Tech-fail and clueless DECmove!

Inspired by The Register's On Call series (e.g. here), here's a classic #fail from my tech past.

I was the system manager of a MicroVAX set-up back in the early 1990s, about a dozen users. The MicroVAX was a waist high mini-mainframe, about a metre square by 40cm wide, from memory. Not huge, but larger than the biggest desktop systems of even today. Here's roughly what it looked like:

The management had arranged to move the company (Simmonds Precision) to a larger office (from Swallowfield to Wokingham, if you're interested) and, because we had a service contract with DEC for the MicroVAX, the company wanted to pay 'DECmove' lots of money to make sure all our DEC equipment made it the 10 miles safely.

So, on the way, guys in overalls arrived and proceeded to start with the peripherals. Mice? Keyboards? Monitors? Even cables? All wrapped in bubble-wrap. I was very impressed. Wow, these guys know what they're doing!

As they got closer to the MicroVAX itself I wondered just how much bubble wrap they'd use on it. After all, if even keyboards were smothered, how many metres would be used on the computer, by FAR the most delicate part of all the equipment involved?

I soon got my answer. Time, it seems, was short for the oh-so-careful DEC 'workmen' and when they got to the MicroVAX they simply added it to the back of their lorry. No wrap, no protection, not even some brown paper. I was staggered.

"What about protecting the computer?" I said, as they prepared to drive off. "Look, just let me take it in my car!"

"Oh, it'll be ok!" said the DEC men, and that was that, it seems.

I was in a black mood that day and it got blacker when I arrived at the new office and we unpacked everything. Well, not the MicroVAX, since that had just been plomped unceremoniously in the new computer room. We turned it all on and within minutes started spotting errors on one of its system disks, where all the jostling and crashing in the lorry had damaged the platters.

Several days and weeks of persuading DEC that the replacement disk (many hundreds of pounds in those days) was up to them to cover and then restoring data and getting everything working again.

Sigh. Bubble wrapping mice that cost £10 but lobbing a £10000 MicroVAX on the back of a lorry with no protection? That's a 'take your money' company moving concern for you...

My faith in the common sense of the average British workman died a little that day....


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