Data Centers

Teach users and techs to respect their PCs? front panel buttons

After reading about this tech's experiences, you'll think twice about ignoring a PC's front panel buttons.


Front panel buttons are usually not high on a support tech's troubleshooting flow chart. However, like other components of a computer, front panel buttons do fail and should not be ignored. The front panel buttons refer to the reset button and the UPS power button found on most laptops and desktops. This article chronicles two situations where these buttons caused serious problems and offers tips to help you avoid the same mistakes.

The "reset" button fiasco
A client called complaining that the server would not start. This company had around 40 users and was on a single server running Microsoft Small Business Server (SBS). Due to the growing demand for e-mail services, their server needed regular restarts to function properly as both an application server and a proxy server.

Based on the call, I dispatched our technician with possible hardware components that might be needed on site, including a power supply unit, memory chips, BIOS chip, Emergency Repair Disk, a motherboard, power cables, and ribbon cables. When the technician arrived, he found that the server would power on, but there was no activity after that.

Under our company’s established support protocol, our technicians have full authority to take any action to resolve a problem, for up to a half an hour. If after that time they are unable to resolve the problem, they must call the central office for further instructions. This minimizes support costs to our clients.

Nothing worked
Within that half hour, our technician:
  • Found out how and when the problem occurred.
  • Checked that the monitor was working.
  • Checked that the monitor video cable was working.
  • Replaced the memory chips.
  • Replaced the BIOS chip.
  • Checked that the SCSI card was receiving power.

Nothing worked. Confused, he called in to ask for approval to disconnect the four hard-disk drives from the SCSI card, connect a replacement hard-disk drive to the SCSI card, and begin to reinstall Back Office from scratch so that he could restore from tape backup. The problem was getting bigger than I had anticipated. Our technician had followed correct procedures but without success.

Something irked me about this problem, and I decided to make a site visit. The staff displayed a sigh of relief when I walked in. After all, a dead server on payday is bad news.

I usually begin by greeting all the staff members at our client organizations. Their secretary, speaking in a rather annoyed tone, said, “Kyu, could you also fix the reset button? It broke my fingernail today.” Our ensuing conversation brought things into perspective.

How did that get in there?
She was assigned to restart the server whenever the network seemed slow or if the staff could not send or receive e-mails. Though she was instructed to “shut down” the server before powering on again, she saw a “neat” reset button next to the power button. So each time, she simply pushed the reset button!

I walked to the server and asked our technician to pack up and return to our office. I glanced at the reset button and sure enough, it was recessed. I pushed it hard a few times until a small piece of a fingernail fell loose. I turned on the server, and voila: Their server was running again, and salaries could be processed.

I explained to the secretary the importance of properly shutting down their server. Her initial agitation turned to worry when I showed her the broken-off fingernail. To her great relief, I assured her that this would remain our little secret.

Tips for working with reset buttons
Though that insignificant reset button made me a temporary hero of the day, placing it higher on your troubleshooting flow chart could be a big help. Here’s some handy info on reset buttons:
  • Many reset buttons are not a part of the front panel but rather a part of the panel behind the front panel. When the front panel is reseated, make sure that the reset button does not get pressed.
  • Flat, oval buttons or slightly protruding round or oval buttons can be tricky. (See Figure A.) These buttons often protrude through a front panel opening that may allow for no less than one-twentieth of an inch between the button and the opening. If these buttons are not manually pressed near ninety degrees perpendicular to the front panel, they can jam. Pushing these buttons with grimy or sweaty fingers can also cause dirt to build up and cause a jam.

Figure A

  • Reset buttons that use small holes can be awkward. These require you to push a tiny button using a narrow pointed object. It is easy to miss the tiny button, and if you are using the sharp end of a pencil, you can break the lead and jam it. Some ballpoint pens have tips that can easily become dislodged under pressure. Do not use them. Try a straightened paperclip instead.
  • Remind users to avoid reset buttons altogether. Most Microsoft products need a full restart anyway.

Leave those UPS power buttons alone
We all know that uninterruptible power supply (UPS) units are a must for any server. I do not know, however, why many UPS manufacturers keep placing the power button on the front panel. Many UPS boxes look rather uninteresting and may have a few light emitting diodes (LEDs) on the front. While we IT professionals know what they do, many self-appointed IT gurus do not.

One of my clients, a financial controller and self-appointed IT guru, once emerged from a lengthy meeting with his new director who wanted to reduce costs. This meant office supplies, telephone bills, and electricity bills.

Now imagine this financial controller walking past a counter where three servers are running. He notices three mundane-looking boxes with lit LEDs on the front, each with a power button. To him, they seemed to be wasting electricity. Now guess what he did!

Mayhem erupted as all their application software that ran on relational database systems went crashing. The money they had to spend to get their systems working again was costly and totally unnecessary. This particular financial controller learned the hard way not to mess around with front panel buttons. The moral of all this is to teach your users not to mess with IT equipment and leave it to professionals like us.

Don’t touch that!
Teaching end users to stay away from IT equipment can sometimes seem like herding cats, but we’re looking for ways to make the job easier. Post a comment or write to Kyu Rhee and share your tips for teaching end users.

 

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