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I'm trying to find a computer at work that we can't find the physical location of. There's no documentation in the inventory of it but it responds to nslookup, ping, and i can log onto it and edit its files. However, we have no idea where in the building it is. Anyone have any good ideas for finding it outside of making it beep repetitively and annoying people while i run around looking for it?

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Brings a new meaning to the error message "can't find host". – Josh Apr 5 '10 at 19:04
You might try asking at Server Fault as well. I'm sure admins have run into this problem before and have some clever solutions. – KeithB Apr 5 '10 at 20:19
18 – Phoshi Apr 5 '10 at 21:28
@Phoshi you are my hero. Please stand by while I go upvote everything you've ever posted to! :-D – Josh Apr 5 '10 at 22:02
So we found the computer, it was in the back of one of one of the student services areas. unfortunately the script i wrote which used ALT-7 to beep (I don't know any other way to do it in windows) only beeps the computer that's displaying the character so it started my computer beeping instead. We found it because we had an idea where it was and that i was remotely logged into it. Just FYI – Kravlin Apr 9 '10 at 15:42

10 Answers 10

up vote 38 down vote accepted

You might be able to use traceroute to figure out which router it's connected to.

After finding a router, you can figure out what switches are behind that router.

Once you've found the switch, you can use the switch to identify the MAC address associated with the system, and the port.

Once you've found the port, use your wiring diagrams (if you have a generally-accurate inventory, I imagine you have these as well) or just trace the cable to the destination.

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I was going to say this but then I thought about all the different wiring diagrams I've seen and said no way especially in a multiple building situation. – tonyr roth Apr 5 '10 at 21:44
This will probably work best. Guess i'll get the system administrators for the building to get me a location. Thanks everyone for the help. It's pretty cool to see all these different ideas. – Kravlin Apr 5 '10 at 22:37
If you don't have diagrams but you can log into it, you can make it start beeping remotely. That might help a little. – tsilb May 24 '10 at 16:52

I actually had this problem myself ten years ago. The PC in question was an OS/2 box. It was running server processes, so there was no user session; in fact there was not even a display or mouse hooked up to the thing. There was a (mini)keyboard, but that was simply so the thing would reboot after power failures or what have you. When time came to move, no one could find the damned thing, there was no documentation, and there was no one left from the era who know what it even looked like, let alone where it was.

We used echo location (ie. beeping in a loop), and wrote a script that opened and closed the CD tray remotely every 30 seconds. Eventually, it was found in a not-quite-abandoned wiring "closet" underneath a staircase. It was totally caked in dust, and looked like the closet had not been opened in years.

It was the opening and closing of the CD door that gave it away; one of the office girls heard this repeated thumping noise (the CD tray was hitting the side wall) and reported it as a possible animal incursion (not unusual; squirrels and raccoons were always trying to get into the building). The maintenance people called us when they found the source of the noise was a misbehaving PC.

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LOL awesome story – AaronLS Apr 5 '10 at 22:20
This story is awesome. we may have to try this just to see if it gets any attention. – Kravlin Apr 5 '10 at 22:32
Talk about reliable many years with no maintenance at all? Good thing it didn't break, or you would never have found it :D – marcusw Apr 6 '10 at 1:49
Hardware wise, the box was a 1990s-era IBM PS/2. I believe it was a 486 of some sort. It just ran some monthly reports. It was pretty much obsolete; the fact that no one knew where the thing was meant that all business functions had migrated to other boxes over the years. When time came to physically re-org the building, however, finding it became a priority. What's really amazing is that when we found it, there was a DC-6250 tape drive in it, complete with a 15 year old tape. To no one's surprise, the tape was not readable. – billdehaan Apr 6 '10 at 16:33
Having the same problem. Can you extend a little on how to make beeping and open-closing CD door? – Gennady Vanin Геннадий Ванин Apr 11 '12 at 11:36

Eject the CD tray.   

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this is actually a very good answer. if you can see a bunch of computers all at once in a server room, this would be good. but if you have computer spread out over many buildings in a campus, this might not work so well. – Nathan DeWitt Apr 5 '10 at 19:53
Ah! I think this is great. – Josh Apr 5 '10 at 20:19
yea in server rooms its kinda fun I use it to smack people in the head when they get to close to one of my servers – tonyr roth Apr 5 '10 at 21:42
Nice idea if I had lost the comptuer in a server room. It's a computer in a student center so i'm kinda boned unfortunately. – Kravlin Apr 5 '10 at 22:28

Use the ping time to triangulate the approximate location. Bring a laptop to each switch in turn and ping, then when you get close turn it into an Annoyatron.

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+1 for a very clever answer. Reminds me of the 500 mile email: – Josh Apr 5 '10 at 19:07
Low latency on any decent switch will probably make this impossible but I also give you +1 for good wits. :) – Josip Medved Apr 5 '10 at 19:10
+1 because doing this is a fantastic idea. – Phoshi Apr 5 '10 at 21:29
I think this would be unreliable, as in close proximity any device/switching/processing induced latency is going to be inconsistent and throw off the calculation. This is like trying to carbon date something to within a day's precision. – AaronLS Apr 5 '10 at 22:18

Make it beep after hours, so you have less people to annoy.

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If it beeps during normal business hours you're more likely to get reports and thus find it's location faster. The point is to attract attention after all. See Josip's answer :-) – Josh Apr 5 '10 at 19:47

Check the security log in Event Viewer to see who, if anyone, is logging into the machine. Extract the information from those individuals using standard techniques.

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The computer auto logs into a generic student account (no identifying information). It's a pretty amazing problem. – Kravlin Apr 5 '10 at 19:30
Make a little box pop up when they log in, telling them that they've won a free pizza/ice cream cone/candy bar, and they just have to email you with their location. – coneslayer Apr 5 '10 at 19:54

Just had an idea to add to the pile here. If you can log on to it and edit it's file, possibly you can run a program. If so, try DMIDecode or the systeminfo command -- maybe one of these will give you enough information about the hardware of the machine to help locate it.

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My office buys in bulk meaning there are probably 10 other computers out there with the same hardware profile. Thanks for the idea tho. It may come in useful some other time. – Kravlin Apr 5 '10 at 22:33
Rats. It was worth a shot. I'd try the ejecting the CD tray route then :-) – Josh Apr 5 '10 at 23:14

Annoying people is your best bet. People will run to you with information where it is. :)

As far as I know, there is no IP to physical-location converter available.

Quiet method might be just copying bunch of files so you get it's HDD activity light noticeable. However, I would not count on that too much since Murphy says that computer will probably be in closet or something like that.

Another method would be selectively unplugging devices in order to find approximate location. But I will assume that losing network connection might annoy people even more than any sound you can make.

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How about beeps on the pcspeaker? – Tadeusz A. Kadłubowski Apr 5 '10 at 19:10
We were thinking that but we didn't want to annoy anyone trying to figure out where it was (we were rather surprised to find this situation in the first place) – Kravlin Apr 5 '10 at 19:14
If it's a MAC you can have it call for help. speak "I need servicing. Please notify a Sysadmin." – Chris Nava Apr 5 '10 at 19:20
@Chris, that would be Mac, not MAC. And say, not speak... ;-) – Arjan Apr 5 '10 at 19:21

If it's an older Windows machine, it may still have the messaging service running. In that case, you can always net send a message to it. Assuming you've got interactive users, that's pretty much what net send was designed for in the first place. Alternative solution: use Group Policy to force all local users to run a login script ("echo Please call the system administrator at 321-1234; pause") or set their wallpaper to an image of the above text.

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isn't that the one we were all advised to shut off due to possible hacks? – Dan Rosenstark Apr 6 '10 at 2:26
not just possible hacks, it's irritating as hell -- back in undergrad, people who didn't turn it off got "ADD THREE INCHES IN A MONTH" spam via popup message :D – Coderer Apr 22 '10 at 22:23

Network in my dormitory was 100% switched with dumb switches (cheapiest Repotec 10/100 available), so no info about MAC/IP addresses connected to a port could be obtained. We used to find computer by its IP via continuously pinging that host while disconnecting wires. Once you find out when the ping stops you have found the next switch in the path. Move to it, repeat everything.

The dorm was about 14 floors with a switch every floor and one main switch connecting all the floors. It worked perfect for that topology with maximum path of 3 switches between two hosts.

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Great idea, but the problem is that that would involve disconnecting people in other offices continually which doesn't sound like something they'd appreciate. – Kravlin Apr 8 '10 at 16:21
Sure, but anyway this is not everyday operation. – Ivan Petrushev Apr 9 '10 at 6:26

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