The death of a legend

On Tuesday, I lost a good friend.  Not only was he hard-working, but also extremely dependable in the face of adversity.  He had been with me longer than any of my other friends; some had come and gone, but this guy was in it for the long haul.  I always knew that he wouldn’t be around forever, because he had some pretty serious systemic health issues.  While I tried to prolong the “good times” by looking for quick fixes and even some home-made remedies, neither of us lost sight of the fact that the end was coming and there wasn’t much we could do to stop it.  On Tuesday, we lost our long battle, and my server room will never be the same.

So, in a tribute to his long and distinguished service, I think it’s worth a blog entry to highlight some of the fond memories.  His name was “”.  The “stein” was short for “frankenstein,” and it was a reflection of his roots.  I don’t think he’d mind me saying that he wasn’t likely to win any beauty awards, much like the historical Frankenstein figure.

I’ll start at his core, an EPoX KP6-BS dual slot-1 motherboard.  This board was actually purchased by another friend (Jeff) as part of a computer he was building for college, on my recommendation.  He outfitted the board with two Pentium-II 333MHz processors, of mixed stepping.  When Jeff later upgraded his motherboard sometime in our freshman year, I purchased the board (and processors) from him for some amount that now escapes me.  Until not two years ago, I was still running those processors, overclocked to something weird, like 417MHz each.  I only recently replaced them with a set of matched 733MHz Pentium III’s.

His chassis was probably the most frankenstein-esque of anything.  In a prior life, the case was a small HP LH server, housing a single Pentium 100MHz processor and six 4GB Quantum Fast-SCSI2 drives.  The case had a nice hot-swap SCSI arrangement, so I had replaced four of the 4GB units for 9GB IBM SCA drives (actually rebadged by DEC).

The case was of the “cube” variety, which meant the motherboard was mounted on a plane in the middle of the chassis, separating the board itself and the slot cards from the drives.  The power supply originally in the case was a somewhat-proprietary AT unit, which didn’t work with the newer EPoX motherboard, which required an ATX connector.  So, I removed the HP power supply and installed two older units in its place.  On the motherboard side, I bolted a 145W ATX power supply out of a Gateway P-133 machine to the top of the case (there was plenty of room) which provided power for the motherboard and the front fans.  Since the old HP motherboard had powered the fans with non-standard connectors, I cut them off and put something usable on them.  Other changes to the motherboard side were rewiring the front-panel LEDs and switches for power and reset, as well as cutting out a portion of the back panel to line up with the ATX integrated connectors.

In the disk array side of the case, I now had a gaping, unsquare hole where the large, proprietary power supply used to be.  Since I knew I’d need some real airflow through that area, I opted for a 4″ AC fan from radio shack.  It’s big, quiet, and moves some air.  I cut a plate out of sheet metal that would cover the old PSU’s hole, and mounted the fan in it.  I then used the existing PSU mounting holes to secure the fan plate to the back of the chassis, sealing the old hole.

To power the disks on that side, I used an old CompuAdd power supply (about 200W) from a junk 486 I had laying around.  I had to wire a sniffer pin to +5V to get it to stay on, but it provided plenty of power for the disks (which started in stages, as instructed by the SCSI controller).  I also wired the fan to the main switch in the power supply.  Finally, I mounted a typical power connector that you’d see on a normal computer PSU on the back.  The result was two power ports on the back, one for the motherboard, and another for the disks.  The disk PSU and fan were wired “always on” so the fan would run whenever it was plugged in.  This was okay, though, because the system was literally never turned off.

So, there you have it — a description of “stein” in all his glory.  It is pretty amazing, but that machine has been running almost non-stop since late last century.  Until Tuesday, he had been online and reporting an uptime of greater than 18 months.  Extremely stable and dependable, he was my (and several others’Smilie: ;) external backup MX server and a mailman server.

Sometime Tuesday morning, two of the 9G SCSI drives died simultaneously, providing only an eerie clicking noise while trying to spin up.  The RAID5 array could, of course, not recover from this, and thus he was toast.  Luckily, I had a recent backup, which I quickly restored to a spare machine and set the soul of stein back online.  He’s operating in a netboot fashion off of another machine temporarily until I get something else in place.

Since I have no spare SCA SCSI drives, and don’t plan to buy any, stein will have to move to a normal box, with modern disks and power supplies.  It definitely won’t be the same machine anymore, but I’ll probably wait to change the hostname until it’s convenient, since several other machines know him by name.

Category(s): Hardware

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