Locked out of the server room -- and the key quest begins

The server room door won't open, and the team scrambles to find a way in

keys thinkstock
Credit: DutchScenery/Thinkstock

When you work in IT, a good day can turn into a bad day -- and back again -- with little notice. It doesn't help when a bad day sneaks up on you, at the exact moment you don't have time to deal with small details, which then become large problems. Your best bet is to think through the problem and let your skills and experience lead you to a happy conclusion.

That's what happened to a co-worker and me. At the time I was still fairly new, but the incident offered valuable insight on teamwork and problem-solving.

On this day, my co-worker had a lot on his schedule, but he got off to a bad start. First of all, he was working on a computer that wouldn’t image -- apparently the model wasn't supported. My co-worker couldn't do much at this point because he had to wait for a new image. Not only did it put him further behind schedule, it was a frustrating event. Then a second computer he tried wouldn't image, throwing up a random error. I was able to help fix that one while he dealt with the next task.

Lunch interrupted

My co-worker planned to spend the entire afternoon going in and out of the server room, setting up a new unit. He even arranged for a slightly early lunch so that he could work with another colleague on the project.

I was halfway through my lunch when my co-worker headed to the server room, talking with the other person on the phone. He attempted to open the door, but it wouldn't unlock. He tried three times, then looked at me (I take my lunch at my desk) and said, "Uh oh." He then told the person on the phone that he would call back.

The door had a nine-digit, battery-operated pad that look like a telephone keypad. No matter what he tried, it beeped at him -- sometimes two fast beeps, sometimes four, but never opening.

We made several attempts, using numerous codes to get into the server room. I suggested that perhaps the battery had died. I also asked if we had a key to open the door. (There is a regular key lock under the keypad.)

He searched his desk, said "Uh, oh" again, and called his wife at home. "Are my work keys at home? They are? Can you bring them to me, please?" He waited for her to bring them, and when they arrived he tried each one, to no avail.

By the way, we keep a lock box of important keys ... in the server room. We were hoping the key we needed was not in there.

Needle in a haystack

He then asked me if I'd seen a big plastic bag full of keys. I had not, so we searched the office for the collection. He found it -- a ragged, gallon-size Ziploc bag full of random keys with no known matches, as far as we could tell. Every IT department I've ever worked in has it: a massive jumble of keys, some seemingly older than the company. You're afraid to get rid of them, just in case; well, we found our “just in case.”

By this time, we had called maintenance, and the three of us started sorting through the keys. I pulled out the keys that were obviously cabinet keys, computer keys, and a freezer key (?), and they tried them in the door lock.

About halfway through the pile, we found two keys on the same key ring. We tried them both, and each unlocked the server room. Whew!

While my co-worker went back to dealing with the server, the maintenance person and I checked the battery in the door lock -- from the inside. As soon as we took off the cover, we discovered the problem: One of the batteries had exploded, leaking all over the inside of the lock. Several minutes and alcohol wipes later, we had replaced the old batteries, cleaned the battery unit, and installed new cells. The door lock worked again!

What did we do with the two keys? One went into a special place, and the other went back into the bag of keys -- with a clearly labeled tag.

We learned a simple lesson from this adventure: Change the batteries in the server room door lock once per year whether they need it or not, and keep on hand the keys to get into the room. It’s too easy to get so used to a keypad that you don’t take time to think through “what if.”

As for me, while my co-worker went back to working on the server (another hour behind schedule), I finished my lunch – a little late -- and reimaged the second computer we’d been working on at the beginning of the day. It came through this time, and when we finally got the new image file, the first computer hummed.

It turned out to be a good end to a not-so-good day. Then again, access to the server room for the IT department is always a good day!

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