Friday, May 29: Show Off Your Server Room Day

Yep, I’m making up a holiday. This Friday, May 29 2009, will be Show Off Your Server Room Day. Why? Let me tell you a story.

Back in the day, which is to say before I was born, computers were big, expensive beasties. You didn’t have computers on every desk. You had one computer, maybe two. They were in rooms with locks on the doors. Even if your job was to prepare data for input into the computer, you probably didn’t get to touch it—you got your data as orderly as you could, then you gave it to the mystical guys who would take it away, do something magical, then bring you back the result.

We like to think that this has changed. Has it?

Step outside of your I.T. department for a moment. Put yourself in the headspace of someone in the Customer Service, or Marketing, or Finance departments. Or an assistant/secretary. Not someone tech-savvy, just a person who knows enough about computers to get their job done.

If you asked them to describe your server room, without ever having seen the inside, could they? Could they describe where their files go when they save them to the network share? Or how your intranet web page shows up to greet them in the morning?

I’d be willing to bet that they couldn’t. Or, if they did describe something, it would be like a scene from Chuck, Alias, 24, or similar: giant racks of computers that all look the same. Lots of matte black plastic servers with blue LEDs and not a patch panel in sight. Maybe some nice, orderly cables of pretty neon colors.

Why would they think anything else? It’s what they’ve seen on TV, so surely it must be true, right?

Friday is your chance to change that. Grab a handful of people, or maybe just one at a time, and invite them into your server room. Show them what a patch panel is, and a switch, and a router. Show them what a backup drive looks like, and tapes, and a KVM if you use them. Point out which one is the domain controller (“this is the one that lets you log on in the morning”), the web server, the database server, the email server.

Don’t get too technical. They don’t care that much. Just lift the veil a bit.

You’re doing yourself a favor, really. When you’re having trouble with a server, and you say as much in an email, you’ll get less pushback because they’ll have a concept of what you’re talking about. When you explain that it’s going to take a few hours (or days) to restore from a backup tape, they’ll get it.

And you’ll make them feel better, because no longer will 8 hours of their day depend on something that is a complete mystery to them.

‡ There’s a great description of this culture in Steven Levy’s Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution.

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Rick Osborne

I am a web geek who has been doing this sort of thing entirely too long. I rant, I muse, I whine. That is, I am not at all atypical for my breed.