credit: gwen @ flickr Although The University billed itself as “a leader on the forefront of Information Technology,” it was neither a leader nor anywhere near the forefront. At least, not any more. Its “next generation” hardware – graciously donated by a company known as Big Green – had slowly devolved to “last generation.” And then to “several generations old.” And then, finally, to ancestral. By that point, many students’ laptops rivaled that of the once great, Big Green hardware.

Fortunately, The Professor had excellent connections at Big Green. And Big Green, not exactly a non-profit organization saw the potential in educating students on their platforms. So after much negotiation, Big Green finally agreed to provide The University – free of charge – with some rather expensive and quite interesting hardware. The media dutifully published the relevant press releases and the students began dreaming of virtual environments, sandboxes, compiler farms, databases and everything else that nerds would want.

After several months of waiting, The Monster had arrived. And what a monster it was: big, black, bulky and bloated with all kinds of nifty little things, such as many terabytes of storage, loads of processors, and about a million-billion-jillion gigabytes of RAM. The students literarily drooled as they loaded box after box of Big Green hardware into the data center. However, ordered as they were not to touch anything, The Monster was to remain unassembled in its crates until its caretaker – a representative of Big Green – would arrive.

Though it took several weeks, the Big Green representative had finally arrived. He carefully unpacked the boxes, meticulously attached the components, and delicately plugged-in the cables. In no time flat, the caretaker had completely assembled The Monster. The final step – christening The Monster by pressing its power button – was left to The Professor.

When The Professor flipped the switched, The Monster churned and choked, spun and smattered, and whizzed and whirled. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that The Monster was alive. But alas, The Monster was not well: it had the brawn, but not the brains. It desperately and incessantly cried: “OPERATING SYSTEM NOT FOUND.”

All eyes turned to The Monster’s caretaker. But he simply shrugged his shoulders, for he had done all that he could and all that he should. After all, the caretaker was only certified on the hardware, not the software. In order to install an operating system for The Monster, another Big Green representative would have to come in and help out.

Days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months, and the second Big Green representative was nowhere to be found. Apparently, setting up a donated $1.5 million machine was not on Big Green's list of priorities. Desperate, the students decided to take matters into their own hands. They would fully bring their docile monster to life.

Having corralled a distant cousin of The Monster by setting it up from scratch, the students felt confident that they could get The Monster to work for them. But just to be safe, they made some calls to people certified on the software. Fortunately, the prognosis was positive: all they had to do was to power on The Monster, wait for it to do its system check, and then insert the myriad DVDs in the correct order. It was not exactly a challenging job for a bunch of nerds. And to their surprise, all went well for the first half of the roughly fifteen or so DVDs that The Monster claimed it needed. Then, disaster struck.

The problem was not that the discs were faulty, nor were the students. The problem was that not all discs were there. Someone had apparently forgotten to include the last five discs in the order. Some more phone calls were made, and the students were told not worry. Thankfully, those last five discs were not really necessary, as they only contained More Nifty Stuff.

So, after only a semester or two, The Monster was alive and kicking. At least until the students started to use it. Despite following its pedagogical instruction manuals to a tee, The Monster would moan and groan over the simplest of requests. "Segmentation fault", "buffer length exceeded", and "unexpected instruction length" seemed to be the only words The Monster knew. After weeks of trial and non-stop error, the students alerted The Professor that they would be in need of some assistance.

With his still-excellent connections at Big Green, The Professor made some more phone calls and convinced the company to send yet another representative. This time, the representative would be flown in from abroad. What an expert he must be!

It took all of eight minutes for the Big Green expert to realize that The Monster was not well: there was something wrong with its hardware. The expert flew back to his foreign land and The Monster’s original caretaker was once ordered to the front line. It took all of six minutes for the caretaker to figure out exactly what was wrong: non-defective parts were needed.

Several more months passed waiting for the caretaker and the replacement parts, and then suddenly, The Monster was up and running. Things actually worked, to some extent. It was not possible to install other virtual operating systems, it was not possible to use the backup station, and it was not possible to install add-on software to the core operating system. The students were at a loss: only the experts from Big Green could fix such problems.

As time went by, one Big Green representative came after another. They poked and prodded, fooled and fiddled, but no one knew what was wrong with The Monster. The software experts blamed the hardware, and the hardware experts blamed the software. Not even the expert from abroad could figure out what to do. The installed, re-installed, and re-re-installed all of The Monster’s hardware and software, but The Monster would simply not comply.

Eventually, The Professor went elsewhere for The University’s needs, allowing the school to once again confidently declare itself as “a leader on the forefront of Information Technology.” Instead of yearning to learn the Big Green platform, the students learned to avoid it. As for The Monster, to this day it stands alone, running noisily and immobilized in its dungeon, surrounded by rack after rack of lesser, yet functional, servers.