Barbin told his data center employees to unplug them. He figured if something important suddenly stopped working, the company's help desk would hear about it soon enough.
"If you've got 200 servers and no one has any idea what they do, odds are they're not running a mission-critical system," he says. "When we pulled the plug literally no one noticed."
The defunct machines ended up stacked in "the server cemetery," a stairwell between the 7th and 8th floors of Borland's Cupertino headquarters, until Barbin could figure out what to do with them.
The server purge was only the beginning of a long process of rationalizing Borland's IT assets, which Barbin achieved largely by moving into cloud-based services like Salesforce.com. About a year later, he and three colleagues founded Appirio, a solutions provider that helps medium-sized and large enterprises migrate their IT infrastructure to the cloud and manage it.
Barbin says what he found at Borland was not all that unusual. Even today, large enterprises may own thousands of underutilized servers and not even be aware of it. However, he adds he would not do the same thing today -- because he can't.
"We don't own a single server," he says. "We are 100 percent in the cloud and committed to the server-less enterprise. We started with four employees, now have nearly 500, and hopefully one day we'll have 25,000, but we will never own a server."
True tech confession no. 6: The backup that wasn't
Also on the list of classic screwups: backup tapes nobody ever looked at until they needed them -- and then it was too late.
Back in the mid-'90s, Mike Meikle was working as a jack-of-all-trades system administrator for an unnamed state agency. He soon discovered that the agency's servers had never been scanned for viruses and its antivirus software was badly in need of an update.
"It was at the dawn of my career," he says. "I had only been there a few weeks and was still trying to get the lay of the land. I worked with a gentleman who'd been there five years and was in charge of server backups. He assured me all the servers had been backed up and we were good to go."
Meikle began scanning for viruses, removing infections, and restarting the machines. But one server refused to reboot -- the one that tracked where grant money was coming from and where it was going to.
"I figured, no problem, we'll just restore it from tape," he says.
Naturally, nearly all the tapes were corrupted. But nobody knew that, because no one had ever bothered to test the backups or attempt a restore. The dead server was finally revived, but months of data were gone for good.
Meikle, a self-titled corporate consigliere who runs his own tech consulting business, says he still remembers the look on the CFO's face when he informed her that her staff would have to redo three months' worth of work because they had no recent viable backups.
"That's the day I learned the importance of having reliable backups and testing them," he says. "Sadly I had to learn the hard way. Even sadder, many IT shops today still don't have good backups that have been tested or even disaster recovery plans."