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Forgotten Voice

Bill Harmer
Customer Engineering
Date Joined:
Date Left:
Big Red Switches

In central London during the 1970's we ran a 3 shift operation. Pete (surname withheld - but he looked very much like Tom Baker in Dr Who) and I found ourselves in Esso Victoria overnight, a very large account running a lot of old sys/360 kit (I think it was several model 65's but not sure). For people who are used to modern datacentres you have to be aware that these were really noisy environments with  1403 printers rattling away  and the air con  and the fans in the kit, it was often difficult to hear someone talking.   We only covered this account on shift so were both unfamiliar with the setup.

Pete was called to the phone on a column in the centre of the room to speak to call despatch.  Unknown to him the phone was muted with a little red 'push to speak' button on the handset. As Pete tried to speak to call despatch they couldn't hear him and he was almost shouting down the phone, one of the operators called out "Press the red button". Now on the column in front of him was the EPO button (Emergency Power Off) and Pete dutifully hit the button.

EPO doesn't sequence the room down in a controlled fashion - its a massive OFF switch, and the whole room fell instantly silent, whereupon Pete said - "that's better".

Now to understand the ramifications of this you must realise that datacentres like Esso NEVER powered off, they ran continuously, and one of the problems with continuous operation is that all the power sequencing relays get a little dirty, greasy and tarnished which means nothing ever comes back on when you try to restore power - it takes hours and the customer wasn't the happiest I've ever seen. Kept us busy though....