Shenanigans with Servers in the Middle of the night

At an hour when any reasonable person should have been asleep, I found myself sitting in front of a closed gate at a datacenter on the outskirts of Vancouver. While I waited for my friend to return with access cards, I heard a beeping sound, almost like an alarm, and the gate began to move.

It was about 1:30 in the morning and I was sitting in a car with my roommate outside the Cologix datacenter in Vancouver helping a friend move servers. Why? Because, well, I’m not really a “normal” person and this is what passes for entertainment in my life – especially during COVID when most things are closed down. I also had some personal servers for my hobby company tied up in this move, as well as gear from my day job at Windscribe so I figured it would be good to kill 3 birds with one stone – assist a friend, look after my own interests, and earn brownie points with my boss for going onsite and making sure Windscribe’s servers were looked after.

Contrary to the belief that a lot of my out of town friends seem to have, Vancouver is not at all close to Victoria (where I reside). While the big city is only 100km or so away, I live on an island so going anywhere involves either a plane or a ferry; in this case it a ferry since having a car would be an asset on this trip. Despite (or perhaps because of) the transportation complexity a trip to Vancouver is almost always an entertaining way to spend some time so I resolved to recruit someone with a vehicle to help me out on my endevour.

Somehow I managed to convince my roommate to help out, I don’t think he has a lot going on at the moment either; hence the appeal of a free working vacation in Vancouver. We left home around 5PM after I finished work for the day and headed out to the ferry for our 7PM sailing. We made it in plenty of time and had an uneventful 90 minute trip over to the mainland. Upon arrival I messaged my buddy and we arranged to meetup at his place, grab some dinner and discuss our plans to move servers the following morning. We arrived at my buddy’s house just after 9PM and all piled into his small BMW E-Series electric vehicle. It’s a pretty nice ride and, like with all electric cars, the acceleration is incredible – something that he takes advantage of at every opportunity.

My buddy wanted to take us to Gulimero, a Persian restaurant in downtown Vancouver just below an apartment where ha was putting us up for the night. I’m extremely glad we stuck with that plan, despite some of the worst traffic I had ever experienced, because the food at this place was phenomenal! We all had kebabs and everything; the meat, the rice, even the baked tomato was fantastic. I can’t recommend the restaurant enough and have referred a few friends to it in the weeks since.

Around 10:30 or 11 after I had consumed both my own dinner as well as the half of my buddy’s dinner he didn’t finish, we staggered out of the restaurant and immediately became aware of some poor planning. While riding in the electric vehicle was a blast, we now had to drive all the way back to my buddy’s place, pick up our car and then head back to the apartment which was literally the floor above the restaurant. In hindsight we should have taken 2 vehicles, but at least the traffic had cleared up by this point. On the trip back we discussed our timing for the next day – while the original plan was start moving gear around 7AM, given that it was already nearing midnight, 7AM was suddenly looking less appealing. We also tossed around the idea of just doing everything that night, but after much humming and hawing we decided against that course of action.

The drive back to my buddy’s place was uneventful, though he did show off some of that signature electric vehicle acceleration on a few of the deserted streets! My roommate and I picked up our ride, obtained the keys for the apartment and rolled out – looking forward to getting a good night’s sleep before some hard work in the morning.

We arrived back downtown and began the search for some secured parking where we could leave our car overnight. About a block away we seemed to hit the jackpot – public pay parking beneath a hotel. We drove through the open gate, pulled into a spot and hit up the pay station to happily pay the daily maximum rate – around $15 which was not unreasonable at all.

We gathered some essentials, locked up the car and began to head towards the exit of the parkade – it was at this point we became aware of a slight issue.

While it was easy to roll into the garage, getting out turned out to be decidedly more difficult. All the pedestrian exits either lead to stores that were closed, or were secured with RFID locks. We eventually wandered over to the vehicle gate from where we had entered and stomped on the vehicle sensor until the gate opened. I ducked under it and immediately realized we had screwed up; while there was a big sign stating the garage was “Public Pay Parking”there were much smaller letters indicating that overnight parking was only for hotel guests and that the parkade would only re-open to the public after 9AM – if we were to leave the car here, we likely wouldn’t be able to get back in, leacing us without a car until long after our server moving deadline had come and gone. We opted to forgo the secured parking and park on the street – forfeiting our $15 and learning a valuable lesson – always read signs in full!

Minutes after we settled in at the apartment my cellphone rang. I picked it up and it was my buddy calling – He’d had a change of heart and wanted to know if we were up for moving servers that night. I looked at my roommate and said “screw it, we’re on our way!” The time was now just after midnight and we locked up the apartment and headed over to Harbor Center – the building which housed the existing infrastructure.

Upon arriving at the datacenter we began the search for street parking when my roommate spotted an E-Series vehicle which looked suspiciously like the one we had just ridden in. It was tucked inconspicuously behind some cones in a construction zone. Knowing my friend’s affection for illegal parking and knowing how often he got ticketed (rarely) I suggested we park behind him. He met us as we exited our vehicle, and when I asked about the unorthodox parking spot the reply was “Oh yeah, I park here all the time. You can get away with it this late at night!” We unloaded the folding cart from our trunk and crossed the street to Harbor Center, ready for whatever ridiculousness my buddy had in store for us.

We passed through several secured doors and rolled up to the rack and began removing servers under the hesitant direction of my friend. My buddy is not the most organized person and the phrase “thoughts and prayers” was uttered a lot as we asked for each server if it was the correct one to pull. Before too long we had a stack of equipment which probably grossly exceeded the wight limits of our small cart, and a smaller stack of Dell R410’s which my buddy was “pretty sure” were not in use and had been given to me as a thank you. “I might need the drives back, I’m not 100% sure what’s on them” he warned me. I flashed him the thumbs up and we headed back to the car, to begin loading up all the equipment.

By this time it was around 1AM and although I was starting to feel tired, the silliness of the whole endeavor kept me going; and besides, by this point everything was offline so we were past the point of no return.

The drive to the Cologix datacenter was around 30 minutes and we ended up arriving a a few minutes before my buddy – something that surprised the hell out of me given how fast he drives. When he eventually pulled up he told us he would meet us at the gate and drove into the customer’s parking lot. My roommate pulled our car ahead and much to our surprise the gate began to open for us. We pulled into the loading area, and while waiting for my friend to meet us I began unloading the vehicle, After a few minutes I heard a cry of surprise as my buddy exclaimed “How’d you guys get in here!?” “The gate opened?” I replied. “Huh, I had no idea this was an option, one sec, let me pull into the loading dock too!”

The rest of our time at this datacenter was pretty uneventful, apparently my buddy’s “thoughts and prayers” paid off because most of the equipment came up without issue. I did have problems with one of the Windscribe servers which needed some input from my boss the next day. By 3AM, I was pretty useless and we decided to all meet at the datacenter the next morning to finish everything off. My roommate and I headed back to the apartment and by 3:30AM I was out cold with an alarm set for 9 the next day.

Fun fact about my sleeping schedule – No matter how late I stay up and no matter where I am in the world my body naturally seems to synchronize itself with the rising of the sun. So I was not terribly surprised when I woke up around 7:30, unable to get back to sleep.

I spent a bit of time doing some remote work on the servers we had migrated – changing IP addresses and network settings as needed, but by around 8:30 I was ready for some breakfast and woke my roommate up with a couple swift knocks on the wall. I feel slightly bad about the rude awakening, but hey, he still got more sleep then I did!

After some breakfast and much needed coffee we drove back to the Cologix datacenter and met up with my buddy a few minutes later. I’m pleased to report that the rest of the migration went off without too much trouble and we were able to finish up before noon. We headed back to my buddy’s place for lunch and to hang out, where I graciously accepted even more decommissioned servers. We eventually had to draw the line after becoming concerned that my roommate’s car could bottom out under all the extra weight!

The trip back to the ferry terminal for our 7PM departure was uneventful, except for a stop at Ikea (since we don’t have one on the island) where we managed to squeeze even more stuff in the already overloaded vehicle,

The trip was a short one, lasting just a little over 24 hours, but it was action packed! I’m pleased to report that the gear at the new facility is still doing well and has not yet required an additional trip.

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