The case of the disappearing datacenter

You hired experts to ship your equipment to a new location. Any other brilliant ideas?

I manage a complex voice and data network: 15 servers hosting e-commerce Web sites, mail servers, FTP servers, database servers, remote access connections, internal VPNs. All the usual stuff.

Last year, management decided to relocate the datacenter to another city approximately 20 miles away. My bosses were at maximum fear factor about downtime, so I worked up a meticulous plan. If everything went right, we’d go down at 4 p.m. Friday afternoon and be up again by 9 p.m. that evening.

On the day of the move, teams of telecom and infrastructure consultants showed up to label and disconnect cables and devices. We were off to a great start. Based on many good references, I had hired a globally known group specializing in data technology transportation to actually pack and move the equipment. As they began boxing machinery, one of the movers asked, “Do you want us to unpack the equipment at the new location?”

“Absolutely,” I replied. While the moving truck was being loaded, I gave the driver a map with detailed directions to the new site, and we exchanged cell phone numbers. I was going to drive my car so the moving truck could follow me. My bosses had been very clear about how unhappy they would be if anything delayed our return to full functionality.

We pulled out of the parking lot right on schedule at 6 p.m. I turned left at Poplar and watched in horror as the moving truck in my rearview mirror kept going straight on Main. I hung an illegal U-turn but got caught at a light. By the time I got back to Main, the 30-foot truck loaded with our datacenter had literally vanished. I called the driver on his cell. No answer. I scoured the main roads. Nothing. I circled back to the original location. No truck. I called my people at the new location and asked whether they’d seen anything. Of course not. I called the emergency 24/7 support for the moving company. All I got was voice mail.

As the 9 p.m. deadline passed and the clock kept ticking, I began wondering whether I should check eBay to see whether our systems -- and our client data -- were up for sale. Eventually I calmed down and got a call through to the president and owner of my company. He took the news pretty well, considering it was close to midnight. “We’ll track it down in the morning,” he promised.

Sure enough, at 9:02 a.m. the next day the missing truck rolled up in front of our new datacenter, fully loaded with my network equipment and sporting a brand-new driver and crew. Apparently the original guys had decided they’d already put in a full day’s work before the truck arrived to move my network. When I told the driver they’d have to unload, he drove the truck back to the company parking lot and went home for the night. When driver and crew showed up for work early Saturday morning, their employer fired them on the spot.

Meanwhile, there I stood, downing coffee and donuts with a small army of consultants that I was paying off-hour rates while the equipment was off-loaded. Thanks to my planning, the system was back online by noon Saturday. Whew!

Lesson learned? If you want to watch a truck disappear before your eyes, it’s probably safer -- and certainly cheaper -- to buy a ticket to see a magician in Vegas.

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