back to article A boss pinching pennies may have cost his firm many, many pounds

Welcome once more to Who, Me?, where El Reg readers share their IT catastrophes. And it doesn't get much more catastrophic than this week's story from "Marty". At the time of the incident, Marty was working in the trenches at a financial institution. "When I was first employed, the rack-mount servers for our division were …

  1. Korev Silver badge
    Pint

    Outcome?

    So did, the PHB get the blame for his terrible decision, or did the "blamestorming" point the finger at the unfortunate techies? Sadly, I suspect it's the latter.

    A pint for a good story though.

  2. DJV Silver badge

    Re: Outcome?

    Yes, we definitely need to know the outcome of all this!

  3. Dabooka Silver badge

    Re: Outcome?

    Another vote for that, what happened afterwards?!

    I think we should be told.

  4. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    Re: Outcome?

    What happened to the regular weekly monday "TSB went titsup" story ?

  5. kain preacher Silver badge

    Re: Outcome?

    Yet Another Anonymous coward, considering this was a stock division I would say that this is it.

  6. chivo243 Silver badge
    Meh

    boss's tight purse strings?

    Yes, I'm livin the dream baby, livin the dream...

  7. Version 1.0 Silver badge

    Penny pinching boss

    I was running a company in the US that handled sales and support for a UK company - we were all set to attend a show in New Orleans, we're paid for the exhibit space, shipped the show supplies and bought plane tickets - we would have been meeting potential new customers and providing support for existing customers... two days before the show I was told that we would not be going because the UK boss wanted to buy a laser printer instead. This was over 20 years ago - Laser Printers were new on the market and expensive.

  8. wayne 8

    Re: Penny pinching boss

    How much did the lack of promotion and socializing impact revenues?

  9. defiler Silver badge

    Re: Penny pinching boss

    This was over 20 years ago - Laser Printers were new on the market and expensive.

    Your time dilation is strong. You could get a Canon LBP4 for maybe £500-£600 in around 1996. And that's over 20 years ago. It's depressing when you're thinking "I dunno - 15 years maybe?" and it turns out to be 25...

    Also, the LBP4 was slow as hell.

  10. Korev Silver badge

    Re: Penny pinching boss

    >You could get a Canon LBP4 for maybe £500-£600 in around 1996.

    Maybe the PHB wanted a large "departmental" printer or maybe even a colour one.

  11. Martin an gof Silver badge

    Re: Penny pinching boss

    You could get a Canon LBP4 for maybe £500-£600 in around 1996

    I remember it well. Bought my LBP4 (also re-badged as an HP LJ4 I think?) circa 1991 for £1,200, though that did include an extra 2MB of memory and (and this was the key point) a Computer Concepts LaserDirect card for my Acorn A310 (+4MB).

    Didn't make the 4 pages per minute any faster, but the time-to-first-page was lightning quick by the standards of a normal parallel port connection.

    M.

  12. Belperite

    Re: Penny pinching boss

    >Maybe the PHB wanted a large "departmental" printer or maybe even a colour one.

    I remember installing a large departmental-size HP colour laser (can't remember the model) in '98 and seem to remember we paid about £5k for it.

  13. Captain Scarlet Silver badge

    Re: Penny pinching boss

    By large departmental-size printer is this like the size of a Lexmark C750 or maybe a HP Laserjet 5si or something larger?

  14. defiler Silver badge

    Re: Penny pinching boss

    a Computer Concepts LaserDirect card for my Acorn A310

    And then the podule backplane because the A300 range didn't come with them (from memory - I had a 420/1, and could have used more than 20MB HDD...)

  15. Aqua Marina Silver badge

    Re: Penny pinching boss

    I bought a Minolta CF900 around that time for about £19K with Fiery and A4 + A3 tray.

  16. Martin an gof Silver badge

    Re: Penny pinching boss

    And then the podule backplane

    Already had the backplane (four slots!) because I also had a handheld scanner (Watford Electronics), and I'd upgraded to MEMC1a and 4MB RAM by then too. I think I also had a Watford IDE interface (I certainly had an IDE disc, though maybe that came after the printer). I had a lot of money invested in that machine. A few years later the scanner and the printer transferred to a RiscPC.

    The LBP-4 itself is currently sitting in the pile of things that still worked last time I used them, but for which I have no use now. I don't want to chuck it, but finding someone who wants it...

    For the last 12 years or so I've been using a Xerox Phaser (solid ink) 8560. Fantastic printer, networked so the RiscPC can still use it. Takes £400 to restock the ink for 3,000 pages. Alternatively I could buy a brand new Lexmark colour Laser printer with 3,000 pages of toner and save £140. Ridiculous.

    M.

  17. Omgwtfbbqtime Silver badge

    "... Xerox Phaser (solid ink) 8560"

    Big Duplo sized crayons!

  18. Daedalus Silver badge

    Re: Penny pinching boss

    So wait: the UK boss shafted you all on the expenses? That would be the bad outcome. If he decided not to get good visibility in the US, well, that's his choice.

  19. Malcolm Weir Silver badge

    Re: Penny pinching boss

    An IBM 3800 Model 6 laser printer (circa 1987) would set you back £120,000 or so. As I recall, it came with it's own printer (but it's printer didn't come with an even smaller printer).

    The model 6 was the cheap one. The model 3 cost some serious cash.

  20. kain preacher Silver badge

    Re: Penny pinching boss

    "Your time dilation is strong. You could get a Canon LBP4 for maybe £500-£600 in around 1996. And that's over 20 years ago. It's depressing when you're thinking "I dunno - 15 years maybe?" and it turns out to be 25..."

    Ahem maybe the boss bought it from a friend . wink wink nudge . Maybe the boss had a side company that was selling supplies to the company. Or just maybe he lied and spent the cash on some thing else.

  21. tony trolle

    Re: Penny pinching boss

    don't remember its own printer. remember the little balls in the developer tho.

  22. SamJ
    Facepalm

    Re: Penny pinching boss

    When those solid ink printers first came out I worked for a large urban school district where the new director of IT decided that all printers should be networked Xerox Phaser (solid ink, i.e., fancy, expensive square crayons), shared among numerous classrooms. He wanted to make his mark.

    He didn't even bother having teachers test them in the schools before buying them. So, what could go wrong?

    As you may or may not know, teachers like to print things out (like worksheets, tests, etc.), and then either write on them, or have students write on them. The problem is that a ball-point pen, and sometimes even pencils, cannot write over the wax "ink." Oy! These printers turned out to be quite an issue.

    Oh, did I say that they were color printers - and teachers love to print in color! The only problem was that the District decided that the "ink" was too expensive, so they rationed it, and the paper. That left the teachers without tests and worksheets. You can just imagine. (We tried to sneak some old HPs back onto the network.)

  23. onefang
    Coat

    Re: Penny pinching boss

    "When those solid ink printers first came out I worked for a large urban school district where the new director of IT decided that all printers should be networked Xerox Phaser (solid ink, i.e., fancy, expensive square crayons), shared among numerous classrooms. He wanted to make his mark."

    So he wanted to make his mark with crayons? How many months ago did he graduate from pre-school?

  24. Martin an gof Silver badge

    Re: Penny pinching boss

    solid ink, i.e., fancy, expensive square crayons

    Compare them with original laser toner and they aren't dreadful - about £100 for 3,000 pages (colour) or half that for black compares well with many manufacturer costs. The big advantage is the ability to add another crayon at any time, without really interrupting printing, and that the only waste is a very small cardboard box (recyclable in the normal bin) and a small plastic pot not unlike a child's yoghurt pot (recyclable). Compare that with most laser printers where there's a big plastic contraption with cogs and springs and (in some cases) the imaging drum, which can only be recycled by sending it back to the manufacturer.

    With regard to teachers, it's an absolute doddle to add ink, so less chance for wastage or breakage.

    ball-point pen, and sometimes even pencils, cannot write over the wax "ink."

    It's also a bit hit-and-miss to laminate solid ink printouts. Some laminators are just a little too hot and colours will change as the printout passes through the machine!

    On the other hand, that slightly-raised feel, particularly on high quality paper, does lend a certain "class" to printouts, especially letters and invitations :-)

    M.

  25. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

    Re: Penny pinching boss

    This was over 20 years ago - Laser Printers were new on the market and expensive.

    Your time dilation is strong.

    Indeed. The first HP LaserJet model came out 35 years ago (which I admit is "over 20"). "Expensive" is subjective, but as a graduate student I bought a Lexmark laser printer in 1992, and I certainly didn't spend thousands of dollars on it.

    I no longer have that printer (done in by a failing PSU after about 12 years of service), but I still use my early-1990s HP LaserJet 4.

  26. malle-herbert Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Imagine...

    A completely brand-spanking new school building...

    New server room...

    New servers...

    New cabling...

    New computers in every classroom...

    No switches... because 'manglement' decided "we don't need those"...

  27. DaLo

    Re: Imagine...

    Well as long as each server had 20x quad port ethernet cards and you had 1m square trunking I can't see any problem with that at all.

  28. Alan Brown Silver badge

    Re: Imagine...

    > No switches... because 'manglement' decided "we don't need those"...

    Imagine all that on 10Mb/s HUBS - because manglement decided - after being told in no uncertain terms that they had to sort it 2 days into the first term where noone could do anything - that switches were too expensive and it's only a student network.

    Cue the entire thing going titsup when 36 students startup office simultaneously (and multiply by N classrooms all doing much the same thing at the same time).

    Now connect that into the admin network (also hubbed) with no isolation between student and staff systems.

  29. My other car WAS an IAV Stryker
    FAIL

    Re: Imagine...

    1996.

    Brand-new high school building opened in January.

    Brand-new windows (that didn't open) and exterior doors with good seals.

    Brand-new HVAC systems pumping out plenty of heat, even in the largest areas.

    Then April hit and no one knew how to switch the bloody thing over to air conditioning.

    Two weeks of sweat and not one apology from the school board to the students and/or staff.

    As for IT...

    Fall 1997, same building.

    Up to this point, the new network was doing just fine.

    Then the school board and administrators rolled out a new computer-based attendance system for all classes (4 per day).

    The new software was supposed to load students' photographs from last year's picture day (same as the student ID cards).

    But no one thought to test the software before Day One to help get the photos pre-cached on their PCs.

    It took a whole week before it stopped acting like a building-wide DoS attack when each class started.

  30. heyrick Silver badge

    Re: Imagine...

    "Imagine all that on 10Mb/s HUBS"

    HUBS? You're living in luxury there.

    Mid '90s. College network. Everything, and I mean everything, wired in daisy-chain 10-base-2. Morning startups would often kill the network. The machines booted entirely off the network. Everything starting up Windows 3.11. They weren't smart enough to stagger switch-ons. And this isn't counting nefarious teenagers breaking the chain by unplugging one of the BNC connectors...

    Of course, this is discussing the times the network actually worked and the server didn't fall over. Which it did, about a third of the time.

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Imagine... No Switches....

    We need to give manglement more credit for things they just don't understand....

    Back in the last century I was tasked with scoping some new racks and servers as part of an upgrade. Knowing full well some of the items/budget would get knocked back, it was standard practice to add some "sacrificial" items to the list. I think we needed 5 switches, so I put 10 on the list. If we got all 10 then we had some spare or to quietly upgrade other parts of the network. Similarly, I added "wall mount cabinets for above switches" which we could either scarifice as costing saving, or we got some new racks to go in other rooms/wiring cupboards if it was approved.

    Anyway, I submitted said list/proposal, then was out of the office for a few days whilst manglement and beancounters had their meetings. A week or two later I was rather surpsied to find everything had been approved, except for all the switches and wall cabinets. Well, a server room with no network switches is not much use, so I started to investigate and ask questions.

    Took a while, but eventually I found that one senior manager decided that wall mounted switches for the servers were not really considered cost effective as each server had its own on/off switch already built in......

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Imagine...

    No switches... because 'manglement' decided "we don't need those"...

    Not very long ago I installed over 60 PoE devices on an office - cameras, access points, VoIP phones.

    The mid-management ordered as many PoE injectors instead of buying a couple PoE switches because some money was saved. Of course all the required power outlets, power supplies and extra cabling took half of the cabinet space, looks really amateurish (and it is), and - to put it mildly - is unpleasant to manage.

  33. Adam 1 Silver badge

    Re: Imagine...

    > And this isn't counting nefarious teenagers breaking the chain by unplugging one of the BNC connectors...

    Yeah, sorry bout doing that, er, on behalf of a good mate of a mate.

  34. SamJ

    Re: Imagine...

    Sounds about right.

  35. Loud Speaker Bronze badge

    Re: Imagine... No Switches....

    Took a while, but eventually I found that one senior manager decided that wall mounted switches for the servers were not really considered cost effective as each server had its own on/off switch already built in......

    Copies of this story should be left lying about in boardrooms everywhere (with an explanation of why this is dumb-fuck behaviour, because dumb-fucks can't figure it out for themselves). (Similar to Blinkenlights signs on mainframes).

  36. Guido Esperanto

    Re: Imagine...

    ooh....10 Base T, what I wouldn't have given for 10 base T when I were a lad.

    We had to network computers with a pen n pencil...

    writing the instructions from one computer over to the other....10 Base T, ppfft.

  37. onefang

    Re: Imagine...

    "We had to network computers with a pen n pencil..."

    You should have upgraded to sneaker-net, you likely had the sneakers already.

  38. jake Silver badge

    Re: Imagine...

    "We had to network computers with a pen n pencil"

    You think you're making a joke ... My card punch went on the fritz occasionally ... manually punched cards were frowned upon, and manually punched tape was strictly taboo, but in a pinch they did the job for small stuff when t'brass weren't watching.

  39. Stoneshop Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Re: Imagine...

    The mid-management ordered as many PoE injectors instead of buying a couple PoE switches because some money was saved.

    I once had to install PoE-powered access points in a couple of locations. The first few I was supplied with 802af-compliant injectors and splitters, and all was good. The next couple I got issued with what turned out to be cheapies that just put 15VDC on the spare wire pairs (this was all 100BT), and of course that didn't work out so well with the more remote APs. A 20m run was OK, between 20 and 25 was a bit hit and miss, anything over 25m the AP collapsed in a gibbering heap the moment its radios got powered up if it started at all. Multiple meetings with a team of beancounters ensued, with the final one ending with a threat to strangle any of them that dared change the approved component list, using the cable length for the APs that wouldn't work. After stuffing the cruddy pseudo-PoE gear (nasty square metal boxes and power bricks with conventional transformers) into their posterior orifice.

    Also, at one location one of the APs was to be positioned right on top of the equipment rack so using PoE would be quite superfluous; I could just as well have plugged the original AP power brick into the socket that the PoE injector would be plugged in, but the technical nitwit overseeing the project denied that change. The first site visit after the acceptance inspection the PoE setup for that AP miraculously morphed into the more sensible layout.

  40. Excused Boots

    Re: Imagine... we don't need no stinkin' switches!

    Ah what you should have done was to put the PoE injectors at the endpoints rather than in the cabinets. It's unlikely that management would realise that you could have them at either end and even if they did you can always say that the extra power load would be far too much to have all in one place and they need to be spread out more.

    "Sorry we cannot connect all these IP cameras up as there's no power socket for them and yes I know the injector right next to your phones is annoying and unsightly but, you-know, power!"

  41. Stoneshop Silver badge

    Re: Imagine... we don't need no stinkin' switches!

    Ah what you should have done was to put the PoE injectors at the endpoints rather than in the cabinets.

    The APs were often to be installed in ventilation shafts, broom cupboards and such, where a power socket would either be nonexistent or prone to being reused by cleaners and the like.

  42. JimboSmith Silver badge

    Re: Imagine...

    My university back in the 90s which was a small college had issues with students handing in work. Specifically there was no way of knowing when things were submitted and if it was before the deadline. A technological solution was proposed where each student would use their magstripe card to identify themselves. They'd swipe in before handing over projects and that would give a date and timestamp. They asked someone to write a program to do this and then with the beta version ran a test. The test proved that a lot more work was needed because because lecturers had to upload the assignments with deadlines onto the system. There was no means of checking what had been handed in though so it was open to abuse. If you had two assignments due with different dates for submission you could hand in something late. You just handed in the earlier assignment and said it was for the one due later.

    So they had books of forms printed that were filled in at reception with your submission. Half of the form was then handed in with your work and the other half you kept as a receipt. I may have borrowed a book of forms at some point to help make submitting my work easier. I certainly never gave them out to people.

  43. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Imagine...

    Related but different. I still have a piece of working gear using AUI with a 10bT adaptor plugged on it.

    Its my Specialtix terminal server, serving up my test playpen's rack of serial ports over IP in a private closed network. Given they went under around that era and formed the basis for the venerable pearle cs9000 and other enterprise class terminal servers of later, its still quite useful. Saves me walking out the server room to get console on the switches and stuff that support terminals.

    Security patches for the ip stack? yeah not so great. However its so old there's no actual published exploits for it, and anyone that knows one has probably died of old age. But its also why its on a closed network with no route out...

  44. M man

    Re: Imagine...

    Yeah them basement networks don't build themselves.

  45. Nick Ryan Silver badge

    Developer PC

    Many years ago when working as a software developer I was at a company where spending money on equipment that wasn't going to be used by the owner of the company or wasn't going to make an immediate profit was an arduous work in long term persuasion. The development PC I used, and the network connectivity and sever that it relied upon, was so slow that compiling (building) the application literally took 10 minutes. This was at a time when frequently it was important to perform a full build of all linked files rather than just the modified one as this tended to make software debugging, well, reliable.

    In the end the plan was simple: Whenever I was compiling the application I was to look as expensively bored as possible having already exhausted all available trivial tasks. I had already peeled off all the labels from the floppy disks that we (re)used to distribute software therefore when asked if I had anything to do I was in a position to state that I'd already peeled a (large) pile of disk labels and could produce them physically as evidence, in the meantime I was waiting for the applicaiton to compile. As in I had performed a ridiculously menial task (it had to be done, and I've always pitched in with things, so I didn't care about doing this) and to make it rather clear that this wasn't a great usage of my time.

    It took about two weeks, and from memory half of the first week was spent peeling floppy disk labels with the remainder of the time compiling as often as possible in the hope that one of the owners of the company walked past while I was (im)patiently waiting. I got a new PC, we didn't get a new server for another year (which is a different story altogether as it was a reconditioned unit that we had as a result of an insurance claim by a client) but at least when the files were on the local system I could compile in seconds rather than minutes.

    On the other hand, having a snail slow development PC did teach one to code efficiently (glares at almost every developer out there) and to think about code a little more - had plenty of time to do so, of course.

  46. Handel was a crank

    Re: Developer PC

    10 minutes? Pah! I raise you Data General Model 30 compiling Fortran for up to four hours. Trying to look busy during that time was challenging. Let's just say that the devil finds work for idle hands!

  47. Alien8n Silver badge

    Re: Developer PC

    First proper engineering job there was a report run every morning on the slowest laptop (old 486) in the engineering department. The report took about 20 minutes to run and the reason it was ran on that machine and not one of the new P90s was that the button to run it was pressed at exactly the same time that the day shift took their break for breakfast. Cue mug of tea and a full English every morning.

    It was still running on the same laptop by the time I switched jobs about 2 years later :)

  48. Alan Bourke

    Re: Developer PC

    Cut my teeth on DEC Pascal in a room full of VT220 terminals connected to a VAX 11/780. When all the terminals were in use a 100-line Pascal programme could take 30 minutes to compile.

  49. Crisp Silver badge

    Re: compiling (building) the application literally took 10 minutes

    10 minutes! That's a blink of an eye!

    I've worked on projects where it's taken a whole half hour to build and deploy a project to a dev environment. But it was ok! My tech savvy line manager told me to make as few mistakes as possible to reduce debugging time.

  50. Tony Gathercole ...

    Re: Developer PC

    And the rest.

    Back in my first job (late 1970s) was working in a time-sharing bureau (sort of cloud on a single machine) which also had an application development department, and had a colleague developing an early client/server booking application for a holiday camp company. Grand programmer, but not in favour of writing code in separate compilable modules - umpteen thousand lines in a single COBOL program generally took the best part of overnight to compile! Clearly, he's not happy and I guess neither were management or the client. As in those days it was quite normal for the source code of the system programs (including the COBOL compiler) to be distributed, I spent some time profiling how the compiler was working and concluded that the bulk of the time was being spent sorting and re-sorting (virtually every time a new overlay of the compiler was brought into memory) the symbol table for the being compiled code.

    Looking at the coding of the sort routine, I saw that it was the most basic sort possible (Order n^2 or worse) - so looked out my recently discarded University textbooks and re-coded it using a much more efficient algorithm in what I thought was really neat machine code exploiting the machine architecture in some "interesting" ways. Compile time for the application dropped from several hours to circa 20 minutes. Still not brilliant (breaking up into modules was really required) but at least several compile runs became possible each work session, rather than the one or two previously.

    I did submit the revised compiler code to the manufacturer (Digital Equipment) as a "bug"(sorry, Software Performance Report) but I was never sure if it was incorporated into the production compiler as I never ran across such daft sizes of application design in the remaining ten or so years I continued working with DECsystem-10/20s.

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