The Mystery Beep

Allegedly the whole thing started on a weekend. One of the high ranking directors (those who get the keys to the office) managed to escape the clutches of his family, and hide in the familiar and peaceful confines of the small office in our building. He was working diligently, or doing whatever people do when they come to work on weekends on their own volition (I wouldn’t know because that has never happened to me), when he started hearing mysterious beeping noise.

At first, he tried ignoring it hoping it would go away. After a few hours, he realized that this might actually be a fire alarm and got scared. Of course it was not the fire alarm. Our fire alarms are designed to rupture ear drums. Police actually used the same technology as a non-lethal anti-riot solution, until courts ruled that it’s use was inhumane. So the company quickly re-structured itself and started selling these powerful sonic weapons as fire alarm systems. So if there is a fire in our building, you will know. You will be able to tell, because your ears will be bleeding. But alas, the weekend worker guy did not know that.

He tried calling the building manager (you know, rather than the fire department cause that’s how we roll here), who was smart enough to disconnect his phone on Saturdays specifically because of events like this one. So the director lost his nerve and escaped the building.

He was relieved to see the building did not burn down come Monday, but as soon as he went back to his office he realized the beeping sound wasn’t gone. Just to make sure he was not going insane, he asked his secretary, and all his other underlings if they also hear the beeping sound. It turns out he was not alone. Everyone, except one elderly gentleman heard distinct beeping. And so they set out to find the source of the strange sound.

They checked all the possible equipment – they listened to the computers under their desks, they checked the mini-fridge and the microwave oven and the toaster in the kitchenette area. Several ladies actually unplugged and re-plugged their space heaters (yay fire code violations) just to be sure they were not the source of the mysterious beep. Of course after checking them the returned them to their default position – right behind the desktop tower, blowing the hot air directly into the fan vent.

After making sure none of their equipment was the culprit, they called for external intervention. They have summoned the only guy in the building who was man enough for this task – the everyman hero, Grumpy the Janitor. Grumpy verified, that yes, indeed there was a beeping noise in the office, but he didn’t know where it was coming from. Urged by the annoyed staff, he used his super-human hearing powers and decided the beeping must be coming from the office next door.

Unfortunately the neighbors were all out due to some conference type event, and their office was locked so nothing could be done about the beeping until they came back on Thursday. They just had to persevere, and deal with it.

Of course if you have ever tried dealing with an annoying high pitched, oscillating beep you probably know that it’s not easy. So by Wednesday the entire office was on the brink of a mental breakdown and the building management was coerced into doing a scouting raid into the crazy beeping office. Unfortunately, upon entering the locked rooms they were faced with deafening, oppressive and disturbing silence. The empty office was entirely devoid of sound – especially of the dreaded beep. It was definitely not the source.

Around this time, the story of the mysterious beep started circling around the building. People would talk about it in the hallways, by the bagle stand downstairs. You would hear the interoffice coalition of smokers joke about it in front of the building, puffing smoke at everyone walking in or out of the front door.

Needless to say, we were intrigued. To us, IT geeks it seemed fairly clear – somewhere in that office a computer, or a UPS unit failed and was screaming for help. They just couldn’t find it. Eventually curiosity got the best of us, and we decided to visit the beeping office. I convinced socially capable coworker to accompany me in order to do the small-talk and chit-chatting while we investigated. I have no clue what mundane people talk about (probably stuff football and celebrity gossip – you know, stuff that I wouldn’t have a clue about), so I tend to take a wing-man with me when I suspect a social situation to unfold.

So we hiked up couple flights of stairs, introduced ourselves and offered our help. The lady who greeted us at the door was overjoyed to see two members of the mysterious and unknowable IT caste take interest in their plight and lead us into the bowels of their office. Their cubicles were in a bit of dissimilar, and their people were visibly distraught. You could actually see them wince every time the beep returned.

The beep was an unmistakable noise made by a piece of electronic equipment struggling with an intractable hardware failure. Like pair of bats listening for sonar echo reflections we swooped around their small office area, and fairly quickly narrowed our search area to a small open passageway that connected the kitchenette with cubicle zone. But the was just nothing there, save for a strange, smallish, “Being John Malkovich” style door. I put my ear to it, and could almost swear the sound was coming from the inside.

I instructed by buddy to ask the locals what was behind this strange door. They conveyed to us that it was merely a storage closet – full of office supplies, empty boxes and semi-useful stuff that they just didn’t want cluttering up the place. Nothing there would beep, they said. But I wasn’t convinced. Perhaps something they stored there ran out of batteries… Perhaps they had an old, forgotten UPS plugged in some dark corner… It wouldn’t hurt to check.

Reluctantly they opened the little door, and almost immediately a barrage of boxes and supplies spilled out of the tiny room. The avalanche of office equipment however unearthed something strange. Almost entirely buried in all sorts of useless garbage there was a rectangular, black, still structure with a wire-mesh front panel.

A server rack! And slightly above it, barely clearing the mountain of supplies was an industrial strength AC unit still blowing cool air into the tiny enclosure.

Apparently, this tiny room started as a very small server closet hosting this company’s domain controller and file/printer sharing server, a assorted high end network appliances. Of course the local office dwellers somehow failed to grasp the idea of a dedicated server room, so they decided it could serve a dual purpose as a makeshift storage room. The server rack was pushed all the way to the back, and boxes were stacked all around it, until they formed an impenetrable barrier.

Since they had a pretty high staff turnaround, and the server was maintained remotely by some outsourced IT group, the existence of the server was eventually forgotten. The only person who still knew about it was the owner of the company, who was on his first vacation in six years (or something like that) that week and did not want to hear about some silly beeping sound.

What was the source of the beep? Apparently the server had a RAID-1 setup and one of the drives failed. Of course since the other drive was still good, everything in the still office worked without any problems, which is why no one even thought about calling the IT people.

The moral of this story is that things are not always what they might seam. There can sometimes be a server room in a supply closet, or a supply closet in a server room.

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4 Responses to The Mystery Beep

  1. IceBrain PORTUGAL Mozilla Firefox Linux Terminalist says:

    So the machine wasn’t configured to warn someone by email in case of hardware failure? That seems a wtf to me.
    Nice story, by the way. Or at least well told :)

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  2. nitro2k01 SWEDEN Mozilla Firefox Mac OS Terminalist says:

    Thinkgeek used to sell a thing that generates a beep at random intervals, that you were supposed to hide away under someone’s desk or somewhere else to annoy them. I was almost certain that’s where the story was going to end.

    @IceBrain Perhaps it was set up to only warn said owner who was on vacation…

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  3. xWittaker UNITED STATES Google Chrome Windows says:

    @ nitro2k01

    Here’s that thinkgeek buzzer thing. EvilTron

    I need to order one, just in case a coworker pisses me off badly. I just love the idea of a tiny, creepy voice whispering “can you hear me” periodically over the course of a month.

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  4. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Linux Terminalist says:

    @ IceBrain:

    As @ nitro2k01 said – it was most likely configured to send emails to someone who was not around. Or someone who has left the company. :P

    @ nitro2k01:

    Heh! I remember that thing. I wonder why they discontinued it. Perhaps it was too effective?

    @ xWittaker:

    Oh wait, never mind. They did not discontinue it. Thanks for the link. :)

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