Nick (learath) wrote,


I've been meaning to write this for a while. Feel free to skip reading this if you like to pretend your federal tax dollars do anything worthwhile.
So this is the story of one single incident, covering the span of 2-5 years depending on how you count it. It is by no means the worst incident that's ever occurred in the federal government, but I think it gives a good overview of the processes. It started many years ago when management at a cabinet level government agency realized that their two "Redundant UPSs" for their main data center were both at 90% load. (quick background, this means that if one of the "Redundant UPSs" fails the other will instantly shoot to 180% load, and seconds later then either shut down if it's in good shape, or more likely provide an impressive pyrotechnic display if it's not in good shape) This all occurred in the late 90s before I showed up.

A decision was made, and the agency "started looking for a new data center". As it turns out, the GSA had a building available, and the second floor was acquired for use as a data center. Most of you read that last sentence, and did not notice anything wrong. A few of you read it and went "you know, that sounds like a bad idea". One or two of you might know that the load rating for an office building is typically around 150lbs/sqft, and the failure point is 300-350lbs/sqft. The HVAC and power distribution gear earmarked for this data center was more than 150lbs/sqft if evenly distributed across the entire space. Everything scheduled to be installed in the data center totaled about 300lbs/sqft with the cabinets half empty.

At this point, there really are not too many options. Management has to do some combination of options to include 1. firing someone, 2. quietly getting rid of the space on the 2nd floor, 3. finding space that's not going to collapse the building when installed, 4. possibly get a second estimate done. What actually occurred was not any of those choices. Instead they decided to ignore the problem. At this point the contract changed from one contractor to another contractor, and the new contractor looked at the new data center. I'm sure you're all bored at this point, so the net result of this is a major federal government agency spent over a year trying to put a data center on the second floor, knowing it would fall through most likely while being installed. I honestly can't conceive of the thought process that wouldn't have gone "OH SHIT, I MIGHT BE ABOUT TO KILL HALF OF MY TECH STAFF! I SHOULDN'T DO THAT!", but instead goes "oh I don't care, I really want my data center on the second floor".

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