When does saying less mean making more? When the boss suggests adding needless desktop capacity and you're renting out any going spare...

Year 1998 - Episode 32


"...which is why I propose that we standardise on full-height disks to effectively make use of all the spare space we have in our desktop machines..."

Something startles me and I wake to find myself in the middle of an IT discussion group meeting - one of the boss's great ideas to bring the minds of the department together.

Sadly, there's no IQ barrier, the entrance criterion being the ability to find your way to the meeting.

I comfort myself with the thought that if we go overtime I'll be able to hear what the cleaning staff have to say, which is bound to bring a bit of sanity to the conversation.

"Ah, I don't think full-height drives is a good option in the new low-profile ca...aagh!" the PFY comments, as he gets cut short by an under-table blow.

It's too late, of course, now that opposition has been raised to an idea. By Incompetent Meeting Law, there now has to be a discussion of the relative merits of the idea being opposed. It's a discussion that is bound to bring us half an hour closer to the end of the day, but half an hour further away from a technical resolution.

We break for a mid-morning coffee, at which time I corner the PFY and ask him, as politely as possible, what the hell he was trying to do in there.

"But he was recommending full-height drives for all desktop machines!

"Some of our machines don't even stand that high!" he blurts.

"That's irrelevant. You know they're only taunting you so that you argue and string the meeting out, and then they don't have to do any work today."

"But it's our job to offer sound advice, isn't it?"

"Don't be ridiculous! It's our job to interpret what they decide and use it to our advantage."

"So the full-height drives would be...?"

"Hmm...half-height 7200 RPM 18 gig jobbies."

"But desktops don't need that sort of space!"

"No, but if we get enough of them out there we can use it as a wide area multiple mirrored RAID-5 system!" "Huh?"

"OK, your average user's desktop machine has what on it?"

"Their operating system?"

"Yes, yes, but the rest."

"?"

Sigh. After all this time he's still an amateur at heart.

"Their e-mail folders, personal work, the pirated copy of Leisure Suit Larry - the smutty pictures in the windows directory hidden under the name YENROH1.DLL etc."

"Oh! Yeah?"

"Well, all that, what does it take up? A Gig, max. Which means there's 17 Gig free on them for really deserving projects!"

"Like?"

"Our personal work, games, and all those smutty pictures we have on the tapes 'System Snapshot' 1 thru 200."

"So we use their hard drives?"

"Sort of. But you know what users are like - couldn't find the space bar if their stomach didn't roll into it. So we need mirrored copies."

"But why RAID-5 it as well?"

"Just in case one of the workers goes postal and brings a bomb into the building. Wouldn't want to interrupt the smutty picture slideshow just because Bean-counter Central's halfway across the high street."

"You're kidding, aren't you?"

"Almost. But bear in mind what sheep departments are - all stopping for lunch together and powering down their machines."

"No. I don't think you're telling me the full story."

Bugger.

"All right, so I've contracted half a terabyte out to a couple of companies as on-line HSM disk."

"Hierarchical storage management?"

"Yeah. Our users don't use the stuff, so I use them as a network archival device."

"You're selling the company's desktop space!?"

"Yeah, to a couple of oil companies that want off-site back-ups."

"I can't believe it!" the PFY cries, shocked to the core.

"What, the Machiavellian megalomania of it all?" I ask.

"No, that you didn't cut me in!"

"Well, it's funny you should mention that. The next time Dave suggests full-height drives, I'd like you to keep your gob shut. The same goes for when he suggests monochrome monitors to cut down on sick time because of eye strain. We've got a buyer who wants a job lot of SVGAs."

"But that's just ridic...Dave's working for you, isn't he?" the PFY cries, the penny finally dropping.

"Not for - with."

"But he's completely thick!"

"Oh, that's just a cover story. He pumps out stupid suggestions at top speed to prevent other managers from getting their own in there."

There's a knock at the door.

"Speak of the devil."

"Uh, I think I've forgotten my password," Dave mumbles.

"It's OK, he knows," I respond.

"Oh. Right. Well, I've just heard rumours that your boss is going to propose that all management get a laptop conversion kit for their cars - complete with 12 volt LCD monitor, cellphone hook-up etc."

"Bloody hell," the PFY gasps. "That'll be our whole equipment budget for a couple of quarters! What are we going to do?"

"Well," Dave comments, "for a start I'd cut the monitor deal, bring in Dvorak keyboards to prevent repetitive strain injury, RS232 networking to reduce Ethernet collisions, and, when that fails, dial-up networking between floors."

Unfortunately, two days later the flaw in the plan becomes apparent when 18 ultra high-speed modems arrive in the office - courtesy of the boss who was so swayed by the inter-floor dial-up networking argument that he cashed in our budget on them.

So it is true then: you can't win 'em all...

Sigh.