Real-Life IT Horror Stories to Learn From

Paul Mah

What are some of the worst "horror stories" that you've actually come across? I had the opportunity to pose this question to Jim Lippie, president of Staples Network Services by Thrive. Lippie was kind enough to respond with a list of cautionary tales that he's come across.


Lippie should know; Staples Network Services by Thrive offers a comprehensive array of IT services geared toward SMBs. This ranges from managed services, end-user remote support, technology consulting, online backup, disaster-recovery planning and more. He wrote:

Although we work with companies across various industries, we see common sets of IT problems

So what are some of these problems? Let's look at a couple of them today:


Unsuitable IT Environment

Lippie: "While on a sales meeting with a potential client, one of our engineers made an alarming discovery: The server room also housed the company's hot water heater. On the spot, our engineer insisted on making a tape backup. As [bad] luck would have it, the following weekend, disaster struck for the company. The hot water heater in the server room broke, flooding the entire room. Fortunately, the company was able to restore the data because of that tape."


"But you can't count on a last-minute fix like this," noted Lippie. He recommends having a third-party assessment at least every two years to look for and fix potential hazards. This can range from the potential for water damage, excessive dust collection or areas such as inadequate cooling. This advice makes sense to me because familiarity often dulls the senses to any red flags in an improper IT environment.


New workers will be less likely to voice their thoughts initially, after which they are likely to lapse into the dangerous thought pattern that goes along the lines of, "It has always been like this." Assuming that the logistics and cost works out, an SMB might instead look into using a proper co-location center for housing its data center equipment.


Indeed, the situation highlighted above reminded me of an SMB organization where I once worked. Servers and network switches were strewn all over the shop, rather than properly consolidated at a safe and protected location with adequate ventilation. Even more important is the need to physically keep servers under lock and key; otherwise security software will be ineffective.


Improperly Done Backups

Lippie: "Another backup tale to share... and one that's unfortunately all too common. We see many companies doing daily backups with their tape backup systems -- and that's great. However, many of these companies make the unforgiveable error of simply changing the tapes in and out without performing test restores and without knowing that the tapes are operating correctly. In fact, we've gone into some prospects and discovered that they haven't had a successful backup in more than six months!"


Lippie recommends that companies have backup-monitoring procedures in place to look for things such as tape breakage, incomplete data and failed backup software. I've seen this happen with my own eyes before. In fact, I've also blogged on this topic earlier, where I highlighted the absolute necessity of regularly testing to ensure that backups can be recovered in an emergency. You can read my earlier blog here: "Testing Backups Should Not Be Optional."


Throwing even more urgency behind properly testing backups are studies in which one third of companies were found not to have done this testing. These organizations run the shock of attempting to restore data from a backup one day only to find that it doesn't work. Seriously, be it tape or other media, regular tests to ensure that backups work is an absolute requirement.


Do you have your own set of cautionary tales to share? Feel free to comment below, or contact me directly via e-mail.

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