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BOFH: Talking to tradesmen

Sometimes it's wisest to pay up and shut up

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Next gen security for virtualised datacentres

Episode 21

"You're stuffed," our friendly Sparky says, stepping back from our switchboard and putting his clamp meter away.

"Stuffed - and that's a technical term?" the Boss asks sarcastically.

"Yep!" the Sparky replies.

"So what does it mean then?" the Boss continues.

"It MEANS," the PFY says, "that there's no more capacity in the switchboard."

"Just add another circuit breaker, there's plenty of room!"

"I could" our Sparky responds. "But you're using more power than the distribution breaker should be handling - already. If I add any more circuits you'll probably trip the main breaker and bring down the computer room the next time a power supply blows."

"It's on a UPS!" the Boss says drily.

"Yeah," our Sparky says, pointing out, in turn, the parts of the power circuit diagram. "Power Supply to Generator/Supply changeover switch >tap<, to UPS >tap<; to Switchboard >tap<; to Computer Room >tap< - with a couple of Isolating switches >tap< >tap< thrown in."

"Which means?"

"The problem is after the UPS," the PFY says helpfully.

"Exactly," our Sparky adds. "A 100 KVA UPS breakered with a 80KVA circuit breaker which feeds a board currently running at 76KVA."

"?"

"It means you have to replace the switchboard circuit breaker," the PFY says helpfully.

"And busbars to be on the safe side," the Sparky adds.

"What would that cost?" the Boss asks.

"Ffffffffffffff.... " our Sparky sighs - in the way sparkies tend to do when they're trying to work out whether to go first or business class on their next holiday... "I'd have to get some prices."

"Prices?"

"Yeah, circuit breakers, new switchboard, busbars, cable - which is a nightmare now with the price of copper - and cutout switches."

"Ballpark figure?" the Boss asks.

"You're not going to have much change out of eight grand," he says, opting for the first class seats to Switzerland. And the expensive prostitute...

"£8,000," the Boss chokes.

"Can't we keep the old switchboard - what would that cost then?" the PFY suggests, conscious that the boss is borderline stroke material but the camcorder isn't charged...

"I suppose you could," the Sparky says sadly, seeing a downgrade to a ferry to Spain with the missus. "But then you'll move the problem to your breakers because you can't get that type any more - which means when one fails you're going to have to rig up some form of alternative - which can't be done live."

"So we'd need to shutdown the computer room if one breaks?"

"You'd need to shut it down every time one of them breaks," the Sparky responds, not giving up on Switzerland just yet.

"We can't do that!" the Boss gasps.

"Perhaps we could increase the capacity of the main breaker to 120KVA which will allow for a little bit of leeway in the switchboard. Then we ASSUME that none of the breakers is going to fail in the next two years or so, and admit that as the busbars are overrated anyway we should survive."

"I... suppose that might work."

"How much will that cost?" the Boss asks.

"A grand," our sparky says, barely allowing himself enough profit to take a cab to and from work for the next month...

"Well lets do that then!"

"Okay," the Sparky sighs. "So onto the UPS maintenance."

"What UPS maintenance?" the Boss snaps suspiciously.

"Your annual UPS maintenance - what I came here for when you sidetracked me for more powerpoints."

"What's that going to cost - and for what?"

"A grand or so," the Sparky says. "I change the coolant, do a discharge test, retune the time-remaining figures, scan the batteries and electronics with a thermal imaging camera, check the error log, reset the error log, upgrade the UPS and monitor BIOS if necessary and then produce a site report."

"And you want a grand for that?"

"That's actually a pretty good deal," I say to the Boss.

"No it's not!"

"It is," the PFY adds.

"We can't afford it!"

"You're actually contracted to it for five years," the Sparky says.

"Well in that case we'll terminate the contract," the Boss snaps.

"Ah... that's not such a flash idea," the PFY says worriedly. "He will have bought that contract off the UPS company. He would be losing money, personally."

"I don't care," the Boss seethes.

"So I take it you won't be wanting your generator serviced either."

"Yes please," the PFY says nicely.

"Not if it's going to cost a grand I don't!"

...A day later, in the dark, silent computer room...

"Well you showed him didn't you?" the PFY says.

"He can't just turn the power off!" the Boss snaps.

"He didn't, he turned the UPS off!" the PFY responds. "Course if I was him I'd dial in and turn the UPS on and off a stack of times in quick succession to ruin some of our power supp >WHHIIRRRR< >Click< >WHIRRRRRRR< >CLACK< >click< >WHIRRR< >click< >WHI< >CLACK< >click< >WH< >CLACK< >click<..."

...

...

"He can hear us can't he?" the Boss asks.

>WHIRR< >click<

"It would seem so," the PFY whispers back. "Probably through the UPS monitor microphone."

"We can bypass the UPS can't we?" the Boss asks.

"Oh I wouldn't do that," the PFY says uneasily.

>WHIRR< >click< >WHIRR< >click<

"Why not?"

"Well if I were him, I'd wait till we went into bypass mode, then dial in to the Generator control system and toggle the changeover switch about 100 times."

>WHIRR< >click<

"I...So what do you suggest?"

"I suggest you pay the bill."

>WHIRRRR< >click<

"THREE BLOODY GRAND!!!?"

>WHIRRR< >click<

"Make it an even five," I suggest.

>WHIRRRRRRRRRRR<

"I'm not paying five grand!"

>click<

"Make it six grand!" I snap.

>WHIRRRRRR< . . . . . . . . >click<

"What, you want more?" the PFY asks.

>WHIRR< >click<

"Money?"

>WHIRR< >click< >WHIRR< >click<

"Ah. Leave it with me," the PFY says, reaching for the cattle prod.

>WHIIRRRRRRRR<

Professional Tradesmen - you've got to know how to talk to them...

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