Interesting Computer Problem

When you are grateful you have a job you can’t be picky about the applications you support. This week I spent a lot of time on my one of my least favorite applications, credit card processing. To give you a little background I was not employed at the firm when it was originally installed in 2007 so almost everything I hear is secondhand. The application is pretty simple and it runs on its own computer. It downloads credit card orders from our orders data base, transfers the authorizations over to the bank, and then updates the orders data base. Despite its relative simplicity I hear that the application was a painful install with lots of support issues. The folks before me got it to work and it seemed to be working okay until the the middle of 2008. That was when intermittent response time problems started to crop up. Attempts at technical support lead us down that primrose path again without success. The folks in technical support recommended we re-install the software but they really did not have an explanation for our response time issue. The statement that sent us in a completely different direction was when they said that our transaction volume was too large for their application. Our bank took that statement back a week later but the damage was done. The bank and the credit card processing application were going to be replaced.

This fun and games started when the credit card processing computer rebooted after the “Patch Tuesday” updates. It came up okay but it was coming up with strange errors during credit card processing. At first we could not process any credit cards but we finally got the cards processed. Since it was “working” I did not look at the problem until Friday. That was when I found out that the problems had continued on every morning and it had reached the critical stage. After spending three hours of “quality time” with an upset user(my boss) getting the credit cards processed, I was convinced that there was more to this problem than “Patch Tuesday” problems and I was determined to fix the problem today.

It did not take too long before I found a disk corruption problem. It looked like DISKCHK might fix the problem so I needed credit card processing folks to complete the end of day tasks so I could take an immediate backup and reboot. So at 530 pm on a Friday evening we rebooted. The computer would not reboot. I tried safe mode and it would not reboot. I tried to boot from a CDROM and it would not reboot.  I called the boss to let him know. He said he would meet at the office on Saturday morning. This had a really good chance of being a super catastrophe. Oh well! There goes my weekend!

On Saturday it took us about an hour to identify the problems. The boss actually found the problem. I heard a unusual spin up sound on either the disk drive or a fan.  My little power supply tester showed we were missing –5v. I installed a new power supply and now we could boot off of the CDROM. Unfortunately now that we could boot up properly we could confirm that the disk drive was trashed.  So I installed a new drive. About two hours later I had completed re-installing the operating system and the application from my backup. An hour of testing confirmed that we would be able to process credit cards on Monday and the business would continue for another week. This is probably the first time I have seen a double failure on a PC.