Thursday, January 9, 2014

Vintage Computing Nostalgia: Strange Server Locations

Elsewhere I was taking part in a conversation about servers of all things and the subject came up; where was the strangest place where you’ve seen a server installed? I commented that I’ve seen servers and media storage devices installed in some really weird places. Not the usual IT Server rooms with controlled atmosphere and temperature, but in some place where you would least expect them and put there by people who you think would know better.

One of the problems I encounter with other entrepreneurs is their false sense of omnipotence. It’s a quality in myself I’m not too fond of, either. Just because we’re an expert in one field doesn’t mean we’re the master of everyone else’s. The biggest problems have always started with me muttering the words; “come on… how hard could it be?”

Just because someone is smart enough to start a business like a restaurant or construction company doesn’t mean they know enough about computers and servers and not put them in odd places.

A restaurant owner I used to work for DEMANDED that his media storage device (where he kept all his records for tax purposes) be installed in the boiler room. No matter how hard we tried to explain why this was a bad idea he insisted it be put where he wanted it.

As you can imagine, he came up to me 6 months later and asked; “Do you know anything about computers?” That was just the beginning of his merriment and mirth. Why would you keep your media storage devices in the same room as the furnace or “Boiler Room”?

While I was doing my morning routine, I was trying to remember all the other craziest places where I’ve seen servers installed. My Dad’s friends who were all Ham Radio operators would work on two-way repeaters on the top of hills and mountains. In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s “Pac Net” was becoming popular – people sending data back and forth over specific bandwidths. I saw someone install some DEC server racks mounted in a converted hayloft of an old barn, another system in a junked Ambulance parked on the top of a hill, and the basement of a mountain observatory… I think I’ve seen servers for two-way communication installed on the top of Mount Graylock, Mount Equinox and Mount Washington.

Hobbyists – like myself – are different breeds. “Back in my day…” hobbyists would take whatever they could get their hands on, usually discarded equipment from their own IT departments, surplus or junk shops, swap-meets, and put those machines to work anywhere. I think that’s the time I caught the computing bug and I’ve been trying to mimic what they were doing back then to service my own interests.

I’m still working with my 13 year old server trying to teach it new tricks, just like my mentors and role models did decades ago. There are just some things we can’t let go for sentimental reasons.

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