Mundane Power Woes

Aside from everything else happening around me, I had ‘one of those days’ yesterday:

It actually started pretty good. I finally got my acto together and moved my 19″ rack from my garage to work, to get better use out of it. Fortunately Marc H. was able to help me, since this thing is really heavy (and would never fit into my little crappy car). Everything worked great, and in less than two hours the rack was happily humming in my lab. We went to lunch.

Now, after lunch I want to move my old server (mail, file & print, CVS, etc.) into the rack. Fair enough, not a big one: everything in the rack connected, I start the system, BIOS and POST come up, the OS is starting to boot happily … 3 … 2 … 1 … BLACK. No more restarts – the system is DEAD.

A few sweat drops later, I see that the fuse in the power supply blew. Well, not a problem: it is a six year old system and after a little scavenging in old PC rubble, I find a compatible 6.3A fuse, replace it, put the system back together: it works! Great, back into the rack, power on, BIOS comes up … 3 … 2 … 1 … BANG, smoke coming out of my server …. argh!

The adrenalin level is quite high now, and I decide that a smoking power supply will be a little too hard to fix. CompUSA is your friend, and a few 45 minutes later I am back with a brand new 500W power supply. Finally. Well, the old one was over 6 years old anyways, no surprise. Into the rack, power on … 3 … 2 … 1 … BANG ..BANG…. (dead silence).

Something is definitively fishy here, right? Have I just lost my marbles or what is going on?

Well, something is strange, but this time it was not me: The Compaq (now Hewlett Packard) PDU (Power Distribution Unit) is a 127V 30A monster, which comes with a fat power cord and a huge three prong plug. In the past it fit happily into a 125V, 30A outlet. The outlet in my lab, which fits the plug really well, is a 250V outlet.

It seems to me that either (i) the electricians of the building have made a fatal mistake, (ii) the Compaq (now HP) engineer designing the PDU was smoking something terribly unhealthy or (iii) the electrical code is inconsistent. Either one of the three possibilities is not quite reassuring …

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