My server farm
(for want of a better term)

the original 'Kestrel' Completely unintentionally, I started to acquire at very low, or in some cases, at absolutely no cost, what might be described as a "matching set" of old, life-expired IBM Aptiva short profile personal computer "towers".

This first started when I was offered an Aptiva running an AMD K6-2 processor at 500MHz, and 64Mb of SD RAM. This particular computer is actually pictured on the left, although there is absolutely nothing about its looks to tell you which it is, of the several I have now accumulated.

I was looking for something I could leave running permanently, which would host an Apache web server, which was later developed into a multiple vhost (virtual host) machine using the dynDNS.org IP redirection service. I figured that while I learned about both these concepts, I should use the computer which would eventually do the final job, some months down the track.

VHosts is a concept of sharing the resources of one apache server with several, or many, actual websites. A good concept, but you can end up with one site hogging all the resources if you aren't careful. It is best done with low-traffic sites that aren't demanding with many large images or sound/motion picture files.

I also wished to discover if it was at all possible to dual-boot a Windows/Linux computer that had the same web server pages installed on both operating systems, using a common file system for the web hosting.

As much as anything, this was an exercise in learning. And discovery showed that it was indeed possible to run apache on whichever of two operating systems a computer was booted to, both configurations being pointed towards the same file "tree", to avoid duplication of storage space, and possible failure that both were exactly the same "version" of the website(s).

The single 8Gb HDD and single 64Mb stick of SD Ram were replaced with larger equivalents. I have long understood the need to keep data and operating system seperate, so I installed a second HDD for the web server pages, and replaced the first HDD with a 10Gb one, divided into seperate Windows and Linux partitions, installing Linux into the second (extended) partition. I still retained the original Windows98 operating system at that time.

This ran for some six months or so while I fiddled with this and that, and it finally went on-line with five "fee" (no charge) sub-domain addresses with a small number of pages and images on each.

At this time I discovered the downtime and IP recording service offered by netcraft.com, so there is a complete record of all IP changes and downtimes from that source, in my archives.

 

Disaster
My friend Larry who hosted three sites for me in the USA suddenly was made redundant, and lost his job. I had some bad feeling about his recent employer, Internet America (Dallas-Fort Worth) when maybe a year later, I discovered that they didn't have the guts to tell all their staff themselves, but shuffled the responsibility onto the shoulders of their abuse manager, who when the others had left, was fired herself, because she no longer had a department to manage. Anyway she has got over it, and so have I.

Larry had to ask me to find somewhere else to host these three sites, one my own personal one, one for the several chatrooms with which I'm involved in managing, and thirdly a fansite for a major musical orchestral and choral work of the late 1980s.

So I set up temporary redirections to my own server from these sites, which necessitated buying at very low cost a licence for (I think) 15 paid DNS transferred sub-domains.

Eventually I found an Australian company which accepted the three domains and which at that time was renting Canadian server space (and reselling it). DNS was transferred, without a hitch.

I quickly discovered that there was a need for a range of other vhosts on my apache server, and then - suddenly - "Kestrel" died.

After several days not finding anything obvious, another Aptiva was offered, non-working, for free. This was a 300MHz AMD-K6, which I then put into service as a substitute Kestrel after fixing a minor problem. I moved the second hard disk to this Aptiva, installed apache web server into its Windows98 operating system, copying the saved http.conf file which had been saved in several other computers in case of disaster.

This ran for several weeks while I got on with other things. It was slow, but reliable. When I had a moment, I did an upgrade of the OS from Windows98 to Windows2000.

It too suddenly had a hernia. I pulled the data drive out and put it into one of my old HP Vectras (PII-400 MHz/ 192Mb SD RAM) - which is still renamed Kestrel as a result, and was already running Windows2000 on one of its plug-in boot drives... I wasn't about to do temporary changes with port forwarding which was working.

The problem on the original Aptiva was diagnosed and fixed... the processor fan had vibrated sufficiently to prevent all the processor pins from making good contact. Argh... Anyway gave me a chance to do extensive Linux compatibility tests with the old "Kestrel" and its replacement 300MHz unit, and I have even run PC-BSD on the 500MHz box.

 

NASLite
In the meantime I had discovered a proprietary version of Linux fileserver called NASLite - Network Attached Server Lite. This boots from a standard floppy disk and runs with it sitting in RAM, using about 5Mb. It can handle hundreds of Gigabytes of disk space even if the original computer's BIOS does not.

This was tried on several computers, and the project was shelved pro-tem because I had been offered (for a song) a small profile 64-bit MSI motherboard using an MSI Sempron 2600+ processor. This was installed in place of the 300MHz motherboard in the second Aptiva, and presto, I have a very modern, still antique looking "Aptiva" (in name alone, even the power supply had to be changed, and surgery to the empty case to get it in there).

And a friend had upgraded his auntie's early Aptiva to take an Intel motherboard with a P3-550 processor... she decided to ditch it and replace with a brand newy, would I like it? Of course, we found that it didn't work! So I tried a 32Mb TNT video card and it sprang into life. It runs the TrainMaster locomotive driving simulator well. So there we go :)

An SMS message, actually several months later, "Would I like to pick up another freebie, an 'almost' Aptiva?" Same case, but called a PC-300GL, slightly different front panel, overall height and width the same, and no opening door. This became my NAS-Lite server, retaining the CD drive so that I could do disk houskeeping running a Live Linux distro. Live Linux meant I needed 256Mb free plus whatever was needed for video, so another stick of SD RAM went into it. SD Ram seems very very cheap now, on the second hand market.

Another phone call, which was from someone else, several weeks before. "I have a black one, doesn't work, they aren't prepared to spend anything on repairs". Turns out it was the first series of Netvista, with a Celeron 770MHz processor, and the only case difference was the name "NetVista". Runs nicely now the ethernet was fixed.

 

So, lining the ducks up in a row, from the left,

The page title calls this a "Server Farm"

Well, the expression "Server Farm" is used fairly extensively to describe a number of servers doing their stuff. The expression "Workstation Farm" is not, as far as I know, in use. So I rest my case   : )     And, of course, at least two of the machines are employed as servers, anyway   : )

 

Finally...
the original 'Kestrel'the original 'Kestrel' The article wouldn't be complete without another "freebie" being mentioned. An HP Pavilion 6617 with a Celeron 660MHz processor.

This is a particularly awkward computer to work on, and they have very little resale value (if any) as they are quite "old hat" speaking technologically. Hence the give-away.

This computer, like the black Aptiva, does not have any drive racks fitted; in this case, the reason is that the only accessible 5-1/4inch drive bay is where the CD drive fits.

So a number of installations were performed to check out its being amenable to other OS's - most computers these days have onboard sound, video, and networking, and with few expansion slots, it's necessary to attempt installations as well as running Live Bootable CDs to check for compatibility.

This isn't always foolproof, because vendors have been known to ship different drivers with Live products; a case in mind is Sun's Java Desktop System v2 where the video chip and monitor are both more correctly identified on the Live than on the installation, which needs command line forcing of the SaX2 configuration tool to get a resolution even as high as 1024x768x16bit on some video cards or onboard chips.

It's native Windows2000 runs dual boot with Sun's (Linux) Java Desktop System. Several other Linuxes succesfully installed, as did PC-BSD v1 Release Candidates 1 and 2.

 

Stop Press...
Got given another Aptiva, K6-2 450MHz processor, weighing up what to do with it :) This has no value as it stands... but I put some extra RAM in which helped...

The motherboard has now been removed, and the mini profile one from a non-working virus-infested castaway Compaq Pressario (with an Intel Celeron 770MHz processor) has been fitted in lieu.

I'm considering using the Compaq case (with an earlier discarded mobo) as the basis for a stand-alone CD player and burner running Linux, with the video ported to a TV set to save a monitor. The free Presario came with a nice LG Read-Write-Rewrite CD drive 52x32x52. Food for thought.

 

updated 08:36 18/08/2006