A few years ago, whilst I was carrying out a successful heat load test and underfloor inspection of Aviva’s new datacentre, I was reminded of my time in the eighties when I served my apprenticeship as a computer operator for Wang (UK) Ltd in Isleworth. We worked a shift pattern running the company’s internal IT systems. We quickly got to grips with how we could get all of the overnight processing done in record time, leaving a gap between 2am and the 7am shift hand over.

tile lifter in use raised floor
– Wikipedia

Ghost protocol

Night shifts became very boring. Some nights we would take it in turn to sleep, while somebody kept an eye on the systems. On other nights, part of the team would sneak off to a night club although this practice stopped pretty quickly when the operations bridge started to smell like a student bar. Board games became the norm, as this was the pre-Xbox era, but this lost its attraction fairly quickly.

To alleviate our boredom, we thought it would be fun to crawl the full length of the data hall, under the raised access floor to one of the manned operator consoles where an unsuspecting trainee was working at a terminal … then to make loud banging and wailing sounds. Previously we had made up a story that one of the construction workers had died during the building of the data centre.

To ram home the point, one night one of us crawled under the floor to the operator position …. And then tugged the power and data cabling so hard that the console fell onto the raised floor. Smashing it to pieces. The trainee operator jumped to his feet, ran from the building and refused to go back to work until we all admitted that it had been us. Luckily we had a spare console, so we replaced it and management never learnt what we had been up to.

For the next two years we found cat poop blowing in the air stream

Cat 5 (or not)

On another occasion, the production control manager’s cat had given birth to a litter of kittens that he planned to destroy. I told him to bring one to work and I would give it a good home. On the day he delivered it, one of my colleagues thought it would be fun to let the kitten have the run of the data hall. It immediately disappeared down the first cut out in the floor. My colleague alluded to the fact that the kitten was born under his floor boards, so probably liked the security of dark places.

We spent the day lifting random floor tiles in an effort to retrieve the kitten. Before the end of our shift we were successful in capturing the rogue kitten and we thought we had got away with it. We were wrong. For the next two years we found little dried husks of cat poop blowing in the air stream. We had no idea such a small animal could produce so much!

Skid row

One final incident I recall was the night one of my colleagues decided to service his motorbike in the data hall. All went well until he thought it would be a good idea to remove a floor tile, to suspend his bike over the hole in the raised access floor while he revved his bike up (in gear). The inevitable happened when the stand collapsed and the drive wheel made contact with the floor tile … sending the bike careering across the data hall, leaving a 50 foot skid mark on the vinyl surface. The bike then embedded itself in a wall panel. We tried in vain to scrub the rubber off to hide the evidence, with no luck. We exhausted the supply of spare tiles, hiding the damaged ones in a neighbor’s skip. We were left with no choice but to randomly distribute the damaged floor tiles around the data hall. We then spent the rest of the night shift relocating a tape storage rack to hide the damaged section of the wall. We explained this away saying it was more efficient to move the media closer to the tape drives.

I don’t think management ever suspected what we were up to. Maybe they did and just didn’t care!

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