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Next gen security for virtualised datacentres

Episode 13

“I can’t smell anything,” the Boss says, leaning back from his half-consumed plate of the last of the onion bhajis at the staff cafeteria.

“Well you wouldn’t, would you?” the PFY says.

“Why not?”

“Because we’re professionals.”

“I’m a professional!” the Boss says defensively.

“Please,” the PFY says sadly - but almost kindly - “we’re IT professionals.”

“So am I!”

“You’re an IT professional in the same way that Jean-Claude Van Damme is a hero. Like make-believe, only sadder.”

“I don’t see how that’s got anything to do with the smell. If there even is a smell.”

“Oh there’s a smell,” I say.

“You can’t smell anything over this food!” adds the PFY/

“It’s subtle, but it’s there. It’s much stronger on the upper floors though,” I say.

“Overpowering,” the PFY nods.

“You’re making this up!” the Boss snaps.

“He’s not,” I say. “Years of working in IT attunes the senses to certain things. Things other people wouldn’t notice. You just know things.”

“Things like what?” the Boss sneers.

“I come in here and the first thing I’m doing is I’m catching the sight lines to the chicken jalfrezi.” I say

“I saw the chicken jalfrezi, too,” the Boss says, “but it’s a bit spicy for me.”

“I can tell you the Service Tags of all three computers behind the counter,” the PFY says, “AND that one of them has a bad cap on the power supply. C14. It’ll pop within the month.”

“I can tell you that the guy that served us is left-handed,” I continue

“Anyone could tell you that!” the Boss blurts.

“But could they tell you that his thumb was infected so he was keeping it warm in the bhaji bowl?” the PFY asks as the Boss gags and tries to spit out his food. “I can tell you that the HR director weights 120kg and knows how to handle a gas barbecue. But not well.”

I say: “I know the best place to find an unopened copy of Vista, complete with key, is in the second drawer down, at the back, underneath the Post-it notes of almost EVERY employee in this cafeteria, and on this floor I can run flat out for almost half a minute before I need a lager. And a kebab. Course my hands will be shaking if I did that, so I prefer to walk.”

“Because he’s a professional,” the PFY adds.

“This is rubbish!” the Boss says. “There’s no smell.”

“There’s a smell,” The PFY and I say simultaneously.

“Alright then, without talking to each other, on the count of three, tell me what the smell is. One… Two… THREE!”

“Aircon coolant,” we both say.

“R407c,” the PFY says.

“Which means it’s a new unit,” I counter.

“Process chiller,” the PFY nods.

“What the hell are you talking about?” the Boss asks.

“The coolant we can smell. It’s R407c, which means it’s one of the newer units that’s leaking.”

“You can’t smell that!”

“We can. It’s like a superpower,” I say. “You’ve probably got some similar skill from a lifetime of exposure to stuff you know intimately. You’d be able to detect that smell better than most.”

“Yeah,” the PFY continues “So if someone ever steals a truckload of lard or a woman with a perm ever goes missing the tracker dogs know who to come to...”

The PFY can sometimes get a little cruel when he doesn’t get his bhajis… The Boss ignores him though.

“Is it dangerous?”

“Stalking women with '80s power rock hair? I don’t know, you tell me!” the PFY says.

“The GAS!”

“Only if you inhale it.”

“But you’re inhaling it now!”

“Yes, yes, but superpowers, years of exposure, built-up-immunity, blah, blah.”

“So it’s on the roof, from the server room then?” the PFY asks.

“Has to be.”

“WHY does it have to be?” the Boss asks.

“Because the aircon for the building is from the Ark, using R22 refrigerant, which is what the yanks use to burn holes in the ozone layer to give people skin cancer,” the PFY replies, lurching onto another one of his many conspiracy theories.

I add: “So it’s not that. The only other refrigerant is in the server room. But because we can smell it all over the building and not just on our floor means it must be coming in the fresh air inlet, which is up on the roof, beside the only available free space within a short distance of the services riser.”

“...Which is where the slave unit for the Server room aircon is,” the PFY finishes. “I’ll give the aircon guys a call.”

“So they’ll be able to fix it?” asks The Boss.

“No chance.”

“Why not?”

“Because it’s Friday, lunchtime. You’ll never get an aircon tech out on a Friday afternoon. They’ll be selling copper at the scrappy to buy after-work beers,” I say.

“How can you be sure?”

“Lifetime of IT, superpowers, professionals, etc,” I respond.

“So what will happen?” The Boss asks.

“The server room will slowly get hotter as the unit runs out of coolant – because the standby spare that we suggested buying years ago for when this happened – superpower, professional, lifetime of IT, etc – was turned down last year.”

“And then what – does the server room have a temperature cut-out?”

“Yes – but it won’t trip,” the PFY says, gazing sightlessly into the middle distance. “Because the server room has hot zones, like all server rooms, no matter how well they tell you they design them. The machines in those hot zones will shut down with overtemp conditions. The remaining two chiller units may just be able to handle the load of the remaining units…”

“So it’ll be OK?” the Boss asks.

“For a while, till the lights-out cards reboot the servers – other hot zones will now form. Other machines will shut down. Then restart. Then other machines.”

“Can’t you do something?”

“Yes. Yes we can!”

>… 20 minutes later…<

“Your phone’s ringing,” The barman murmurs, pointing at the PFY’s phone.

“Yep. It’s the Boss, it’s nothing.”

“How do you know?”

“Because he’s a professional,” I say. “He comes in here and the first thing he’s doing is checking the sight lines to those young women there by the pool table…”

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