This Old Server, Part 1: Too Hot

1998-era junky server case

I’ve written before (This Hot Server) about my home server, and the work I’d done to it.  The case, dating from 1998, was as junky as the parts it once housed.  This summer, we had another heat wave in Salem, and for the better part of July my apartment topped out around 95 degrees F!

Just about every electronic device I owned overheated and shut down in those several weeks, including my tablet!  One device of mine, a graphics card in my workstation, died after reaching 160 degrees.  Celsius. (!!!)  (Trackmania had been stuttering for a while, making gameplay miserable.  Now I knew why.  Of course my card’s fan used cheap sleeve bearings!  Of course was the fan not replaceable! Of course it was toast…!)

Amazingly, my server only shut down a few times!  The Tyan board I had was remarkably tolerant to the environmental abuse I put on it.  I wanted to get a new server board anyway, but more importantly I wanted a new case.

SATV had an old Dell server that was just about depreciated and I claimed it, after salvaging the hard drives for SATV’s use:

SATV's former Dell PowerEdge 1800

Dell systems—I have parted quite a few—tend to be almost physically compatible with ATX form factors.  But not quite.  Most of my server parts would fit in this case.  But, again, not quite.  There were some modifications needed, like the motherboard tray:

Dell PowerEdge 1800 motherboard tray

This motherboard tray would be a challenge.  First of all, most of the standoffs would need to be removed, and new threaded hex standoffs (the standard for white-box cases) would need to be drilled and installed.  The biggest problem was the I/O panel.  In most boards, the I/O panel is a cheap steel plate with holes for the specific I/O ports, serial, video, USB on the motherboard, and they are placed differently for each board.  The Dell’s I/O panel was thick steel, part of the motherboard tray itself.  I had never used a cutoff wheel with my old Dremel clone, but I was about to find out how.

I also had to figure out the front panel:

Dell PE1800 front panel

The power LED on this Dell glowed a nice bright blue when it was on, but the pinout of this panel is nothing like most white box servers I have seen, or owned.  Of course it wasn’t in the Dell service manual.

There were some promising signs.  The Dell power supply and its tray fit the standard EPS12V:

 Dell PE 1800 power tray, drive cage and fans

The PE1800 also came with a decent drive cage and two good fans.  We never had thermal problems with that machine for the 8 years it was in service.

More to come in Part 2.

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.