Danger, Will Robinson!

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Admittedly I am too young to have been around for the original Lost in Space series which aired in the 1960s and the cult classic Space Odyssey 2001 which launched in 1968 when Hal uttered that most infamous line, "I'm sorry I can't do that Dave".  Little did they know it would be more than 40 years before our IT began actually talking to us, yes I am referring to you Siri and your step-brother Google Now. 

What these two futuristic anthropomorphic technologies did however is bring IT errors and alerts to the forefront and raise an awareness (both good and bad) of the potential and risk of IT. While Siri and Google Now do not yet pull us into line or tell us when things go wrong it may not be long before they do. Until that time we live in a period where errors and alerts come in many formats. Lights flash, hardware beeps, software pops up and windows logs. 

I am constantly surprised by the innovative ways things fail, each of which is a reminder that all of our senses can assist us in diagnosing an issue. When an iPhone bursts into flame we smell the sweet sulphur of it's circuits, when a UPS fails we hear the sound of it's alarm and when a hard drive array fails we see the lights of it's lethargy. Each of these issues identifies itself in it's own unique way and as our technology gets all the more complex, how are we to know which one to look for? 

The truth is, we don't. This means that a good troubleshooter must be observant and open in their approach to an issue. Like a child to a new toy we must test and observe before we react and work our way from the bigger picture to the finer details. 

What if you went to the store to get some ice cream and as you pull into the driveway at home you notice smoke and flames pouring out the windows. Do you race inside to put the ice cream in the freezer? If there were no smoke or flames but your smoke detector is wailing and your alarm is flashing you might open the door to peek inside, punch in your alarm code and make your way cautiously through the house checking for the potential presence of fire on your way to the fridge and a replacement 9V battery for the smoke alarm. If the smoke detector and alarm weren't making any noise you would have got to the fridge faster. But what if it was beeping? Would you check to see if it was plugged in or the doors closed properly? And if it wasn't beeping but wasn't cold would you still put your ice cream in and walk away? 

Now consider that house is your computer and the fridge is a component. If the computer is giving indications of a problem then there is no point looking at the components. A server on fire is not going to be fixed by replacing the power supply in the same way you would not buy a new fridge for a burning house. Now consider that house is Windows and the fridge is a program. Is there any point trying to identify the cause of a problem in a program if you are experiencing a problem with all programs? About now I would probably just eat the ice cream! 

So now we know what we need to look for, we just need to know where to look. Unfortunately there is no standard here but the same principles apply. If the server is experiencing problems then what brand is it? Does that manufacturer provide an inbuilt component or program that reports on errors or alerts? If Windows is causing problems have you checked the Windows Event Logs or Action Center for any reported problems? If a program is causing problems have you checked it's error logs or error messages? This approach can apply to all IT troubleshooting but you just need to remember to use all your senses.


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