The 1990’s: a simpler time, when our cell phones only made noise when we had an incoming call, and the most amusing thing a computer could do was render 3D pipes, or flying toasters. The CTO of Paul’s company, Mario, was easily amused.

Mario’s experience as a Microsoft Server administrator/evangelist led him to claim Microsoft’s offerings were far superior to any other server technology. Windows NT, he argued, was so easy to use that any idiot could set it up. This made Mario the prime candidate to configure their behemoth of a web server: dual 200MHz Pentium Pros, 512MB of RAM, fast SCSI disks, and Windows NT4.

Despite this heavy-duty hardware, and despite Mario’s expert configuration skills, after they deployed the new server, customers began to complain that the web site was painfully slow.

Mario commanded Paul to look into the issue. Paul went to the server room to log on and investigate. When he entered, the new server’s monitor displayed piles of 3D pipes, waggling around the screen in a plethora of colors. Paul moved the mouse, the pipes vanished, and he forgot about them. He poked around on the server for a few hours, and couldn’t find any explanation for poor performance. In fact, while he used the machine, everything performed admirably. He thought it was an isolated incident.

The next day, Mario was waiting for Paul. “Paul, I thought I told you to troubleshoot the server! Things are running slow and we’re getting complaints! Get in there and fix it!”

Paul returned to the server room and saw the same tangle of randomized pipes on the screen. The epiphany hit him like a turtle-shell to the face. Pipes was an OpenGL screen saver, and it was likely the 3D graphics ate too much CPU power while generating their colorful glory. Acting on his hunch, Paul used a performance monitor and waited to watch the pipes do their magic. After a few moments, he looked at the log and when the screen saver kicked it, it monopolized the entire processor on their dual CPU box. He changed the screen saver to “Blank”, and logged off.

“I think I have the problem fixed,” Paul explained to Mario. “It was something really simple, and things should be running much better now.”

The next morning, things weren’t better. “Paul, you told me the server was fixed! Things still run like crap! Maybe you should try and fix things instead of ruining my screen saver settings!”

Paul checked the machine, and discovered the CTO’s beloved 3D pipes were back in action. He went back to Mario and explained it was the screen saver, cranked up to its maximum settings, which caused the poor performance for their customers.

“That’s absurd, Paul. I know how much the machine cost, and it should be able to handle running a simple screen saver and some web traffic! Windows NT would never let those two interfere with each other. It’s as close to perfection as you can get!”

To prove his point, Paul dug out the oldest machine in the server room and got their web applications configured on it. Without a screen saver, he proved customers could get a response time nearly ten times faster, even with the poor hardware.

“That’s a nice try, Paul,” Mario said, “but you’re not simulating the network load accurately. I’ve been thinking about this, and I think the slowness is because our network pipe isn’t big enough. Submit a request to have it doubled, ASAP.”

Paul gave up his fight and begrudgingly followed orders. Meanwhile, in the back of the server room, where no one could see it, a knot of 3D pipes happily drew themselves on the monitor, just like the CTO wanted.

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