back to article Phased out: IT architect plugs hole in clean-freak admin's wiring design

Welcome again to On-Call, El Reg's weekly column that offers readers the chance to vent about their co-workers' ineptitude. This week, meet "Oscar", who tells us about the time he had to clean up after an overly tidy sysadmin. At the time, he was working as a consultant and IT architect for a government customer that was …

Anonymous Coward

I was the sysadmin at a company that was being downsized (from about 30 to about 3 employees). Before I left I was asked to draw up a plan for the new server room in a small office they were moving into.

I specified that the server room needed about 90 amps of power for all the equipment, so they would need to get an electrician to put in some dedicated feeds from the distribution board.

The beancounter came back to me and said that the room had 4 double sockets, and since 8x13 is 104 amps, the existing wiring would be more than enough. I tried several times to explain that all 4 of the double sockets were on a single 30A ring main, but they clearly didn't want to understand.

As I was about to be made redundant I decided it was their problem to deal with not mine.

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Smaller scale, at the local church the boiler has failed (or rather, been condemned). So while the weather was cold we were using fan heaters to take the chill off - about all they could do, we all came prepared and kept our coats on.

One day I get there and [name/position redacted to protect the guilty] told me that some of the sockets weren't working. WHGile I had limited the two fan heaters to 3kW total - he'd brought in a couple more and was surprised when they all went off. "But I was careful and plugged them into different sockets" he told me, meaning that there was only one socket in each double used. He just couldn't understand the idea of these all being fed through one bit of 15A fuse wire.

He was also even more amazed that I could find the blown fuse and rewire it - he couldn't do more than look and see that none of the MCBs (retrofitted into the lighting board) had tripped. Yes, the place is long overdue for a bit of upgrading !

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Planning

This case is a nice example of two mistakes (the missing protection on the UPS and the sysadmin's cabling) exacerbating each other with a rather bad result.

Many comments go on architects and how aesthetics has priority over functionality, which I've seen in a number of cases.

One of the more entertaining was a consolidated IT department moving into a new, open office environment. Huge room with lots of space. The Head of IT had asked me (IT architect, not building architect) what I thought. I suggested to have enough network connection points and power points spread across the whole area of the room to support at least one and a half or maybe even twice as many people as they expected to use the room. What they did instead was assigning just about enough for the number of people moving in, and all along one wall. So when they moved in, the room became littered with extension cords and long network cables running across the floor (high ceilings, so no-one tried to run them up there). In a month or so, the department increased in size and now the multi-socket extension cords had further extension cords attached, sometimes chained like three or four times. And the network was extended with consumer-level network switches to support the new people.

Hallelujah!

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Re: Planning

"I suggested to have enough network connection points and power points spread across the whole area of the room to support at least one and a half or maybe even twice as many people as they expected to use the room."

One place I worked used an excellent electrical contractor who really knew their stuff. When we asked for an extra n lines adding to the factory area, they said "We anticipated that, and doubled up on the lines we installed originally". Win-win - they simply had to connect the extra lines at each end, and the job was done in record time.

Sadly that kind of client-customer relationship is rare.

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Flame

Re: Planning

My work burnt out a cable to one of the major company data centres, it turned out that in the late 70s the contractor decided to put in a lower rated cable than it was supposed to. This led to a massive outage (not sure why the redundant systems didn’t work) and allowed IT to convince the senior people to invest in a huge new data centre.

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get out quick

Once when I was plugging in some storage in a machine room, at the other end I heard 3 electricians stood around a lifted floor tile arguing about which wire was the blue phase. When they finally agreed it was the black wire I hot-tailed it out of there before they connected it.

Thankfully I didn't hear a bang.

I had previously been in a building that had 2 phases connected together by accident one time and it wasn't nice. The bang was huge - like a direct lightning strike, it also blew up the substation in the corner of the car park. People in the same room as the incident were wandering around dazed for minutes, like zombies.

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Re: get out quick

2 phases connected together by accident one time and it wasn't nice. The bang was huge

Yep. I was working in Charlotte Square in Edinburgh when somebody dropped a tool into a 3-phase about 1/4 of the way around the square from us. Power was off for the rest of the day. I was in reception at the time and there was a flash like a lightning strike.

I know my limits on electricity. Sockets are fine. Consumer Unit is a job for a spark. 3-phase? Not going near that!

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Re: get out quick

As my step dad was blind I was taught how to do household electrics (before he lost his sight he was a sparky at a power station). This taught me enough to take one look at the botch job done by the previous owner of the house we now live in on the kitchen lights. Previous owner was an electronics engineer, which in no way shape or form makes them qualified to do household electrics as proven by what I discovered.

Issue with the under-cupboard lighting, trace switch from wall to a junction box behind the cooker. Trace one direction under the sink to an open connector block directly underneath the taps. From there to several 5A spotlight units under the cupboards. Now back to the box behind the cupboard and trace in the other direction to... the 30A cooker main. All this meaning in the event of a fault with the lights the fuse wouldn't have tripped until after catastrophic failure, and as it was a home bodged installation all buildings and contents insurance from any resultant fire would have been null and void.

Needless to say I disconnected those lights straight away.

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Re: get out quick

I found out (by trying to cut a wire and getting a flash and loud bang for my trouble) that the overhead lights in my mom's kitchen are powered by TWO breakers. There is a switch in the kitchen, but a second switch in the dining room. Turning either one on will power the lights, and the breakers are wired to the switch not the fixture!

I'm not really sure if that's against the electric code, but IMHO it sure as hell ought to be! Of course I was using insulated snips to cut it, knowing it might be live since the breaker box was unmarked and "flipping breakers until everything in the kitchen was off, so I could probably assume the non-functional overhead lights were also off" was not a 100% safe strategy. I probably should have turned the main off, but then I wouldn't have discovered how stupidly wired her house was!

I wonder how common this sort of thing is? It was built in the late 70s, maybe that was considered OK then.

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Re: get out quick

I was rewiring my brother ex-council house 20 years ago. Pulled the "downstairs lights" fuse and the stair lights go out. Ok, sorted, that's the right fuse. Start working on the electrics - bang! After a sit down and a cuppa, investigation turns out that the stairs lights - one light at bottom, one at the top, switch at the bottom, switch at the top - somebody had decided that naturally, that had to be wired to both the downstairs fuse *and* the *upstairs* fuse.

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Re: get out quick

An organisation I volunteer for moved into a building which I suspect (from labels found) was previously a print shop or something similar. The power sockets in the main room were in little clusters sticking up from the floor, with cables running through ducts along the floor, up the walls, and into the ceiling space. I was asked to remove these obstructions and put sockets on the walls instead.

Before starting work I checked that the mains breaker was off, then used a multimeter on one of the sockets to be sure. Disassembled that socket, and moved onto the next one, which gave me a nice 230V electric shock. It turns out that the building had two rings, and the sockets alternated between them.

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Re: get out quick

People in the same room as the incident were wandering around dazed for minutes, like zombies.

I'm surprised that there's no mention of flash burns. They got lucky. I saw an electrician drop a large screwdriver into an power box in factory once. People 10 feet away got flash burns. The electrician didn't die but he was badly burned and off work for year.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: get out quick

"This taught me enough to take one look at the botch job done by the previous owner of the house we now live in"

our house was built in 1877 so when I do any work on our home, I find all sorts of crappy jobs.

The house, was run as a guest house from when it was built, but over the years some extensions were built, many of these extensions were done in the 60's and 70's and if anyone knows buildings in Blackpool, nothing was done with planning permission. and the only use for a book of regulations was to level up a joist

electric was not something that was originally in the building and was installed later. and then as extensions to the structure were added, the electrics were just added in add hoc. I believe that one of the previous owners of the building was a builder, but was certainly not an electrician. looking at the quality of some of the building work, I imagine he was a fan of the western genre of movies.

some of the problems I have found and since fixed include no earth bonding on central heating pipes. wire plastered into walls with no trunking. but my favourite was a shower that was installed in the private bedroom which had an electric socket right next to it and the cable supplying it was routed right under the shower tray.

the bulk of the problems were that when somthing goes wrong, it was just patched together quickly and then a proper repair would be planned for out of season. but, the reality of it was that it was never fixed properly. so when I have come along many years later when something has failed I find all sorts of mess.

the most common problem I find is that there was a rewire done some time in the late 70's or early 80's and now some of the sockets are starting to fail or have cracked. So far, not a singe socket that has been opened up has any insulation over the earth wires from the T&E, and it appears that as each socket was installed, the cable was pulled tight so there is no slack in the cable at all. So if the new socket does not have the connections in the exact same place, then the wires are not going to reach. This makes a five minute job into an afternoons work lifting floorboards and replacing cables.

We have since rewired the entire property, But here a thing about the regulations, there are plenty of jobs that a concomitant DIY person can do for yourself, like install fused spares or a additional light. You can even replace an entire ring main, so long as you follow the original cable route exactly and none of it passes through a bathroom or kitchen. so, when I lifted a section of floor to replace a the first floor ring, and find that the knob head cut a notch out of the TOP of the joists to run cables across it, i am supposed to follow that route and not drill a hole through the joist for the cable to pass through...

I get that the regs are there to stop idiots from burning houses down with crap wiring, but it also prevents me fixing the existing crap.

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Re: get out quick

As an electrician, who does mostly domestic work with a smattering of commercial/light industrial, in the UK... the fed from 2 breakers/fed from different boards scenario is NOT rare at all. The favourite is to somehow crosswire the 2 ring mains, then take an unfused spur (wire right into a JB) for a light in the attic fed by bell wire. (yes, those all occurred together, on one job. very recently)

Result: the light fixture fed with bell wire was effectively fused (not breakers, gen-yoo-wine wylex rewireable fuses) at 60 amps. Or the same rating as the rewireable, double pole fused mains intake before the meter.

That one got rewired and the intake changed post haste by SSEN

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Re: get out quick

3 electricians stood around a lifted floor tile arguing about which wire was the blue phase. When they finally agreed it was the black wire

The old saying is red to red, yellow to yellow, and blue to bits ...

But thanks to harmonisation, what you describe isn't so far fetched - now our cabling is supposed to be brown, black, and grey for the three phase lines. It means that a blue wire in the trunking could be an old line wire (blue phase) or a new neutral; while a black wire could be an old neutral or a new phase line. And of course, when it's all aged a bit and everything looks a bit grey, and it;s covered in dirt, and your working in the darkest corner of the factory - they all look the same anyway, but the old colours were generally more discernible.

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Re: get out quick

Apologies in advance for brevity...

no earth bonding on central heating pipes.

A lot of things like this are because they weren't mandatory at the time the installation was designed. New editions of the regulations aren't retrospective unless you happen to be working on the part of the installation concerned.

wire plastered into walls with no trunking.

Not strictly necessary, even now. Plastic trunking might protect cable from the plasterer's trowel, but the 17th edition requires either burial 50mm deep or protection good enough to deflect (say) a picture nail or (more common) protection by an RCD.

not a singe socket that has been opened up has any insulation over the earth wires from the T&E,

Not, strictly speaking, insulation. It's mainly there as an indicator to identify the conductor.

and it appears that as each socket was installed, the cable was pulled tight so there is no slack in the cable at all

A properly applied crimp to add a couple of inches of wire will be at least as reliable as the screw terminals in the outlet, probably more so.

find that the knob head cut a notch out of the TOP of the joists to run cables across it, i am supposed to follow that route and not drill a hole through the joist for the cable to pass through...

Drilling a hole would just further weaken the joist, but re-using the notch isn't ideal die to the risk of nailing through the cable, even when you know it's there. In many cases it's possible to fit a plate across the notch, which my inspectors never whole-heartedly recommended, but seemed happy to accept.

Safe Plate

M.

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Thumb Up

Re: get out quick

@AC

looking at the quality of some of the building work, I imagine he was a fan of the western genre of movies.

I chortled at that.

No, really...

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Compulsory pun

"It was a phase worse than death..."

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Anonymous Coward

I worked in a building that the electricity board accidently connected 2 phases across what should have been live/neutral and took out a fair chunk of the building. We spent most of the afternoon wandering up and down Edgware Rd buying up bulbs and replacements for those odd fuses that no one ever stocks. (most of the kit survived with just a blown fuse)

I also worked in a building where the old PBX room had been partially converted to a server room now that 'modern' technology had shrunk the many racks of clockwork to a couple of cabinets. They had installed a cabinet of servers and a rack containing a mux and modems for remote access. To this had been added a cabinet full of fibre optic mux gear mainly for voice traffic and a final rack of odds and ends. As the room had been a PBX room the main power had been 50V DC, they had plugged the server cabinet into the first available mains socket and then the mux cabinet into the 1st... the fibre cabinet into the 2nd, 4th into the 3rd... all connected to a single 13A rubber socket on the end of a lead disappearing through a hole in the wall! Needless to say the rubber socket was red hot and had scorched a mark on the floor (luckily tiled). The electricians finally grudgingly agreed to forego the usual '2 working days' attendance (well it had probably been working for a couple of years like that... what does another couple of days scorching the floor matter)

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Wiring limits

I once went to a new machine room, if I remember correctly in the Republic of Ireland. It was smart, shiny, with incredibly neat wiring - a thousand miles away from cable horrors.

Unfortunately the comms system we maintained wasn't working - modems were communicating with the server, but no calls were being answered. The wires from the modems were tied very neatly, and almost at 180 degrees round parts of the rack, where they had presumably broken inside. Cue a test of every individual modem, replacement of RJ11 wires, and a request not to be quite so fastidious. This was made worse by the fact that US Robotics don't have a standard RJ11 wiring, they use different connections for different models..

I may have also managed the same at home, where one of the computers on a 28 port switch was rather slow web browsing. Eventually had a look at the switch stats and found it's negotiating at 100Mb instead of 1000Mb, cable has probably been bent a bit too much in the limited desk space, project tonight to move it on to a new shelf on the wall..

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Re: Wiring limits

"

...rather slow web browsing. Eventually had a look at the switch stats and found it's negotiating at 100Mb instead of 1000Mb

"

You won't notice the difference between web browsing at 100Mbps and web browsing at 1000Mbps. The data is probably coming over an Internet link at below 100Mbps anyway. It's far more likely that the switch keeps re-negotiating the link speed due to long wires or Cat5 rather than Cat5e wiring being used - just configure the PC or router to fix the LAN at 100Mbps and it should be fine.

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Re: Wiring limits

Youre right, 100mbps is plenty. But I've seen this, a cable goes bad and it negotiates down to 100mbs... trouble being you then also get like 20 or 30% packet loss and maybe 1mbps throughput depending on what went wrong with the cable.

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Re: Wiring limits

Oh, sure, the Internet is currently 11-12Mb/s or so until I shortly get around to a fibre upgrade. I don't know if it's the negotiation, or re-transmits (there weren't any errors reported), but it was much more effective to replace a couple of quid of network cable with a new one rather than bother with fixing negotiation speeds. Also, if I want to copy on the local network I want to do so at 1Gb.

Anyway, the switch has now been moved so the issue won't re-occur. Next up is replacing my ancient firewall hardware with something a little more embedded..

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Is that legal now?

Decades ago when I had to read up on electrical regulations in order to re-wire my father's house which was supplied by 3-phase mains, there was a regulation that clearly stated that all the (single-phase) plug sockets in the same room had to be on the same phase.

So I assume that either that regulation has been rescinded, or there is now an exemption for server rooms?

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Re: Is that legal now?

What would be the reason for wanting all the receptacles in a room on the same phase?? Electrical/fire code almost always has some basis in safety, even if a pretty theoretical concern...not sure what safety would be compromised by having outlets on two different phases.

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Re: Is that legal now?

@DougS - "Electrical/fire code almost always has some basis in safety, even if a pretty theoretical concern"

Two appliances within touching distance would have 415V AC between them, and the insulation on each is approved for 240V. Theorhetically, even a single layer of the insulation would be over-engineered enough to withstand the higher voltage.

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Re: Is that legal now?

Ah, so it is a rule that predates grounded receptacles. That's presumably why server rooms are exempt, along with anywhere else that's up to modern code.

The business I own has three phase power, and the panels are wired in sequence on each side - i.e. from top to bottom breakers use phase 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, etc. (standard US 120v, along with a few things that use "two phase" 208v, and rooftop HVAC units that use three phase 208v) so I've got multiple phases in the same room all over. I have three meters for different sections of the building, and each meter is fed by a separate utility phase.

Since the main/middle section has almost outgrown the two panels that serve it, some later additions were wired from the single panels in adjacent sections. Once in a while the utility will have an outage that drops only one phase, so you get this seemingly random mismash of things that lose power and things that don't - i.e. one 'single panel' section will lose all power, plus a few things here and there in the main section, or most but not all of the main section will lose power. The first time it happened I had no clue what was going on, I thought the building was possessed! :)

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Re: Is that legal now?

There is a difference in the wiring regulations between commercial and domestic wiring. Domestic needed all on one phase. Commercial can have multiple phases present even on 1ph only sockets... but labelling is required. Typically a sticker between the sockets saying '415v between', or latterly, 400v between.

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Re: Is that legal now?

@DougS

I know nothing of the US electrical code (or whether you are based in the US) but in the UK (and in most of the rest of Europe, I think) all modern installations have RCD (Residual Current Detectors) that will trip if there's a difference in current leaving the Live wire and returning through Neutral. These RCD units will trip if current is flowing from Live through anything (incl. a person) to ground without actually returning through Neutral (e.g. the hair-dryer in the bathtub) or current flows between two phases (again nothing returns through Neutral). Special RCD units are used for multi-phase equipment that utilises the higher inter-phase voltage.

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Re: Is that legal now?

Yes, we have the exact same thing but they are called ground fault circuit interrupters here, or GFCIs for short. They are required by code anywhere water may be present, like kitchens, bathrooms, patios, etc.

There are also arc fault circuit interrupters or AFCIs which are a bit newer which detect arcs (but somehow distinguish between a non-problem arc like in the normal operation of a switch and one that could cause a fire) They are required by code in bedrooms.

To my knowledge there aren't any GFCIs or AFCIs for multi phase circuits (i.e. hot/hot/ground 208v or hot/hot/hot/ground three phase 208v)

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Re: Is that legal now?

the insulation on each is approved for 240V

Standard insulation resistance checks on wiring and on appliances are carried out at 500V, so no problem there. In fact, properly maintained wiring with properly maintained appliances and labelled outlets shouldn't be a problem at all.

M.

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Re: Is that legal now?

There are also arc fault circuit interrupters or AFCIs

Not wanting to be too jingoistic here(*), but AFCIs are not standard equipment in most of the world, because few parts of the world have electrical installations as poorly designed as the US ;-)

One of the benefits of a higher nominal voltage is that for the same power, current is lower. Put poor fittings (dodgy terminals) together with high currents and arcs are an almost inevitable result.

A side benefit is the ability to deliver higher power using thinner cables - cable size is directly related to the current it carries, not to the voltage used.

M.

(*)mainly because I'm relying on third-party reports, having no personal experience of US electrics

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Re: Is that legal now?

"AFCIs are not standard equipment in most of the world"

Actually, they've just been introduced in the 18th edition of BS 7671 (the UK requirements for electrical installations). This is because arcs can have a relatively high impedance, so you can get an arc which causes a fire but does not draw enough current to trip the circuit protection.

https://shop.bsigroup.com/ProductDetail?pid=000000000030342613

"Protection against thermal effects - A new Regulation has been introduced recommending the installation of arc fault detection devices (AFDDs) to mitigate the risk of fire in AC final circuits of a fixed installation due to the effects of arc fault currents."

http://www.hager.co.uk/news-exhibitions-case-studies/18th-edition/arc-fault-detection-devices/89766.htm

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WTF?

Don't get me started on Architects who know best...

New school built near me. 2 years after it's built the admin offices flood badly during really heavy rain.

On investigation it was found that the single 100mm drain in the flat section of roof above the offices that was put in to collect ALL of the water from the surrounding area (~400sq meters) was blocked by fallen leaves. The water had followed the path of least resistance, as it does, into and down the walls of the offices below.

According the the drawings we had there should have been another external drainpipe running down the outside of the building as a backup. This pipe was conspicuous by its absence. Turns out the architect had removed it as "it spoilt the look of the wall".

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Re: Don't get me started on Architects who know best...

Or the Lidl store near me, that had to be demolished and rebuilt after numerous flooding incidents.

Must have cost millions.

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Re: Don't get me started on Architects who know best...

What would have stopped the other drainpipe from getting clogged up? No one noticed the first until water came inside the building, if it was draining down the other pipe they wouldn't know until it too became clogged.

It would probably be better as a backup to have an open pipe that drains off the roof directly over the front entrance. Then you'd be SURE to notice the first pipe had clogged up, and get it fixed right away!

Ought to be easy for an architect to hide a six inch section of open pipe sticking around with some trim detail, or the open mouth of a gargoyle if he wanted to go gothic.

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We had an expensive "consultant" install two new hosts one fine weekend... Both boxes and both of their dual PSUs plugged into the same *unplugged* UPS. They powered on long enough to start all the VMs and then cut them off, un-gracefully, the the MD watching. Magnificent

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Bigger UPS needed

I had a remote site that went off-line when the power there was off for an extended period of time, their diesel generator didn't work and the UPS batteries finally ran out. The supervisor there sent an email to all blasting me for having provided a UPS that only ran for an hour before quitting. He demanded a minimum of four hours run time for the UPS. When I pointed out that the equipment was shutting down from overheat at an hour, he demanded that the UPS run the server room A/C as well.

A UPS that could handle that load for that long was more expensive than a new diesel generator, and would need a building of its own to reside in. When that supervisor continued his demands, we went to upper management and laid out the situation. It turned out that the supervisor was supposed to pay for the diesel maintenance and testing, while IT would have to pay for the UPS. Happy ending, as the supervisor got retired instead of promoted.

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Anonymous Coward

Bad power setups

I started work at a company that was running Dell P2800 3U Rack servers x 8 from cheap 4 way extension leads directly connected to the mains!

I came in one morning only to walk down the hall past the server room to hear...nothing! Oh shit I thought.

Walked in the server room, (manky old storage room) to the smell of burnt plastic.

Put my hand under the rack to pull out the extension without killing the power at the plug like a idiot.

I was so lucky not to have put my fingers in the gaping melted hole in the top of it with the live connectors exposed.

I went seriously ape shit at my boss and management but luckily kept my job and soon after had 3 phase and a decent UPS installed. We moved office not long after that and I was then involved in the design of the new server room.

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Re: Bad power setups

We once had just moved to a temporary site using a particular building for the main servers because that was where the previous occupants had their server room, and it had a genset.

Shortly after moving, one evening I get a call from my guy covering the late shift that there was a power outage, and although miraculously the vintage generator managed to start itself, both UPSes were screaming about not getting a feed. He'd done all he could reasonably do, including manually switching over to the generator feed, but no joy.

When I get on site I'm met by my guy looking a little sheepish and a strong smell of burning. Turns out that whatever the previous inhabitants had considered valuable enough to provide generator power to, the server room wasn't one of them. The single plug at the photocopier station just up the hall, though...

Bless his heart, but he'd strung together 4 or so extension cables and evicted the Xerox.

Red hot cables, an exciting scorch mark all along and up over the hall walls, and a smoking and now eternally dead socket, plus the knowledge that perhaps the fire alarm should be re-tested but by someone competent this time.

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Facepalm

Re: I know Fuck but I call Bollocks.

Whatever you do, don't hold back...

However...

I don't know whether this is completely true, embellished, or a total fabrication, but I've lost count of the times I've heard people say "but that's impossible" or "nobody would do that" - expressions that Murphy up there is carefully listening out for.

Also, I can easily believe a UPS could destroy itself. Very high power DC systems (which the UPS is internally) are notorious for self destruction. One small design error, or unexpected circumstance can start an arc that simply won't extinguish until there is nothing left to destroy.

P.S.

I didn't downvote you.

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Not just failed artists

Worked on some transmitter equipment made by a left coast firm that likes the color blue (*). REALLY likes the color blue. Every fscking wire and optical fiber in their control racks, hardware, etc is ... blue. Fun to troubleshoot? Not particularly. But another day, another hundreds of dollars.

(*) Name rhymes with 'ETM Electromatic, Incorporated'

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Re: Not just failed artists

Bean counters! Cheaper to bulk buy all the same.

I once came across a case where it was all a slightly mottled fudge colour. When I told my then boss he laughed and said it was the natural colour of the plastic - to this day I'm not sure whether or not he was pulling my leg.

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Re: Not just failed artists

Cheaper to bulk buy all the same.

Was once told a tale of an electronic equipment manufacturer who worked out that it was cheaper to redesign a circuit to use all 10k resistors - including building networks of the things when it wasn't possible to do a simple swap - than it was to buy the dozen or so different values the original circuit design called for. I was told this (IIRC - it's a while back now) by the owner of an electronics assembly business, in the days when surface mount components in "normal" kit were still rare. He was using it as an example of "and then they built it using SMDs and it was still smaller than the original circuit, despite using four times (or whatever) as many resistors" :-)

M.

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The cult of the small BOM

All same resistor values... sometimes the manufacturing specialists have a point and we designers can do a better job drawing up something economical.

Where my PHB have caused me fits though is when a design is right at the hairy edge of possible: high freq, high precision, extended temp range, works to full spec in an EMI hurricane, smaller than any other solution on the market... simultaneously. Loading up the reqs will always drive a designer to use fairly unique parts with aggressive tolerances and perhaps expensive production screening.

And then when your design is deployed... the PHB will hire a bunch of Bangalore Banditos to "improve the value stream" by simplifying the design and cut production costs.., while still charging clients for full premium spec. This is usually done without informing the design team or customers. Customers become unhappy and quite rightfully demand their due per contract.

PHB pulls an innocent, "who, me?" "These designers must really suck..." as he sips his boat drink and thinks of all the ho's and blow his bonus will cover.

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Re: The cult of the small BOM

Where my PHB have caused me fits though is when a design is right at the hairy edge of possible... And then when your design is deployed... the PHB will hire a bunch of Bangalore Banditos to "improve the value stream" by simplifying the design and cut production costs

A classic case in point may have been the original Chinese-built batch of Raspberry Pis, which were specified with RFI "magnetics" in the Ethernet jacks, but built without them. This caused them to fail their RFI testing and although the Foundation officially called it a "substitution... by accident", it's not a great leap to suppose that someone at the factory specified a cheaper part in order to improve margin.

At the same manufacturing facility I mentioned earlier, I was there partly to evaluate a piece of in-house designed test equipment that a previous employee had built and nearly got working before leaving for pastures new. I'm sure that at the time he'd had the idea it could have been a good step forward for the company - higher specification and lower costs than the equipment they were then buying-in - but it was built almost entirely out of hand-picked discrete logic, a mixture of 74ALS, 74F and other types which weren't always interchangeable due to extremely tight timing tolerances and would probably have been a nightmare to get "production ready".

We moved on to other things.

M.

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Re: The cult of the small BOM

@Martin an gof - nice! I did't know that rPi anecdote but it seems true to form for contract manufacture,

Have an engineer similar to the who left you. Brilliant man but cheap (financially efficient). Never can bring himself to throw out any kit, no matter how broken, and of course none of the bustication gets documented or labelled. Cannot be bothered to fix anything because to his mind nothing is ever broken. "This amp oscillates badly, but Ive got this crushed and corroded bit of coax. If I C-clamp it here to move its suck out ... ok! amp plus cable stable. Hey! Gain is now really low, so I sill just delete this attenuator and save a few bucks... Ship it." Im expending large amounts of technician and field support labor dealing with his cheap crap.

Revenge of the techs? Recently a whole skid of his favorite amps, cables, and broken cal standards 'accidentally ended up on a research vessel... and broke free (in sea state 0)... and fell overboard in really deep water'. I must confess I have a total lack of curiosity about how THAT happened.

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