"Hey Ryan! Glad I got ahold of you, have a minute to lend a hand?" spoke a surprisingly jovial voice on the other end on the NOC’s emergency support "bat phone". It was the company's email admin, Jeff.
"Sure! Hang on a sec." Ryan panted before frantically stabbing at the phone's mute button as if he had just been caught slacking. After finding his notebook and pen, Ryan unmuted his phone and told Jeff to continue.
Everybody had told Ryan that working the graveyard rotation in the NOC was the best job you could ever want. For three weeks, he'd arrive in the data center at 11PM, stay on until 7 o'clock the next morning, keep an eye on how the servers are doing and take any actions necessary to keep the server farm from falling over during off-hours, and then rejoin the rest of his cohorts in 9-5 land once his turn was done.
Pretty much, Ryan was a glorified baby sitter and got paid to be bored, surf the web, and do crossword puzzles...that is until this particular Friday evening.
"Ok, now I'm going to need for you to go head into the data center and look for CORPSRV1818. It'll be in Rack N against the wall in row 1. You'll want to hurry. Give me a ring when you get there."
What do you mean...Row 1?
After passing through the main doors of the server room, Ryan hustled to Rack N and then made his way to the edge of the wall, but something seemed a bit...strange.
"Did you find it yet?" Jeff asked after only a single ring.
"Well, no. I'm at Rack N like you said, against the wall and these aren't even the email servers."
"You’re right, they aren't. Now, remember that CORPSRV1818 is up in row 1. Go ahead and cycle the power on it, please and thanks."
Ryan felt the gears inside of his head grind to a halt. He did hear Jeff correctly?
Row 1 never contained a server - it only ever held the rack's cooling system or maybe an odd switch in some oddball cases, but NEVER a box...and why was the email administrator asking for what appeared to be a random non-email server to be power cycled – no way was this real.
"Alright Jeff.... ha ha funny. Good joke. Server on Row 1. Ok,...ya got me."
"Wait a sec... oh, you DONT KNOW?! Ok, just trust me. Check row 1, cycle the box and I'll explain."
Ryan grabbed a stool and peered at the top of the cabinet. Sure enough – behind a false faceplate from one of the cooling units that one would normally expect to see in any other "normal" row 1 was a server. Sure, it wasn’t pretty – it was dirty and kind of scuffed, but nonetheless, a short, flat box labeled CORPSRV1818.
It took a little while to feel around for the right spot behind the faux cover, but Ryan managed to power cycle the server. He stuck around long enough watched as the lights turned from solid amber to green but the question remained...what exactly was this ...thing?
"Ok you know how when equipment fails that we insist upon keeping the old parts after they get swapped out?" Jeff asked.
"Well, most of the time, the parts are defective, but they still work – just not well enough for business purposes. So, after a few months of normal swap-outs, there are enough leftover parts to build a, well...Frankenserver of sorts."
Ryan was dumbfounded. "But...what would the company want with a server made from old junk parts?"
"It’s the, um...game server."
Building a Monster
Jeff went on to explain that the creation and also the preparation for the game server went back years – back to the creation of the server farm and the data center.
When the CIO was negotiating the telecom contract, he requested an extra external facing static IP for "testing purposes". The web and infrastructure guys made sure that a rack would be placed just far enough off the beaten path so that the gaming server would be largely ignored.
To seal the deal, and to keep nosy people at bay, the rack was fitted out with several warning signs.
"Inside the rack is a sign posted cautioning about accidental static discharge and large printout instructing the tech to call Jim Gallaher in case there’s a problem. This way we have a heads’ up, just in case someone is there who isn't as 'in the know' as you are."
Immediately, Ryan started to worry. Should he report this? He was as much a gamer as the other guys, but there’s no way this was allowable. Just as Ran was about to speak again, he was cut off.
"Alright! The CounterStrike server is back up...gotta go. Thanks a ton Ryan!"
Ryan meandered out of the data center and back toward his desk, trying to process the significance of it all. Because he was now "in the know", what could happen if the server was discovered? Could he get in trouble by association? Ryan’s mind was swirling with ethics questions, but when he made it back to his desk and noticed some emails he had received in the meantime.
One that he had received was a forwarded a confidential message with an IP for the game server from one of the auditing team soon followed by a "thank you for the hard work fixing that server" from the executive director.
Admittedly, there was still a little bit of a gray area, but after seeing everybody involved, Ryan felt fairly certain that he knew how he’d be spending his free time during the graveyard shift.
After all, he didn't want upper management to think he wasn’t a team player.