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True IT blooper #68: Initiation, engineer-style

Thank you sir, may I have another? In this tale of IT woe, a newbie is initiated into Phi Beta Oops.

If you've ever been on a sports team or pledged a fraternity, you're probably all too familiar with initiation...

rituals. Maybe you've even been the one who forced some poor freshman to wear an embarrassing costume or to find his way home after dropping him off in the middle of nowhere. Why do we continue these rituals? Well, tradition, of course. In this spirit, we bring you this tale of a team of engineers at a major Australian state government department in Melbourne.

Lachlan McGill was showing newbie "Andrew" the ropes. One of the procedures was to test the diesel generator to make sure it would function properly in the event of a power outage. In Blooperville down-under -- and elsewhere in the world -- when power fails, the Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) kicks in for a few seconds until the generator supplies power. During these seconds, the fluorescent lighting and air conditioners in the server room also shut down.

Here's where initiation rights come in. When the master doesn't tell the student about the UPS, the master feigns horror and calamity when the lights and air click off. This prompts panic in the student, who thinks the servers and all the communications equipment have also gone belly-up. Then the newbie realizes the computers are all running just peachy, thanks to the UPS and everyone who hears the tale laughs at the gullible student. At least, that's how it happened to Lachlan when he learned the ropes. In turn, Lachlan thought it only fair that he pass on the tradition to poor, unsuspecting Andrew.

Lachlan told Andrew to flip the switch on the generator. Andrew obeyed. All the lights and air conditioning went off. According to the script, Lachlan pretended to be horrified and Andrew felt his pulse and body temperature shoot up. Lachlan thought this was all very funny, until he turned around and (How many of these bloopers have you read, anyway?) of course, the entire server room had in fact shut down.

The silence from the routers, switches, firewalls, and more than one hundred servers was deafening in the pitch-dark room. The UPS failed during those critical few seconds -- and more. Andrew and Lachlan spent the next 10 hours restoring service to the department. The UPS was not tested again until it received a major overhaul.

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