Saturday 16 July 2016

Almost the last monster

A few years ago, I built some very large servers. Large as in very big, and very heavy. They were so heavy that at one point, I had to buy a pump trolley to handle them, because I had a bit of a back problem.

Even without the back problem, they're big and heavy. They're 5U in height, and they're built very solidly, of heavy gauge steel. Heavy. In fact, the last remaining monster server is actually called "heavy". Heavy has 14 2 terabyte drives, controlled by three 4-port sata controllers, plus two from the motherboard. Plus the system drive (which is a CF card with a pata interface).

But today, I worked on giggi. Giggi is another server just as big and heavy as heavy, but four of the drives aren't in use just yet. And it occurred to me that if I took those out and put them in my spares box, that would leave 11 drives. The system drive runs from pata, there's two sata ports on the motherboard, so I'd only need two four-port sata controllers. And that leaves a spare PCI slot, which I can put a gigabit ethernet card into. I'm really liking the speed of gigabit.

I remember when the best network speed I could get, was the 4 megabits of IBM's Token Ring, and that was good enough for our administrative stuff, but up in the data recovery workshop, we were slinging around 20mb at a time (megabytes, remember those?) so we installed a 10 megabit ethernet using a batch of ginormous ethernet cards that I got second hand from a shop that was the physical equivalent of Ebay, in 1989. And I also remember, several years later, upgrading from that 10 megabit ethernet to 100 megabits, and wow, wasn't that nice!

So I heaved giggi onto my workbench and took out all the drives, the sata cards and the cables. Without all that, it's still a very, very heavy box! And then I installed the replacement, which I call giggj.

As an aside, I usually do this. When I replace a server with one that's slightly different but has essentially the same function, I just change the last letter of the name. It reduces confusion, and is less of a burden on my weak memory.

I've always had a weak memory. And I've always felt that this is a big plus; it means that more of my wetware is devoted to computation and less to memory, and I substitute for my poor memory by using bits of paper, and stuff on the computer. The problem that leaves me with, is I'm terrible at recognising faces. I tell people "all you humans look the same to me" and they think I'm joking.

I put a Realtek gigabit ethernet card into giggj (£4 on Ebay) as well as the two sata cards. I put the drives in.  The case I'm using for this has four slots that can take hard drives, another slot where the floppy drives would go, but who uses floppies these days, so I put another drive there, and a place where I can slide in a cooling frame that carries three drives and a fan. So that's eight drives. Where do I put the other three?

I thought of using another three-drive cooling frame, but it would have just had to rattle around inside the box, and there wasn't really enough room for it anyway, plus a chance it would foul other things. So I thought outside the box. And I put that cooling frame outside the box. It's connected to the server via the three sata cables and a power cable, and it can sit on top of the server. This is just like the big fast servers I've been making recently.

So I powered it up, and it worked first time. Even better, I'd cabled up the drives in the correct order, so I didn't have to change my mounting commands.

So now I have a version of giggi that I can actually lift without risking a hernia, and which is connected via gigabit ethernet.

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