The Bastard plays with fire

Prevention is better than cure

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Security for virtualized datacentres

Episode 16 BOFH 2001: Episode 16

It's 8:30am when I rock into work to find the building surrounded by fire engines with firemen clambering all over the place. More helmets than a gay porn website, in fact.

When the all-clear's given, I rock on to find the smoke detectors were set off by a small upset with one of the laser printers in the cube farm outside mission control. The almost unlikely coincidence of paper jam, dead fan and dud fuser unit control circuit taking it's toll...

"Fans overheat all the time," I say, indicating the wreckage. "But 99.9% of the time they're made of fairly non-flammable stuff, nowhere near anything else flammable, with no harmful effects. This really was a complete accident."

The fact of the matter is that it's true. No external influence needed to be applied - it was just old.

"But it could have been a major fire!" The Boss blurts - concerned more for the safety of the precious prize Rubber Plant in his office than any actual damage to the building.

"It could have been, but it was just a fan and a couple of sheets of paper which set the sensors off. If we'd had heat detectors instead of smoke ones, it'd probably have gone out by itself.."

The fire official agrees with my verdict.

"It's unusual, but not unheard of," he agrees. "And in this case there was just a half fed page which carried the flame to the page before it."

"Well what happened? Who was printing at that hour of the morning, anyway?" The Boss snaps, looking for a culprit.

I pop the printer open and remove the remaining half a page of mildly scorched paper from it.

"It's.... the bootstrap index from one of our backup systems," I respond. "Printed every night when the backup cycle completes."

"Well we should be more careful," he growls. "Fire in a place like this could cause damage."

"Very true," the Fire Official says. "Buildings like this with lots of loose paper can go up like a tinder box in the right conditions!"

I suppress the urge to sarcastically add: "if doused liberally in petrol" - given the fact the building's majorly concrete, has a temperature-activated sprinkler system, and generally very little "loose paper" laying around to speak of.

"Should we be doing something about this?" The Boss asks.

"Well, for about 500 quid you could get a comprehensive fire risk audit done by a Fire Marshall."

"I see. And where would I get hold of a Fire Marshal?" The Boss asks stupidly

"Well it so happens that I do a bit of contract work in that area..."

Two days and 500 quid later, we have a "Report" that looks suspiciously like a fire safety document with "Commission exclusively for" and our company's name slapped on the top...

"See, we should be operating any equipment that can generate heat in flameproof enclosures!" he gasps "And taking measures to protect against overheating in devices with moving parts!"

"I see. When do you think I should do this then?"

"When?!? Well as soon as possible!!!"

"Ah, I think we'd need a mandate to improve safety around the building," I respond. "People wouldn't just accept our word that things need to be safe."

"A mandate! We just had a FIRE! I'm not mandating it, I'm DEMANDING it!"

"Right you are," I sigh. "Running all the way."

So off I go..

..for all of 20 minutes, until he calls me up on the cellphone to meet him back at Mission Control...

"What's up?"

"YOUR BLOODY SAFETY MEASURES!" a beancounter type squeals, emerging from behind the door where he'd been skulking

"Told you so," I murmur to the boss.

"It seems they think you've been somewhat overzealous. So what happened exactly?"

"Well, I didn't want to just storm in there and tell them what to do," I explain patiently "It's dictatorial. Instead I thought we could try a new approach, maybe cure past misdeeds and bury the hatchet."


"Well it was a fire hazard!" I respond.


"A potential hazard then. But it would have been connected sooner or later. And prevention is nine tenths of the cure."


"It was generating heat. The metal enclosure safeguards it in case of combust..."

"Yesssss," The Boss mumbles, changing sides faster than an Italian war hero. "I think you may have gone a bit overboard."

"Well it was your report which said to look out for them!"

"Yes, but I only meant you to fix up things in serious risk of causing a fire problem."

"SERIOUS risk? Ah. You should have said so. Then perhaps I should give the PFY a quick ring - he's covering the flammable gases section."

"DON'T BOTHER!" the PFY cries Triumphantly. "I'm DONE! Had a couple of close calls, but the threat of a methane explosion is one of the past!"

"What threat of methane explosion?"

"Gas, trapped in an enclosed space! I've bashed vent holes between all toilet cubicles - Gents and Ladies - most entertaining, had the kitchen bins moved to outside the building, and of course, eliminated the risk of rotting vegetation off-gases by throwing all plants into the skip across the road."

"My Rubber Plant!" The Boss gasps in horror.

"Don't worry - didn't touch it. Safe and sound under the UV lamp in your office."

"Oh thank goodness. It's a prize winner you know."

"Should be even better now - I cleaned the leaves with some alchohol I was tossing out and moved the lamp really close to give it some extra...."

The PFY's words are interrupted by a claxon-like noise...

"I think you'll be needing this," I blurt, hastily handing the hatchet to The Boss.

"For the fire!" I add, noticing his unwavering focus on The PFY...

Dangerous places, office Buildings... ®

BOFH is copyright © 1995-2001, Simon Travaglia. Don't mess with his rights.

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