This Old Server, Part 4: Finished!

Dell Server Case 2013-10-05 022

Following up from last time.  Here’s the new front panel mounted in the Dell case.  The ugly patched-up component on the right is a old USB front panel that has been much abused.  Part of it is taped off because it is an audio panel I don’t use and don’t have connections for in the server.  The other part is taped off because I snagged a thumbdrive in the port one day and the port broke off to save the drive!  The hard disks are already mounted in their cage.  On top is a Blu-Ray drive from my old server.  You may have seen a DLT drive in the old machine earlier in the series, I didn’t install it because it is SCSI and I have no card for it.  I also wish I could have saved the original PERC RAID card, but it does not fit.  Maybe eBay, someday.

Here’s another shot of the inside:

Dell Server Case 2013-10-05 015

At this point, the system is just about complete.  There are two USB connectors on the original Dell.  I’ve wired extensions to these with an old USB cable that I cut up for the purpose, so I have 4 USB ports up front.  The small card in the foreground is an external SATA controller that I use with my backup drives.

There are just a few loose ends.  I mentioned before that I used my old Tyan board to mark out holes to drill for standoffs.  The Supermicro is a mini-ATX board and some of the mounting holes did not line up.  The board is secure for now but I want to fix this by marking new holes and removing the board to drill new ones, so that all seven screws will secure the board.

I also have to work on the fans.  The Dell 1800 used two large (120mm) fans.  One was a case fan—it’s the black plastic casing on the bottom right;  the other fan mount can be seen on the top left.  This was originally part of a air shroud that cooled the CPU.  (Again, I forgot to take pictures, but most of Dell’s servers have elaborate shrouding and air flow management.)  I haven’t mounted that fan.  I’m wondering if a thin-profile 120mm fan would fit in the drive cage;  it does get hot in that area.

The Dell 4-pin fan wiring will work on a modern white-box server board, but the connectors aren’t compatible.  Also, these are big fans that draw 2.5A, much more than the 0.5-1A fans that most white-box boards have, so I don’t dare try running them directly from the motherboard.  I did get one fan working on plain 12V without tachometer control but it is loud so I disconnected it.  The Supermicro already ran much cooler than the Tyan, and even more so in the new, roomier case, so I’m not worried for the moment.

(Fun fact:  When I took the old Tyan board out of my old server case, it was still hot in my hands!)

My server, complete!  Notice the white LED for power:

White box in old Dell case

There used to be Intel Inside, but not anymore!

Inside my Dell PE 1800.  Now with a Supermicro H8SCM-F.

A case like this would have cost me well north of $200;  when I originally spec’d out my machine earlier this year, I was really worried that I’d have to house it in a cardboard box because suitable tower enclosures were either unobtainum or expensivum.

I may not be cut out for casemodding, but the results seem to be good enough.   Happy casemodding!

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This Old Server, Part 3: Lighting it up!

Dell server case being tested

I’m writing about an old Dell 1800 server case that I have modified for a whitebox server.  Last time I talked about the old front panel, this is how I had to build a new one.

This is the Supermicro’s front panel connection pinout, similar to other white-box servers.  I did not use the NIC1, NIC2 or Power Fail LED connections

1 Power switch
2 Power switch GND
3 Reset switch
4 Reset switch GND
5 Vcc +5V
6 Power fail LED (not used)
7 Vcc +5V
8 Overheat/Fan fail LED
9 Vcc +5V
10 LAN NIC2 active (not used)
11 Vcc +5V
12 LAN NIC1 active (not used)
13 Vcc +5V
14 HDD LED
15 Vcc +5V
16 Power LED
17 Key (No connection)
18 Key (No connection)
19 NMI switch
20 GND

This is my completed board:

Old Dell Server Case 2013-10-01 002

I did a cheap and ugly thing for the connecting cable:  I used an old hard drive cable and cut off half the pins with a hacksaw, then used hot-melt glue to seal one end of the connector so it could plug into the motherboard without coming apart.

The original board had buttons for power, ID (identification) and NMI.  The ID feature is common to server boards and consists of a blinking light that is activated with a pushbutton, or remotely from SNMP systems management software.  My Supermicro does have a remote management board, but I could not find the equivalent function, so the ID button on the original board is now a reset button.

The NMI button is recessed on the Dell and it is common on servers, including white-box boards.  When pushed, the system asserts the NMI—Non-Maskable Interrupt—signal which will halt most systems.  Windows will bluescreen (with the appropriate registry changes), and provide a crash dump on this signal.  The Supermicro has an NMI input so this is perfect.

I put just three LED’s on the board:  Power, which is no longer blue (I broke the original LED when trying to salvage it) but now white, HD access (orange) and Overheat/Fan Fail (orange).

I preserved the original intrusion switch and connector, which runs to another connector on the Supermicro board.  I haven’t been able to find intrusion settings in the BIOS but I presume they are there, unless they are in the IPMI remote interface.

At this point, I had a functional system in my new case.  Next post is the finish, with a few loose ends and final thoughts.


David Moisan’s IT Resumes Blogging

SATV's new Dell T320 server

It’s been a year since my last post, Hac-Man Won the Retrochallenge!  I’ve been very busy at SATV and with the Salem Commission on Disabilities.  SATV is coming up on our franchise renewal year;  the current contract runs out 11 months from now, in September 2014, and we started the planning process a year and a half ago.

My part of the process is to determine, for a 10 year contract cycle, what IT we need.  Keep in mind that it’s practically impossible to determine technology trends more than a few years out.  Rather than even try doing that, I just made estimations based on our current technology, our equipment refresh schedule (which varies by the technological area) and our unmet needs, pain points and so forth.

It was a very exhausting process that I can’t fully get into here, but let’s just say from September of last year until September this year, I and our executive director, had our heads down in this.  I also had to refresh our network server sooner than we had anticipated as our backup Dell 1800 server was 8 years old and showing ECC memory errors.  It was also the last 32-bit Windows server in the building long after Microsoft moved to 64-bit only server OS’s.  That machine had a good life.

Our newer Dell 1900 was running good, but it was also running SBS 2008.  As many readers know, there was a major disturbance in the SBS world last year. Microsoft discontinued SBS!  The operating system I had been certified on twice (SBS 2008 and SBS 2011) was dead.  SATV had been an SBS shop since the old BackOffice 4.0 days and I knew we would have to find a replacement head on.

I can’t get into any more detail about this either, but I like to quote an old phrase all the time, “The cobbler’s children go barefoot”.  Between SATV’s franchise preparations, my own research into a life without Small Business Server,  and numerous other personal circumstances, I had no energy for blogging or much of anything else.

I even missed the screaming about Windows 8.  I had tried the developer preview, so I knew it was going to be a very different experience,  but I had no time whatsoever to even try it out thereafterwards   I finally got to use it after all when I convinced SATV to get me a staff laptop with Win 8 on it.  (After using Win 8, oddly enough, I dislike Win 7 now.)

I also spent the past three months of summer and early fall migrating from SBS 2008, and Windows Server 2008, to a new server that is running Windows Server Essentials, Exchange and Sharepoint in a virtualized box hosted by our new Dell T320 server in the picture.

That was work.

The absolute low point was spending my birthday (July 24th and do-not-ask-please) with a very sick new Windows Hyper-V server that would not stay running (due to corrupted everything, as it turned out.  Plus a Windows servicing stack that lied to me about what was and what was not installed, another story.)  That afternoon I only remember staggering to my favorite takeout joint in Salem, going home in a daze, nomming down steak tips, and then falling into bed.  The topper was me remoting into that same server four hours later because I could not sleep! (!!)

I am extremely stubborn and hyperfocused with computer problems.  Now imagine 12 months of this.  I’m surprised I’m even still here.

I’m just in time for Windows 8.1, though, and I did get new server hardware at home to write about.  I’m catching up on my gaming, too, and I have no shortage of topics now.

Stay on the channel.