Don't bail on e-mail

Stupid user trick No. 6: Caught in an undeliverable trap

Incident: A case for covering your rear end when it comes to server support, submitted once again by the highly popular “Name Withheld.” According to Mr. Withheld, “We normally have an admin rotation for server problems on the weekends. But this time the staff was smaller because we’d just lost two techs in a single week. Both left to go to other jobs. I could have called an outside outfit to cover us on the weekend, but I just didn’t make the time, and by Friday it was too late.” Seems Mr. Withheld had plans for the weekend, as did his last remaining tech staffer. So he figured, “What the hell, we haven’t had a problem in several months. It’ll be okay.”

Well it wasn’t. One of his road-warrior execs left on Friday for a vacation. He knew enough to set an away message on his e-mail and to forward those e-mails to his home e-mail address. According to Withheld, this was back in the days of 10MB e-mail stores for most ISPs, and the exec forgot that his was almost full. The e-mails he gets Friday afternoon quickly fill up his home ISP account almost to capacity.

Saturday morning the exec’s dad sends him an e-mail message with a dirty joke in it -- including explicit language. Withheld’s e-mail server kicks off a delivery failure e-mail complete with a copy of the original e-mail, which goes to the exec’s home ISP account. That’s full now, so it in turn kicks off a delivery failure message of its own. Theirs has a copy of the e-mail in it, too. Boom, you’ve got an e-mail loop. Back and forth, “I can’t deliver your message.”

Withheld’s e-mail server’s disks fill up pretty quick after that, but neither he nor the other tech figure it out very quickly because both are frolicking away from their beepers. By the time they do figure it out, it’s in the wee hours on Sunday morning, and Withheld winds up cutting his weekend short to drive all the way back to the office and take care of things.

Fallout: The company set up a better remote management package for all its servers and eliminated the ability for users to forward their own e-mail. “Instead we give them Web access to their office accounts.”

Moral: Murphy is a mean mother. If he’s got a chance to get you, he will. So take the time to cover yourself with the support staff you need. It’s not like there aren’t competent techs out there looking for work -- even part-time. 

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