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True IT Blooper #28: An IT sleuth

The system administrator followed a trail of clues – a vacuum cleaner electric cord, a sweet old lady, her cleaning schedule – and discovered why a server was rebooting on its own.

Sometimes it's just not enough for IT pros to know their software and hardware when troubleshooting. As this blooper...

shows, they have to look for signs not covered in tech training courses.

There stood the sweetest looking old woman with her bucket of cleaning supplies in one hand and vacuum in the other.

System Administrator Tim Fenner followed a trail of clues – a vacuum cleaner electric cord, a sweet old lady, her cleaning schedule – and finally discovered why an IBM Netfinity server was periodically rebooting on its own.

After on the job for a month, Fenner noticed a relatively new Netfinity server periodically registered unexpected reboots in system logs.

"I noticed it happened quite often but never at the same time or on the same day," he said.

Fenner called up the previous administrator, a friend, and asked him about the inherited server.

"He told me the reboots started happening the day he got the server," Fenner said. "He had researched the power in the room, drivers for the system and its components, software updates for the OS and applications. He even replaced the server under warranty."

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None of this cleared up the issue.

"I knew he was a very good administrator and probably did all he could," Fenner said.

His friend suggested Fenner check IBM message boards for leads, but this didn't lead to a solution.

Then one night Fenner was paged to fix a down server. While working on the problem around 9 p.m., someone knocked on the door. He opened it.

"There stood the sweetest looking old woman with her bucket of cleaning supplies in one hand and vacuum in the other," Fenner said. "She asked if she could come in and clean. I said sure, but asked her to stay away from the workbench, where I had set the down server."

Fenner resumed his work, and the woman quietly dusted.

"After a while I heard one of the server's power supply fan stop. You know, like when it's shutdown," Fenner said. "I looked over at the servers and saw that power lights on one of the servers were dark."

It was the Netfinity with power problems.

"Just as I was about to get up, the server light turned on. Then the sound of the vacuum started," he said. "I walked over to the old woman, and I followed the electric cord from the vacuum to the power outlet where the Netfinity was supposed to be plugged."

The old cleaning lady had unplugged the server, plugged in a three-outlet adapter and plugged the server back in. Then she plugged in her vacuum to one of the open outlets on the adapter. This way she could supply her vacuum and the computer with power.

Fenner informed the woman that cutting off the server's power supply, even momentarily, was a bad thing. She unknowingly had turned the server on and off since she started cleaning the server room – at about the same time the previous administrator bought the Netfinity and placed it near the outlet in question.

Her sporadic cleaning schedule explained the server's sporadic reboots.

"The poor woman almost cried because she felt so bad," Fenner said. "So I bought her coffee and a doughnut to show her there were no hard feelings. I made her promise me that from now on she would use the hallway extension cord."

Share your bloopers with us. E-mail them to Read more of our past IT Blooper Series, which originially appeared at, part of the TechTarget network.

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