Anything Is Possum-able

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In the high-pressure world of the 24×7 data center, there are sometimes little events that make it all more fun and bearable.

Recently, we moved our servers into a new lab area that we were unfamiliar with. It had a nice raised floor with air conditioning routed up through the floor, a giant UPS, generator backup and a number of other features that we were all excited about. Unfortunately, as we were about to learn, it had one feature that no one was very excited about. As we were getting the tour, one member of our server team noticed a four-foot long animal trap over in the corner of the lab nestled inconspicuously between some of the server racks.

The network administrator calmly explained that somehow a possum had got into the two-foot-deep raised floor area and had been seen wandering around the lab from time to time. The prospects of this little varmint chewing on 220-volt power whips, fiber and network cables really painted a vivid picture in everyone’s mind. The hope was that he would fall for the non-lethal animal trap and be quietly removed to a more possum-appropriate location by the local humane society. However, the animal trap sat empty—this little guy was not going to be easy to get rid of. After all, he had a luxurious, air-conditioned, comfortable, dark hideout during the day and could come out at night to raid the trash cans and snack on some careless system administrator’s leftover lunch.

Our minds ran wild with the possibilities. Could we train him to do regular maintenance and switch out the backup tapes? Maybe an occasional reboot of a server that had a memory leak and a CHKDSK run or two after business hours? We saw visions of a willing 24×7 assistant with a tiny pager strapped around his waist, doing our bidding, all for an occasional granola bar.

But then there was the potential dark side of our seldom-seen foe. Every time one of us would need to pull up a floor tile to run a new cable, we would reach into the darkness and expect to get bitten by a rabid animal or electrocuted by some half-chewed-through power cable the beast had left as a hidden booby trap. We kept kidding the network guys, asking if they had ever pulled new Cat 5 cables only to get into a tug-of-war with our hidden guest.

I remember one day I pulled the new optional stylus out of my PDA a bit too enthusiastically and watched in horror as it shot 10 feet across the floor and went down into the raised floor crawl space through one of the SCSI cable cut-out holes. Now was the moment of truth. Previously, I’d faced down hardware failures, power outages and blue screens of death, but my MCSE training had never prepared me for wildlife encounters.

Was it worth risking an encounter with a fierce little animal that had sharp teeth and claws and excellent night vision to recover my $20 PDA stylus? Would I pull up the tile and discover the possum tapping out an e-mail on his own PDA with my stylus? I took a chance and carefully removed the tile and am happy to report that I retrieved my stylus with no close encounters of the worst kind. After a few months, no one had seen the little critter so the animal trap was removed. The food pickings had probably become a bit slim, so he moved on to another department with better food resources than our occasional dried-out French fries.

Dick Lewis is a senior systems engineer with CKT Consulting in Riverside, Calif. He is an MCSE in NT 3.51, 4.0 and Windows 2000 and is currently specializing in enterprise management of Windows servers and workstations. You can reach him at


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