Brave Tales From The SysAdmin Trenches

Comedy. Tragedy. PEBCAK. Systems administrators know them all -- as evidenced by these tales from IT pros recognized on National SysAdmin Day.

Shane O'Neill, Managing Editor, InformationWeek

July 25, 2013

4 Min Read

PEBCAK Award: Eric Reynolds, with Hudson Printing, Salt Lake City, Utah. And now for an amusing tale of user error, Reynolds' award entry: 

We had a colored-pencil department full of creative types. They loved their Macs with the color-corrected screens and crazy graphics programs that never would run right on a Windows machine. 

Not long after I became the sysadmin, one user developed problems with her monitor. She arrived an hour before I did and would call and leave a message that her monitor was "acting funny." She said the color would be off, it would blink, and sometimes she complained of smoke. By the time I would get in, there was no problem. Color looked good, no problems, and she was working. After a week of this I decided to come in early to see what might be going on.

 When I arrived, she was not there yet. So I sat down in an empty chair and waited for her. We spoke for a few moments when she arrived, and I told her to go about her normal routine. She flipped on her computer and monitor and there weren't any problems. I waited around for an hour but no problem ever showed itself. So I went back to my office. Before I got back I had a message waiting for me. So I ran back to her workspace, and sure enough, her monitor was going crazy. I asked what happened and she said, nothing. I asked her about every step she took after I walked away.

"All I did was water my plant!" she cried.

 I looked and noticed a small potted plant on the shelf above her monitor. Under the shelf there was water damage where it would drip down after she watered it.

 I solved the issue with nothing more than a gentle suggestion to keep all liquids away from all electronics, and by moving her plant.

Hand-Me-Down-Hacker Award: Ian Silber, with MIBAR, a New York-based managed service provider. 

 Silber and his team were faced with the task of redoing a client's entire infrastructure after four feet of flood water wiped it out during Hurricane Sandy. His award entry:

I am Ian, and I work for a small- to medium-sized business consulting/MSP firm in the NY/NJ area. Picture the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy taking out an entire SMB company's infrastructure due to four feet of flooding. Your heroic systems administrator, Ian, was able to get a long-time client's mission-critical applications and data back up and running in 24 hours and all employees working at almost 100% capacity. I used three already-decommissioned servers to house the mission-critical applications and data as a temporary measure.

 All data was restored using tape backup that was brought offsite, as well as offsite/online data backup. 

After a period of two weeks or so, we brought in an entire new infrastructure utilizing server virtualization to replace all the temporary hardware. All in all, due to flooding, about 30 PCs, 10 physical servers, 4 network switches, 1 firewall, and LTO backup drives were replaced. 

Flying Solo Award: Gary Hartwell, with PBC & Associates Consulting, Tampa, Fla.

Walking into an outdated server environment, Hartwell took matters into his own hands. From running help desk to handling database administration, he's a shining example of the do-it-all, always-available sys admin. Hartwell's award entry:

Not only am I flying solo as a sys admin, I am flying solo as the only IT support for the business. Mostly coming from large corporate environments, my users are used to the full array of IT services. When hired, I inherited four physical servers in two offices that were already either EOL (end of life) or over five years outdated. Shortly after, I relocated, consolidated, virtualized and expanded services to running more than 18 different VMs for such a small user base. I have solved outages from a cruise vacation to a family member visit. As the only IT person, I handle help desk, network engineer, SysAdmin, security and database administration. From convincing the management that a storage closet converted to a server room with six servers needs HVAC, to fixing the classic 'I cannot get email' Internet requests, I have been flying solo for three years.

About the Author(s)

Shane O'Neill

Managing Editor, InformationWeek

Shane O'Neill is Managing Editor for InformationWeek. Prior to joining InformationWeek, he served in various roles at, most notably as assistant managing editor and senior writer covering Microsoft. He has also been an editor and writer at eWeek and TechTarget. Shane's writing garnered an ASBPE Bronze Award in 2011 for his blog, "Eye on Microsoft", and he received an honorable mention at the 2010 min Editorial & Design Awards for "Online Single Article." Shane is a graduate of Providence College and he resides in Boston.

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