Dec 21, 2010

Jackass IT: Stunts, idiocy, and hero hacks

Sometimes you have to get a little crazy to find the right solution to technology problems gone absurd

Whether you're keeping vital systems humming, extending the life of faulty hardware in dire situations, or simply hunting for sport, knowing when to throw out the manual and do something borderline irresponsible is essential to day-to-day IT work.

Here are a few poignant examples of stunts and solutions that required a touch of inspired insanity to pull off.

Jackass IT stunt No. 1: Route city services through a laptop
Ever wonder whether you could route an entire city network through a laptop running Fedora? Take a seat. Or better yet, leave the chair for your laptop. You'll need to balance it somewhere to keep city services up and operational through a two-day snowstorm.

It started out innocently, with a sizable city network core Layer 3 switch showing signs of failure and causing network instability. Errors logged to the console pinpointed the supervisor engine. Cisco was called around 10 a.m., and a replacement was slated for delivery by 2 p.m. As long as the current supervisor could keep the network more or less functional for four hours, help was on the way.

Cue Mother Nature and her blizzard machine. The call came back at noon. There was no way to get the proper part to the site before the following day due to the storm. As luck would have it, the production supervisor finally gave out minutes later, and the city's fiber network went dark. With no backup Layer 3 supervisor engine and several hundred ports in that switch, including all the servers and edge switch trunk links, there didn't seem to be anything that could be done until the next day, leaving city services bereft, including the police and fire departments.

A compatible Layer 2 supervisor for the core switch was located on site, and a plan was hatched. While this new supervisor wouldn't bring the network up by itself, it could run the switch ports on the core -- and a laptop could do the rest.

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