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Performing the operation on a wrong server


"You are trapped in a maze of screens and ssh sessions all alike."
"It is dark, and you are likely to log off the wrong account."


The typical case of the loss of situational awareness is performing some critical operation on the wrong server. If you use Windows desktop to connect to Unix servers use MSVDM to create multiple desktop and change background for each to make the typing a command in a wrong terminal window less likely.  If you prefer to work as root switch to root only on the server that you are working. Use your regular ID and sudo on the others.

Such commands as reboot or mkinitrd can be pretty devastating when applied to wrong server. This situation often is made more probable due to not fault-tolerant name scheme employed in many corporations where names of the servers differ by one symbol. For example, scheme serv01, serv02, serv03 and so on is a pretty dangerous name scheme as server names are different by only single digit and thus errors like working on the wrong server are much more probable.

The typical case of the loss of situational awareness is performing some critical operation on the wrong server. If you use Windows desktop to connect to Unix servers use MSVDM to create multiple desktop and change background for each to make the typing command in a wrong terminal window less likely

Even more complex scheme like Bsn01dls9, Nyc02sns10 were first three letter encode the  location, then numeric suffix and then vendor of the hardware and OS installed  are prone to such errors. My impression that unless first letters differ, there is a substantial chance of  working on wrong server. Using favorite sport teams names  is a better strategy and those "formal" name can be used as aliases. 

The name might be very similar, for example XYZ300 instead of XYZ200 or functions are very similar (production and quality boxes).  Some commands like reboot on a wrong box can be pretty damaging.

That's why it's important that shell prompt shows the name of the host.  Often, if you both have production computer and quality server for some application is wise never have two terminals opened simultaneously as root. Either change one to  a regular user or move it to a separate workspace. Closing and reopening when it needed is also not a big deal, but  can save you from some very unpleasant situations.

For example here are some education examples of this situation (from IT Resource Center forums - greatest blunders)

Michael Steele

    When I was first starting out I worked for a Telecom as an 'Application Administrator' and I sat in a small room with a half a dozen other admins and together we took calls from users as their calls escalated up from tier I support. We were tier II in a three tier organization.

    A month earlier someone from tier I confused a production server with a test server and rebooted it in the middle of the day. These servers were remotely connected over a large distance so it can be confusing. Care is needed before rebooting.

    The tier I culprit took a great deal of abuse for this mistake and soon became a victim of several jokes. An outage had been caused in a high availability environment which meant management, interviews, reports; It went on and on and was pretty brutal.

    And I was just as brutal as anyone.

    Their entire organization soon became victimize by everyone from our organization. The abuse traveled right up the management tree and all participated.

    It was hilarious, for us.

    Until I did the same thing a month later.

    There is nothing more humbling then 2000 people all knowing who you are for the wrong reason and I have never longed for anonymity more.

    Now I alway do a 'uname' or 'hostname' before a reboot, even when I'm right in front of it.

Paula J Frazer-Campbell

I spent half a day trying to trace a fault on a machine -- could not find anyhthing wrong - stange!!!

Went back to start, to discover I was working on the wrong server.



We have two cdrom drive mounted side by side. Both are use by different server. In a mid of rush, I put in a CD in the wrong drive and try to mount that CD in another using "mount /dev/dsk/c1t2d0 /CDROM" and it keep saying "Device Busy".

PANIC!!! thinking my server have broken, I called HP for help, only to discover the CD is in the wrong embarrassing.!!

Paula J Frazer-Campbell


Two K class server side by side logged into backup server telnet to live to check a setting forgot to exit and wished to reboot backup :-

shutdown -r now

Many cries from outside of the server room as the live system with 650+ users trundled around on a 6 way 8 gig K class reboot - this is measuded in days not mins.

Tim Adamson

I had a HP Engineer on site to install a heap of hardware in a machine. I shutdown and halted the server, then proceeded to power off the entire cabinet. Pity I was 4 feet out and powered off production cabinet.

My excuse - damned lowsy power, we really should have a UPS :p


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