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Cooling unit malfunction put courthouse servers in danger

Dec 9, 2012 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

The compressor in the building's 23-year-old air conditioner broke on Black Friday; commissioners support looking into getting a new system.

Many in Fremont County spent the day after Thanksgiving eating leftovers, visiting family or shopping for bargains. Not so for county employees JR Oakley and Joni Miller. They spent Black Friday averting a technological disaster at the Fremont County Courthouse.

At 3:30 p.m. Nov. 30, the county's alarm monitoring company called building maintenance supervisor Oakley to tell him the room holding the county's computer servers was overheating. If the temperature stayed above 82 degrees the servers would shut off and might need to be replaced.

There was a lot at stake. Courthouse phones run through the servers, and they connect county employees with data they need for their work. County courts and departments would have trouble operating that Monday if the servers broke.

Oakley knew that would cost the county a lot of money.

"There's the cost of the servers plus the cost of not doing business," he said.

When Oakley arrived at the courthouse, he found the air conditioner in the server room was not working. He tried to fix it first with the help of a county contractor, his typical approach.

The air conditioner is 23 years old and has broken several times in the past year.

"About three quarters of the time no one else knows about it," Oakley said.

The repairs are typically minor, like replacing a fuse, problems Oakley can handle on his own.

This time, however, he found the compressor was broken and needed a replacement. It being a holiday, however, he could not get a new compressor until the next week.

He realized he would have to find a temporary fix, and he would need help.

Oakley called in information support systems supervisor Joni Miller, and they came up with a solution.

While Miller relocated critical servers, Oakley cut a 2-foot square hole in the wall of the server room, opening it to airflow from the rest of the third floor. Then they turned down the heat in the building.

"We could cool it that way, and we could continue to have service for Monday morning," Oakley said.

They all finally left at 9 p.m. that night and returned the next morning.

Network administrator Kris Worthey joined Miller and Oakley that Saturday, and they made sure everything was working, Oakley said.

On Monday, Oakley ordered a replacement compressor from Denver, and it arrived the next day. Oakley replaced the broken piece of the air conditioner Tuesday afternoon, and that evening Miller and others from ISS reinstalled the relocated servers.

The servers and their air conditioner are now functioning as normal. Oakley installed an access door over the hole he cut, just in case he has to cool the room in an emergency again.

Oakley is low key about the whole event.

"It was a combined effort," he said. "Sure you'd like to make it through a weekend without a problem. That's always nice, but it's my job."

Oakley presented a long-term solution for the aging air conditioner at the Fremont County Commissioner's meeting Dec. 4.

Permanent fix

Oakley said he is looking into cooling the room with outside air from an air conditioning unit that would be on the courthouse roof. Adding the system would be more energy efficient and cause less wear on equipment.

"Right now, it just circulates in that room," he said. "On days like today when it's 30 or 40 degrees out we could cool it with outside air rather than air conditioned air. We're going to reduce the run time on the air compressor and extend its longevity."

Oakley added that repairing the old machine continues to cost more and more.

"It's going to save us money in the long run," Miller said.

The old air conditioner would remain as a back up, he said, and the hole in the wall could be used in case of an emergency.

Oakley said he is still figuring out what the project would cost and other details.

He said if the commission thought it was a good idea, he would investigate the idea over 30 to 45 days and come back with a solid plan that would include a price.

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Fremont County Commissioners