For most of my career I have worked on servers in...well, a server room. In smaller companies the servers were located in a closet and in the even smaller companies, they were in a corner under the stairs or in a back office somewhere, usually next to the wall board for the phone system. Today I worked on a server in the tail end of a Gulfstream G450 corporate jet. I'll bet you didn't know that modern jets have networks and servers on board.
Then again, maybe you already knew that. I was surprised when I took this job to find that out. It makes sense really when you consider it. The guys that own these aircraft can certainly afford it. You may ask, "How do they get their Internet connectivity?" It comes through the satellite dish on top of the inside of the tail of course. I kid you not. The dish is automatically positioned through GPS while in flight. It is an amazing piece of technology.
Usually I do not work on the aircraft networks. The aircraft owners have contracts with the manufacturer of the plane or with one of a dozen support organizations that specialize in avionics. They bill at rates approaching or exceeding the best prosecuting attorney ($350 an hour) so sometimes I am asked to step in when it is a simple issue like installing a printer driver and sharing it. Something like that should take what, like maybe five or ten minutes at the most, right?
This little task turned into a two hour project. Why? It was difficult because of the location of the server. Way back in the back, behind the luggage storage area is a little compartment with a space next to the floor just large enough for a small server, built with constrained space in mind. The cover is specially built to ensure that ventilation is not impeded. It normally runs without a keyboard, mouse or monitor and is powered on up in the front of the aircraft.
However, when you want to install something on the server, you have to plug in the USB mouse, keyboard and a small LCD monitor. No, they don't normally carry that on the aircraft. To make a long story short, most of the time on this simple task was spent obtaining physical access to the server. We did not have enough USB ports for an external CD ROM drive (I can't believe it didn't have one built-in) so we had to download the drivers from the Internet.
The download, install and sharing of the printer went quickly. We tested functionality with the cabin laptop, buttoned it up and the owner was down the runway in just a few minutes. In case you are wondering, the printer itself is a little wireless Brother MFC420CN conveniently tucked away in one of the side credenzas. The whole network is wireless. It is your basic 802.11G and dare I say it, runs unsecured. I mean, who is going to steal your signal at 40,000 feet?
And that's my story for today. It was just a typical day in the life of an IT Manager, right? I guess it is if you work on aircraft networks all day. I was really surprised how small the server was and where they stored it. How about you? What is the strangest place you have ever worked on a server or workstation - on a boat, a train or a tank maybe?