I knew someone with a PCI ADSL modem once)

    I've seen dustier. I had a MP3-playing computer in my car (between the internal wall and the chassis) and after a year it was fully caked. But it was only a P100 so was fine. (Before MP3 CD players became affordable)


  • Discourse touched me in a no-no place



  • @El_Heffe said:

    @blakeyrat said:

    @noitcif said:
    I have to ask. What was that fire hazard with the internal network cable used for?

    Looks like someone "cleverly" installed a conveniently-sized switch in the case, but by the time this photo was taken only one network cable remained in it?

    Looking at the full size picture it appears to be a DSL modem.  There's a phone line on the left (connecting to a DSL line filter), an ethernet cable in the middle and the power cord on the right, which has been spliced into the PC's power supply wires, and the various status lights along the top left.

    It was a nat / download offloading box we had at home. Inside there's the dsl modem plugged into the computer supply, two network cards and a 56k modem as backup. With all the lids in place it barely made noise. For a while it lived behind my desk then I moved it to the roof where it happily pushed packets till it gave the ghost away..



  • @FrostCat said:

    @Richard J said:
    I asked both of these questions, only to be told that there was no money and no need(!) to upgrade

    We're used to wanting the latest and greatest, but most people don't think that way. This thing works perfectly well for him, so he sees no need to upgrade. You wouldn't upgrade your refrigerator every year because it's 3% more efficient.

    Not having a backup plan, that's a bad idea, of course, but he'll figure that out, and perhaps learn from the experience.

     

    +1. I was about to say exactly this, then I saw this post.



  • This is very true, there's no point upgrading purely for the sake of it. But considering this system (on a laptop until last year, then the PC) has been active for (apparently) eleven years, you'd have thought that it would have been upgraded at some point. But I see your point, not upgrading isn't in itself a WTF.

    In other news, apparently there are a couple of other machines elsewhere in the building (probably in some other poor sod's office) doing other critical things. I wonder if they run on similarly antiquated hardware. There is also a 'central file server' for use by tenants. This is really just a share on some random computer that everyone has full access to. Not really a WTF, what is is that loads of people seem to be storing all sorts of business data on it. I haven't actually looked in any of the files, but the folder names match current tenants, and the last access times are all current. >_<



  • I would prefer a call lager.


  • Discourse touched me in a no-no place

    @Richard J said:

    This is very true, there's no point upgrading purely for the sake of it. But considering this system (on a laptop until last year, then the PC) has been active for (apparently) eleven years, you'd have thought that it would have been upgraded at some point. But I see your point, not upgrading isn't in itself a WTF.

    In other news, apparently there are a couple of other machines elsewhere in the building (probably in some other poor sod's office) doing other critical things. I wonder if they run on similarly antiquated hardware.

    I have a customer who specifically refuses to upgrade his DB server, because it works. We put some new software on it a while back, and the new software depends on an 8 year old patch that he had refused to apply, so he had to break his rule.

    It's paranoid, but it's justifiable. They know it works, and if a patch comes along and breaks the computer, whoops, there goes the ERP, or payroll, or whatever.



  • @da Doctah said:

    And I was under strict orders not to move any of it in case we needed to look for some critical piece of information.  In that heap of 19th-century dead tree tech with no discernible indexing or even organization scheme.

    I hope you got a big discount for renting an office to which you can't realistically invite clients, suppliers or anyone else who you'd like to take you seriously.

    The thing I find most odd in Richard J's story is that he appears not to have seen the office before signing a contract.



  • @Richard J said:

    This is very true, there's no point upgrading purely for the sake of it. But considering this system (on a laptop until last year, then the PC) has been active for (apparently) eleven years, you'd have thought that it would have been upgraded at some point. But I see your point, not upgrading isn't in itself a WTF.
    @Richard J said:
    Not really a WTF, what is is that loads of people seem to be storing all sorts of business data on it. I haven't actually looked in any of the files, but the folder names match current tenants, and the last access times are all current. >_<
    TRWTF is if you're not treating all this as the best marketing opportunity you could wish for. I'm sure you can dredge up some worthless old hardware better than the crap currently running the call-logger and perform a freebie upgrade - the first taste is always free... - on condition that you get your services recommended to all the other tenants in return. Similarly, you can get your foot in the door with all the tenants by offering to show them how to encrypt/secure their data.



  • @MascarponeRun said:

    TRWTF is if you're not treating all this as the best marketing opportunity you could wish for. I'm sure you can dredge up some worthless old hardware better than the crap currently running the call-logger and perform a freebie upgrade - the first taste is always free... - on condition that you get your services recommended to all the other tenants in return. Similarly, you can get your foot in the door with all the tenants by offering to show them how to encrypt/secure their data.

    Oh I'm doing just that! I've got a slimline Dell P4 machine running XP that I plan to shove their PABX software on tomorrow (I can't use anything else, apparently it was custom-developed, or at least modified) and swap in for the dinosaur. I'm also going to find out what the other 'critical machines' are doing and present the owner with a more cohesive upgrade plan, which like you say if he isn't willing to pay for I'll consider doing in exchange for recommendations (it won't exactly be hard to do...).



  • Hint: have a disk image of the old machine ready, just in case it turns out that the software doesn't run on NT (install VMWare Player then, and run the old monstrosity in it - I had to do this with the door access control software at work - a 16-bit Windows program that freezes after a few days on anything NT-based, but has no problem running a whole year in Windows 98 in VMWare).


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