Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A Second-Hand Anecdote

A friend of mine is a project manager for a software design firm, and regaled me with this story. This is as told, with only identifying details changed to protect corporate and individual identities:
So we're taking a tour of the data center at a financial institution that's contracted us to do some coding. As we're walking through their server room, the guy giving the tour gestures to a tall black box along one wall. "That's Big Bertha," he said. "We're not sure what it does or why it's here. And the last guy who knew the password died three years ago." We all laughed, but the guy was serious. "It was installed in the late 1980s, we know that much. And we kinda know what it does, because we've checked the data going in against the data coming out. But we're not sure that that's ALL it does, or even how it's doing it. We've lost all the documentation, and there's no one here left who was around when it was installed. Every bit of our data runs through it. When that box goes down, we're fucked. We keep a full bottle of whiskey in the break room so that when that box dies, we can all get drunk before they fire us."
Boy, talk about your "legacy systems". Did I mention that this is a financial institution whose job is keeping track of millions of transactions, all of which seem to get routed through the Mystery Box? I hope it runs for a while longer, because eventually people will start lighting candles before it and worshipping it like a god.