Servers optimize

The server is located where?


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?

48 comments
litninrod
litninrod

Chauvinism gave me (female) a small challenge a couple of years ago, when I volunteered as system admin for a non-profit organization. The switch and patch panel for the network were located in a room right in front of the men's restroom, and of course, the door had a big sign saying "MEN", even though there was another door into the lavatory proper. I got some really strange looks when I had to fix something when a meeting was in progress!

rtirman37
rtirman37

I just got it through making piece work out of XP SP2 that I do not own any of this stuff..so what happens when you cebit or store Microsoft kernel components? Nothing, without that degree you have no financial value to those people in India; Bangalore Microsoft Corporation Software Division. I guess for them using the internal siting of their fury of speck idiologies will be the future for Mr. Gates and his diversity for money! It's there if you can moderate yourself. Now how much India does that sound....Like IBM is to Mattel toys is to Revell modeling.

reisen55
reisen55

A server was discovered in a small closet. There were flood water lines on the wall and it was resting on an open drain so that it would not flood again. The server held patient data (HIPAA compliancy here) and was running the enormously secure and tough to break into operating system .... ready? WINDOWS FOR WORKGROUPS 3.11. True story.

Photogenic Memory
Photogenic Memory

I took a job with a small Telco company. The work was fun but the boss was an asshole of magnificent proportions. Short story; I didn't last long, LOL! Anyways, I helped install a new phone system at a concrete company. The MPOE was located in the mens bathroom. Well, as I preceded to punch down new cross connects and seek out dial tone with a toner; the sound of flatulance and poop smell was just too much! Fart! Splunk! Flush! Awwwwww! Also the floor was wet ;(. Screwing around with a server in an air-craft is a treat! I wouldn't complain too much If I were you mister!( unless it's near the airplane toilet then I'll feel for ya, LOL! )

jheinect
jheinect

About a year ago we had a structural failure at our main HQ. We wound up having to move the whole server room: 15 servers, network switches, routers, firewall, dmarcs and phone system into a construction trailer on the other side of the parking lot and wire up 3 more trailers and a warehouse converted into a showroom for employees. The IT staff, two consultants and myself, also resided in the server trailer. Keeping cool was always an issue. I'm not there anymore, but I sure wish the guys luck moving back into the building.

Gaunty
Gaunty

So if they allow wireless on the plane, why do airlines insist that passengers switch off wireless devices?

GSG
GSG

I didn't work on it, but I was at a business and needed to use the restroom. They'd put the server in the floor in the ladies room between the toilet and the wall. They were using it as a vanity to put air freshener, cleaning supplies, and various grooming and hygiene articles on. I came out and strongly advised them to find another place. One person, in all seriousness suggested in the kitchinette underneath the sink.

mkoelsch
mkoelsch

I used to work for a Contract IT services firm. I got a call from my manager asking me to go to XYZ company to help them with their Novell server. Upon arriving at the customers, nobody new where their server was...only that it was down. After talking with about 5-6 people I found out that it was in a certain room, but that they had inadvertantly closed the room off during remodeling. Yes, they had to take an axe to the drywall so I could work on a Novell 3.12 server that nobody had touched in about 5 years. The joy of it all.

larrythethird
larrythethird

About 20 or so years ago, I worked on accounting systems. Farmer John, yes the pure pork guys, had their data center right above the area that the butchers ate off of the roach coach. All in their butcher aprons covered with blood. Yummy. The smell was indescribable. Bandini mountain was in sight from the parking lot. And this was in the days of the 20 fixed, 20 removable Diablo disk drives. They crashed in this environment about every other month.

Jay_n_VB
Jay_n_VB

I was hired to help out a friend of a friend fix some routing problems with a network he managed for a large new car dealership. When he showed me the server room I was in shock. The server room was the maintenance closet (about 2ft by 4ft). The server sat on the floor right next to the wash basin. The network switch and router rested on top of the server. There were about 30-40 15ft CAT5 cables running from the patch panel down to the switch. There were mops, brooms and other items leaned up against the cables and server. His excuse for this was that it was like this before he was hired (a few months before) and had more pressing matters to address.

davidsont
davidsont

Years ago I worked for a company that was in the beginning stages of building their own internal IT staff instead of outsourcing to vendors. The network was not documented well and as we discovered the network and documented it we noticed one Novell server on a subnet was runing but we could never find it. No other remote office on the WAN had a server. Within 2 months we still had not located the server and brought in some network sniffing equipment. We narrowed it down to a section of the office that had been renovated years before to accomodate a breakroom and storage area. We knocked out some drywall and found the server in a 2ft x 3ft void that was boxed in around some old subpanels and network connections that people told us in the past were assumed to be disconnected. The server wasn't used for any file access but it had been running continously without a reboot for almost 4 years. I guess if nobody wants to make a decision on the equipment construction must meet their deadlines.

S,David
S,David

Inside a small cargo trailer, inside a tent, Ft. A.P. Hill, BSA National jamboree, 2005. No A/C, just a box fan with a filter to bring in outside air. The only problem was the GFCI power outlet took a dislike to the APC UPS and began nuisance-tripping.

BBPellet
BBPellet

The oddest place...try 100FT in the air, on top of a radio tower. This server collected weather data, let me tell ya..the wind up there is killer....but the views are even better!

The Listed 'G MAN'
The Listed 'G MAN'

use the cabin laptop to remote to the server hence negating the need to plug-in all those cables???

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

I find it extremely interesting to hear about these unusual situations. Thank you both for sharing.

ajaxnii
ajaxnii

Been in the Army for 8 years and did the Tents and the Tanks. some places had servers that we carried in and set up out of the hard case and it was up and running in 10 min. 130 degree outside 60 degrees in the server "room" most of the time was a small closet type area. "Signal Leads The Way! Always!"

bracadar
bracadar

I've worked on servers in bathrooms, closets and oily machine shops. Being underground in a mine was definitely my most memorable. The jacket on some fiber got cut and it was oozing out all over the server rack in this cave. Watch out for the nitro explosions and falling rocks.

dtra
dtra

The only thing I can think of is even using the unsecured wireless, the setup tuning of the server would allow it to function without compromising avionics. Private equipment such as cell phones (the blackberry using 3g data comes to mind) or laptops are all individually configured and there's no quarentee that they would not interfere. Exactly what level or tuning or what was used to make this work, that's anyone's guess though.

gpfear
gpfear

Airlines do not want to certify that devices will not hinder their aircraft, so they simply tell passengers to turn them off. I was told to turn off my ipod once, apparently the flight attendant was oblivious to the fact you cannot turn off an ipod.

jheinect
jheinect

Commercial flights ask you to turn everything off. These are small private jets, so they aren't bound by the same rules.

jred
jred

It's at a university, and when they shut it off, a lot of essential services go dead.

boguscomputer
boguscomputer

I used to set up a server in tents for weekend long radio contests in fields, with computers in every tent, all using generator power. Heat and humidity had to be considered, as well as proper drainage when it rained. Each of the 6 tents had a transmitter with RF wattages up to 1,000 watts, with the antennas nearby. Early on, we had trouble with burning out serial ports from voltage differences between tents. (lengths of power lines from generator varied) We switched to plastic fiber to solve that, then eventually switched to 802.11 when that came out. One year, the group wanted to rent computers. When I called the rental company for a price on the computers, they asked for the phone number where they'd be used. When they heard it was in a field, in tents, they didn't want to rent to the group.

Double DeBo
Double DeBo

It has been 13 years since my last trip to Fort A.P. Hill. Use to go there all the time when stationed at Fort Lee, VA. One trip to A.P. Hill I had to setup the company network in the T.O.C (Tactical Operations Center) and for the Motor Pool about 150ft away. Had two workstations on a make shift desk and had the server in my tent under my cot with an 8 port switch next to it, until it rained which always happens when you're in the field. Had to move the server, monitor, keyboard, mouse, and switch to their own cot. Good times I tell you.

ChrisHyche@AlabamaOne.Org
ChrisHyche@AlabamaOne.Org

Kinda of curious on who made the server... I last company I worked with built and installed very small headless media servers on corporate aircraft for streaming movies and music to seat mounted displays as well as some bulkhead mounted displays. Used Ethernet will I was still there but I think WiFi was supposed to be upcoming. I never worked on one installed but I helped with getting a demo setup working one or twice. Seems like they were only setup in the passenger cabin. Think the cockpit was pretty much off-limits. Though the servers and displays ran either Windows or Linux I don't remember any printer support. The interface was customized to the point you couldn't tell it was Windows underneath. Of course with WiFi added some of that could have been opened up a bit.

Jason Bourne
Jason Bourne

Who's going to steal your network at 40,000 feet? How about passengers with laptops. What was the SID..... Linksys?

The Listed 'G MAN'
The Listed 'G MAN'

Have the server up there? Surely all that is needed at the top of the tower are the sensors. Strange one that!

tim
tim

Hi G-Man, I was wondering if someone would be sharp enough to bring this up. The very expensive consulting company that set the server up purposely disabled remote capabilities. They have a standard configuration mirrored for all their servers and that's what you get. I suppose it makes for easier support if they can guarantee that it is in a certain configuration. Makes sense. I would have enabled it but I didn't want to give any cause for them to cry foul in case they notice it on a future support call. The server was just replaced last month. Their solution is to swap out instead of try to diagnose and repair. That's why this whole issue came up. Their standard configuration does not include any printers installed. You would be amazed at how many intermediate tech commpanies are involved when delivering a new aircraft.

jeff.allen
jeff.allen

The installation of a server - or ANY electrical device in an aircraft is beset with a whole raft of unexpected issues - mainly based around the prevention of interference with the aircraft's avionics. I can only wonder at the effect of a "standard" 2.4GHZ wireless network on the rest of the electronics on board! We are not permitted to use any electronic devices in a flying aircraft - especially laptops etc. And these guys have a wireless network? Pray tell us how?

Chuy (Workin 4 Da Man)
Chuy (Workin 4 Da Man)

I'd have to agree with AJackson. I've been in enviroments with either sweltering heat or tempatures way below 0 and having racks of servers set up in tempature controlled tents. But I'd have to say that I've yet to actually see or set up a network at 40,000 feet.

mdhealy
mdhealy

This one came out of a book I read about 15 years ago, entitled something like "The Complete Guide to Macintosh Backups" which I bought because at the time I managed a network of Macs. Anyway, the author said one of his clients had various problems because it was the office for a GRAIN ELEVATOR and all the dust got into everything. Scariest thing I actually saw was a server room for a Really Big Company that I cannot name which was directly under an 18-inch water main for the whole building. Had that pipe ever failed Lord knows how much water would have cascaded onto the servers. I gather they basically figured, if that pipe ever bursts we'll have so many megabucks of damage to the rest of this building that a few servers will be lost in the noise -- and we do have offsite backups for the data... I did read in the newspaper some years ago, the HQ of a major European bank burned down, and because they didn't have current offsite backups their sysadmins ran into the burning building to rescue tapes containing billions of dollars worth of transactions. I sure hope those people got a generous bonus! I forget the name of the bank.

chancea
chancea

I'm pretty sure that you wouldn't have any passengers on a private jet that you would have a problem with using your network.

BBPellet
BBPellet

Well the sensors, video, and server were all contained in one box, which was at the top of the tower, had wireless data feeds to a CO. Was a pain in the butt to work with.

Dr_Zinj
Dr_Zinj

Although I'd be really worried about lightning strikes.

tony
tony

A great alternative to RDP and it will install itself and remove itself. I use all the time since I remotely manage servers all over the country. Also there is a great VBScript that works to enable/disable RDP remotely. Haven't used in a while but I remember it worked quite well when I had an issue with Dameware.

dwdino
dwdino

The reason RDP is not is enabled is simple, BILLABLE HOURS. In a free market economy there is a principle of "what the market will bear". These companies know that they can charge outrages prices and be paid. They know that as long as Joe tech goes onsite, they can receive $350/hour. If they were forced to operate at $100/hour, I guarantee that RDP and remote administration would become the norm. For instance, my company, which would have a management agent installed on the server, would say, "Need a new printer? Fire up the APU and give us 20 minutes." Because of the bloated expense of aviation in general, these companies have found a high profit niche.

ketan
ketan

I tend to change the TS port on a servers to a port that is non-standard, reduces security risk. I see a lot of people that use the standard ports and it frightens me, it's like using the default ip scheme and passwords on a router.

JohnMcGrew
JohnMcGrew

...in the name of saving weight. (in aviation, weight is everything, expecially in components that are located at the extermities) But it certainly doesn't make sense that they'd have terminal services disabled, or that the wireless network would be "open". These things get used on the ground as much as in the air. Next time I'm at my local airport, I'm likely to point my directional antenna at the next GS I see and see if it answers.

$dunk$
$dunk$

There was an episode of MythBusters where they tried to determine if people's portable electronics could interfere with an aircrafts electronics system. Even after bumping up the signals to ridiculous levels they could not create any interference. While this is only one example, I think it is pretty obvious that there really is no *technical* reasons that we should have to turn off ALL electronic devices. It's either that it makes things easier for the airlines or someone in the FAA just was on a power trip when they made the rule and now nobody at the FAA has had any interest in rescinding that rule.

tim
tim

I wish I could tell you the details of how the wireless is 'tuned' to not interfere with cockpit avionics. When I finished the printer driver install the pilot asked me to take a look at his laptop. We had a 100% wireless signal in the belly of the aircraft but as we moved up to the cockpit it dropped out completely. He said, "Can you fix that?" Yeah, right. Not in the five minutes before you take off and probably not with several hours of research. I guess that's why they pay someone the big bucks to fine tune these things. It's beyond me.

boguscomputer
boguscomputer

As to how to take the network down, the article mentioned the switch is in the pilot's area. The pilot could be responsible. HOWEVER, what's the chance of a CEO wanting access to the internet while he's waiting on the ground before a trip? I'd think high. Most pilots wouldn't want to piss off their CEO who want to do email. If unsecured wireless allows the loss of corporate info, the CEO would be personally liable for not using due diligence. And, if encryption is used, a complicating factor is Gulfstream owners will frequently have guests. So the SSID, encryption type, etc. will need to be posted somewhere, or else the pilot gets an extra job doing tech support.

Jason Bourne
Jason Bourne

Sorry, you guys are not going to sell me on the 'value' of an unsecured wireless network. This is a corporate jet, not a private jet. Corporate jets often transport all manner of people including non-employees as suits the need of the business. An encryption key only needs to be entered for the VIP once. Definitely with the effort and less inconvenient than telling him/her that the network is going down because you are landing soon. BTW, how do you take the network down? Shutdown the server or climb in the tail and unplug the router. In the end, I think simply securing the network is the wise move here. Period.

Womble
Womble

and if they are worried about security, they would operate with VPN. Only other thing I would worry about is the access for trojan horses and other data theft access. Turn it on downstairs, and it could if hacked download all traffic and the gulfstream is CEO transport

bfpower
bfpower

Customer service for exceptionally wealthy or powerful people sometimes means sacrificing security where it may not be needed. For instance, someone who would say, be flying on a private jet doesn't want to be told to enter this key here and check this box there, type in this SSID... They just want to be able to log on. Period. And as long as you shut down your network before you reach the ground, you shouldn't have any problems.

BBPellet
BBPellet

We were't to worried bout them getting Zapped, we had plenty of spares, these were self-contained weather monitors, when I worked for this place, we replaced over 100 every 6 months, they didn't care, as long as the data was collected, which most times it was via wireless data feeds.

Forum Surfer
Forum Surfer

Oh I love that. One of the best tools in my bag. You can configure the install so many different ways and it really helps (at the user level)when you need to "see" what the user is talking about or "show" them how to fix it next time. It might work through vpn in a situation such as his...granted the company lets him have enough priv. to install and run such. I would think it would have been so locked down he wouldn't even be able to install a print driver...especially if they are paranoid (or methodical, depending opn how you look at it) enough to disable rdp. The last company tha I worked for dealt with outsourcing IT. We installed it and supported it, absolutely no middlemen or power users. If it didn't work you went straight to us. We even had a nice custom lockable cover to go over all connections on the back of the server. Any frontside usb ports were removed or rendered inoperable.

louis.slabbert
louis.slabbert

You are not *PERMITTED* to use any electronic devices in a flying aircraft as it *MAY* interfere... A Pilot friend on mine a few years ago already told me about the fact that these studies haven't apparently even been done to determine if there would be interference, mainly for two reasons: 1) They want you to switch off your phone / laptop /PSP etc not to irritate the person next to you who is trying to sleep. 2) It would be too cumbersome for the aviation companies to create and enforce a list of permitted devices...just imagine. Just one reference to a similar case: http://pcworld.about.com/news/Jul152005id121842.htm Similar in the corporate network security world where we by default BAN everything... ,and then allow usage for those who Nag enough or PAY enough... :)