We’ve all heard stories of hoarders. That one guy in the neighbourhood that has two cars, a lawnmower, a boat, two dog sheds, an engine from a vintage car, a second rusted engine from a vintage car, some bales of hay and what looks to be a Salvador Dali custom one of a kind sculpture in their front garden. There’s even TV shows about these guys. I honestly believe some of the most under-represented hoarders are those that work in IT. In some cases they should actually be museum pieces. Everyone I know has battle scars of having to deal with ancient relics from a bygone era that is hosting the most critical application for the entire company and hasn’t been patched in 20 years because Jim that installed it but has since retired and no one else is will to risk it. What if it never comes back up? It’s not under a support contract. How is it that IT systems are still being bound with baling twine (probably taken from your neighbourhood hoarders hay bales) and refurbished, bought from e-bay, hard disks? Any worst of all, it’s generally accepted as standard practice in some places. I’ll never forget being ask by the finance director if we could just buy a new EMC Clariion from ‘the internet’ rather than go through a proper procurement process with EMC directly. “Shur isn’t the internet cheap.” Yes boss it is but…..

So to understand this mentality of not wanting to change and hoarding old equipment in data centers in a large part to justify their existance I have take a look at what a hoarder is and also what it is not.

What a hoarder is not:

A hoarder is not a collector. A collector has a sense of pride about their possessions and take pleasure in showing and talking about their possessions. Collectors tend to keep their possessions organised. A hoarder on the other hand will generally experience embarassment about their possessions and feel uncomfortable when others see them. Their possessions take over the functional living space and they often incur great debt to satisfy their hoarding needs.

Some of the typical traits of a hoarder are:
* Avoids throwing away possessions
* Experiences severe anxiety about discarding possessions
* Has trouble making decisions about organizing possessions
* Feels overwhelmed or embarrassed by possessions
* Is suspicious of other people touching possessions
* Has obsessive thoughts about possessions:
– Fear of running out of an item and needing it later
– Checks the garbage to see if an item was accidentally discarded
* May have functional impairments:
– Loss of living space inside the home (no place to eat, sleep, or cook)
– Social isolation
– Family or marital problems
– Financial difficulties
– Health hazards**

So with the above in mind how does it relate to IT. Let’s take an old VAX that is sitting in the data centre and is linked to hosting one of the most critical applications that ensures your production line is still operational. It is your cash cow. Without it all operations stop and the system would most likely need to be built from the ground up. There’s little to know knowledge within the company on how this operates as everyone that knows it has either retired or died. So how did we end up in this situation where the application and system has never been upgraded or moved to a more suitable, contemporary platform. Oh hi Mr. IT Hoarder guy, nice to meet you. Everyone, meet Steve*.

Steve has been with the company for a long time. Any time the good old VAX is brought up in discussion Steve gets a mention. Although he doesn’t beam with pride. Steve slowly slinks away to hide behind the nearest cubicle partition in the hope that his invisibility will lead to his anonymity. Poor Steve. It’s not all his fault but he does wear a fair share of the blame when it comes to stagnation of the platform and why the VAX has not been put to greener pastures. In a way it should be treated like the prized race horse and put to stud for the last 10 years of its life, spawning the next generation of business critical application support mechanisms. The business has come to Steve as the senior engineer on a number of occasions to find solutions on sunsetting the VAX but his deep need to keep the VAX and the feeling of being overwhelmed at the massive task to do so has crippled him. It’s meant the poor Steve only responds to VAX related issues and he has not been able to learn new technologies or move away to a new job. Let’s look at Steve in relation to the hoarder traits:

  • Avoids throwing away possessions – yup that’s Steve alright
  • Experiences severe anxiety about discarding possessions – yeah, he just can’t look at anything else that could replace it
  • Has trouble making decisions about organising possessions – what’s to organise, it’s working
  • Feels overwhelmed or embarrassed by possessions – he actually has nightmares with panic attacks he feels so overwhelmed.
  • Is suspicious of other people touching possessions – he requested a police check on the last guy that replaced a hard drive
  • Has obsessive thoughts about possessions:
  • Fear of running out of an item and needing it later – What happens when all the DDS4 tapes are gone? The thoughts are frightening
  • Checks the garbage to see if an item was accidentally discarded – Steve has been known to climb into the odd dumpster or two.
  • May have functional impairments:
  • Loss of living space inside the ~~home~~ Data Centre – It won’t fit in a normal rack so it’s taking up floor space and the new NVMe storage unit can’t fit in there until it’s removed
  • Social isolation – Steve has attended local user groups but once they hear VAX he’s been shunned
  • Family or marital problems – Did I mention Steve is divorced? The VAX could not have helped his cause
  • Financial difficulties – It’s a ticking financial time-bomb. As soon as it falls over say goodbye dividends, hello dole queue
  • Health hazards – It’s giving everyone heart palpitations when they seen. One person has reported being breathless and incurring severe bowel pain upon sighting of the VAX. Some people also reckon Steve is blind to the VAX and not even surgery can help him.

The main question to ask is are you a Steve? Do you hoard some ancient piece of equipment in your DC in the hope that you never have to drop it into a skip. You like it but you are embarrassed to mention it to your mates. You just can’t get rid of it. Has this mentality meant that you’ve not grown, both professionally or personally? Has your anxiety to change and desire to not modify anything meant that you’ve not upgraded a system? Well, I implore you to seek professional help. You don’t want to be like Steve, really you don’t. He only owns one shirt and all of his socks have holes in them.

*Steve has had his real name redacted to save him from further embarrassment.

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