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March 4, 2006

Unbelievable Stroke of Luck

View Full Size About ten days ago I was working on the development site for chocolategourmand.com when I noticed the page processing time of the coldfusion template I was working on. A simple page with a few includes, custom tags and two simple queries, yet it was taking 680 milliseconds to render. I had thought about upgrading the server I have at home for the last couple years, but I never thought it was a necessity to upgrade unless I had a surplus of cash. My old server is a Compaq Deskpro PIII 600mhz desktop circa 2000. I had already upgraded the 10gb hard drive it came with for a 40gb drive several years ago along with adding some RAM.

So the next day I checked out some of the quiet pc websites, since I knew I didn't want a suite of fans replacing my old server which was fairly quiet. Being in our bedroom, this is important. I went to Frys Electronics at lunch and bought a small case, micro-atx motherboard, hard drive, celeron cpu and cd rom for about $550. I downloaded the latest Redhat Fedora Core installation iso images and burned some CDs. After dinner and the kids were in bed, I assembled the components of the new PC. After a couple failed attempts due to missing cable connections, the machine would boot. Time to install redhat.

I would have never had suspected that fedora was going to be so problematic. After numerous attempts to get the cd to install the OS without error, I read that maybe I should try another CD rom or even a CD burned from a different burner. I copied the first CD, that didn't help much. Apparently it wouldn't recognize the hard drive. More google searching. Could be the ribbon cable to the HD or perhaps slave jumper settings. I tried numerous settings and cable to not avail. More googling. Could be the hard drive or the motherboard's integrated video card. Enough! I decided the whole thing was a foolish impulse buy and packed everything back into its packaging. At 2:30 in the morning, it was time to get some sleep before work.

I returned to Frys before work with all my packages, nervously hoping that I wouldn't have to pay a hefty restocking fee or have some items be non-returnable. Fortunately, they took everything back and gave me a full refund. I decided to go look at the prebuilt, name brand computers while I was there. Since all I need is a machine with an ethernet card and simple video card, the selection was narrowed down. The salesman showed me the HP slimline. Already stocked with 1GB ram and decent HD, at $500 it was just what I needed. If the redhat wouldn't install, less to have to return.

That night I carefully unpacked the new PC and inserted the fedora install cd. Apart from the whirring CD, this PC was very quiet. More problems. I found a site that said you had to type gibberish at the first prompt, then hit enter, and then enter again to get past the failed install. OK, this looks better. I get through all the setup screens to the package customization screen and carefully choose the options I want. It then proceeds to install the OS, asking for CDs along the way. But then it fails, "due to a bug" the message read. Hmm, let's try the install again with a default setup. OK that worked! Lots more tinkering and adding packages, but seems to be working well. The next day, Saturday, I managed to hose the system and reinstalled it again, this time with custom packages. This time, it worked!

Over the next few days I proceeded to install coldfusion, trying several versions before winding up with the same version 5 I had originally wanted to upgrade, but the speed is still much better. The page that took 680 ms now renders in only 30 ms. For the remainder of the week I get all the websites dialed in, databases migrated over and more fiddling with settings and such--all standard linux admin fare. I decided that today would be the day I make the switch. I changed IP addresses of the two servers, adjusted some settings, did some testing, and it actually went very smooth.

I was eager to hear the new server alone to find out how quiet it really was. They had both been on all week. I decided to copy some other files that were backups of my images from iPhoto on our mac. I left the machines to go fold some laundry and came back to find that the old server was unresponsive. Hmmm, I switched over the KVM switch and saw a strange blank screen with a colored line down the side. I couldn't ssh into it, so nothing left but to hard reset. When the machine came up, this is the screen I saw. My guess is that all the copying was a little hard on the old hard drive, so it probably would have gone a few more weeks or so without all the activity surrounding the server migration. Still, to have the old server become totally unusable within hours of switching to the new one, now that is an unbelievable stroke of luck.