When servers blow up

Several years ago, at the height of the Internet craze, a company called NetPliance released a product called the I-Opener.

The I-Opener was a computer based on a razor/razor blade model.  Sell the hardware (which was worth about 300 bucks) for 99 bucks and require people to use the I-Opener to subscribe to their internet service.  Unfortunately, the Internet community and its infinitely resourceful ways quickly figured out how to convert the mostly standard hardware in the I-Opener to be used as a regular old PC.

Units started flying off the shelves at 99 bucks, and people weren’t signing up for internet service. Whoops!

Anyway, I managed to get a hold of one during the frenzy and upgrade it with the requisite parts.  Namely, a USB network adapter, 128MB of RAM, and a 6GB notebook drive.  Voila, instant PC!

It’s pretty shabby hardware by today’s standards, but the I-Opener made a nice neat server package in a home environment at the time.  I’ve been using it for mundane things like hosting VPN, DHCP assignment, DNS, etc.

It still runs today, some six years later.

Or rather, I should say, it ran until yesterday.

The I-Opener, while still operational, was getting long in the teeth…128MB of RAM and a 6GB drive doesn’t go a long way these days.  However, I’m a big fan of VMWare in general…and since I had been playing with several images under VMWare Server at SnapStream, I had an idea of where I wanted to go next..  Since VMWare Server is now free, I had been preparing to try virtualizing the server image on the I-Opener so that I could migrate it to new hardware.

Alas, I started hearing the infamous clicking sounds of death yesterday coming from the hard drive in the I-Opener.  Uh oh!

Sadly enough, it wasn’t even the I-Opener that failed…it was the drive that I added to it.  Hard drives are pretty ugly in terms of failure rate.  Anecdotally, they blow up around our office all the time.  I’ve also seen my fair share of drives blow up at home.  I often wonder if it has something to do with the fact that we hammer them 24/7 with Beyond TV or if computers really are that unreliable nowadays.  Regardless, if a computer is going to have a problem, I’d usually expect it to happen in one of the following areas…the fan, the hard drive, or the power supply.

Less anecdotally, I read somewhere that about 1 out of every 1000 drives fails in a Google cluster every day.  Let’s just say that those mechanical bits of your computer are really, really failure prone and the sooner the industry moves to flash based storage, the better!

Anyway, I’m now stuck with figuring out how much money I want to spend to deal with the issue.  My home network is still operational because I migrated the DNS and DHCP back to my ADSL router, but my VPN is down.

I had been planning on using something like a nice cheap laptop like the Compaq Presario V2000 or a Mac Mini to host the server.  Yes, unlike a lot of computer techies, I care a lot about form factor and noise…and those are nice neat packages like the I-Opener.  However, since the situation is now at a head, it looks like I may need to try something like upping the RAM in one of the computers around here and getting the server image to run side by side with the XP installation already on the computer.

Oh well, time to dig through the Fry’s ads….

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