Dirty IT jobs: Partners in slime

Carcasses, garter belts, and anthrax -- techs get nasty in the name of IT

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Dirty job No. 3: The human server rack

The panicked call at 3 a.m. is a sad fact of life for many system administrators. But not as many admins are woken in the dead of night and asked to part the floodwaters, perform acts of impromptu structural engineering, or serve as a piece of inanimate equipment.

Brian Saunier got such a call six years ago when he was a sys admin for a small Internet service provider in Georgia. An unusually large summer storm had clogged the drain outside the ISP's building, causing a foot of rainwater to flood the first floor, where the server closet was housed.

Fortunately, the servers were protected by an airtight glass door, says Saunier, who's now a network administrator for Cobb Energy Management. Unfortunately, the storm also knocked out the power, causing the cooling system to shut down and putting the servers in danger of overheating.

The door had to be opened. To complicate matters, the machine containing the ISP's customer database was sitting on the floor of the server room, directly in the flood path.

First, Saunier and two fellow sys admins constructed a dam out of cardboard, towels, and anything else they could get their hands on to keep the water out. Then Saunier was elected to run in and grab the server before the waters reached it.

"Our plan was to open the door and run in and pick up the server, which I managed to do without incident," he recalls. "But on the way in my foot clipped the dam and the water started pouring in. I was standing in a flooded server room in two feet of water holding a powered-on server and power cords. That was disconcerting."

After about 10 minutes, Saunier's colleagues located a table that fit inside the closet, so he could put the machine down and commence with mop-up operations, which lasted well into the following evening.

As with all storms, there was a silver lining. Saunier submitted his story via Facebook to Ipswitch Network Management Division, which named him a "SysAdmin All-Star" for going above and beyond the call of duty. His prize: an Apple iPad, which should prove easy to hold no matter how much water is swirling around his knees.

"It was actually an entertaining experience and a great story for getting a laugh now," he says. "Besides, there's really no way to avoid things like this, unless you want to be in the unemployment line."

Dirty jobs survival tip: Always pack hip waders. And make sure your server room has a raised floor -- before the floodwaters start to rise.

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