Teaching the importance of a hardware-friendly environment

A techie looks back to a time when many customers didn't understand the need for proper temperature control, power, and grounding

My story takes place back in the late 1980s, when people were still having problems understanding the necessity of a hardware-friendly environment, such as temperature control, power, and grounding. My company dealt in large, very sensitive computerized hardware that required the environment be correctly established. We knew there was going to be a learning curve for customers. However, we continually ran into those who would dismiss the hardware-friendly environment concept as irrelevant, simply because they didn't understand its importance.

Case in point: One day I was assigned an out-of-town job site to begin an installation. As usual, we had sent all of the necessary environmental specs and checklists to the customer several weeks before, so I anticipated no problems as I arrived to begin.

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When I arrived, our customer, the business manager of the company, greeted me and asked how quickly the installation would be completed. I told him I needed to make sure the environmental requirements had been met and then I'd get started.

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I was shown the room where the equipment was to reside and was immediately struck by the fact that the temperature was in the low 90s, there was about an inch of dust and grime on the floor, and no power or specialized grounds had yet been installed. The only nod to the requirements we had sent was the site manager's verification that the A/C contractor was due onsite that morning to give a quote on the job.

Soon I was back on the plane headed home with a new installation date scheduled a week later, at which time I was assured all would be well.

The following week I was pleased to see a clean floor, but the brand-new air conditioner was mounted to the ceiling with a condensation drip pan hanging right over where my equipment had to go. We called the contractor back onsite to remedy the problem, and I turned my attention to the power, which consisted of bare wires coming out of a four-way box on the wall.

The building tech claimed he couldn't find the "strange" NEMA connector we had specified. I solved that problem by taking a quick look though the yellow pages and walking to a supplier two blocks away.

While the building tech installed the connector, I looked for where the specialized ground was. After seeing no sign of it, I asked the electrician. "It's right there," he said, pointing to an inch-wide braided copper cable in the corner that came from a hole in the ceiling and exited through a hole in the floor. I asked where the hole in the floor went and was told it went to the building's steel and ground rods under the foundation. I then asked where the hole in the ceiling went. "To the lightning rods on the roof," I was told.

We rescheduled the actual installation yet again, and I spent the rest of the visit going through the requirements step by step. I literally walked the engineer down to the electrical room and showed him where to attach the grounds and how to route them to my equipment (and I ever so gently explained to him why connecting to the lightning rods is considered a bad thing). We also got them to move the condensation drain somewhere else. It took them another week to get the contractors out and get the site ready, but we finally got the equipment installed and the staff trained on its use.

The experience prompted us to change some of our procedures and to not assume anything. For instance, it taught us to be extremely clear not only about the specifications and document them thoroughly, but also to make it very clear to the clients that their installations would not go forward if the site environment specifications were not met. It also taught my peers and I to always double-check with the onsite techs -- not their management -- and verify exactly what had been done before we ever made the trip out to the site.

This story, "Teaching the importance of a hardware-friendly environment," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more crazy-but-true stories in the anonymous Off the Record blog at InfoWorld.com.


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