Issues & Ideas

 

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September 2000
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This is just a scratch pad of current issues and potential solutions, plus new ideas for the rack. Think of this page as where I keep my notes on what to do next, and after that, and after that, and after that...

Issue: Failover and/or load balancing between the Internet connections.
Possible Solution: Cisco 3640 Router. The Cisco software is sophisticated enough to handle load balancing and fail over, as well as both Internet connections into a single box. In fact, there's even a WAN card for the DSL connection, so the 3Com ADSL modem could be eliminated. It is, however, an extremely expensive solution (>$10,000 USD).
Possible Solution: Linux Routing Project. A less expensive answer than the Cisco router, the Linux Routing Project would be a PC-based solution, likely low power 1U computers. LRP's claim to fame is running a linux router from a floppy - no hard drive or CD-ROM required.

 

Issue: Effective UPS solution. The current per-PC UPS solution takes up more space than necessary, and offers relatively little in terms of battery-based operation: about 15 minutes tops.
Possible Solution: Minuteman makes a set of black, rack mounted UPS products. They're only 15 inches deep, so there's lots of room. The high end model is 3200VA (1900 watts) which is the equivalent of more than seven of the 450VA UPSes in use now. It would require adding a 30amp circuit to the rack to power the big UPS, and getting a serial port expansion so that all the servers could be notified of when to power down. Have to find a home for all those APC Powerstack 450s...

 

Issue: Increased storage capacity. The existing external drive chassis using IDE drives has reliability problems, due to the excessively long IDE cables.
Possible Solution: Switch to SCSI drives. The 4U drive chassis can be used with SCSI drives, although different caddies would have to be purchased. The Seagate Barracuda 180 makes a fairly cost effective solution: around nine dollars per gigabyte, compared to over fifteen dollars per gigabyte for a typical SCSI solution (although not as cheap as the four dollars per gig of IDE). Ultra 160 is actually faster than ATA/100, so the SCSI system would perform better AND be more reliable, since the case is well within the 12 meter cable limit of Ultra 160. Using regular drive caddies, the array would mount 8-181Gb drives, for a total of 1.44 terabytes. Of course, eight of those drives would run over $13,000USD ($20,000CDN), but you wouldn't be running out of space any time soon...
Possible Solution: A SCSI-to-IDE chassis. This is a rack mount device that uses IDE drives, but provides a SCSI output. It includes RAID and other goodies, and would eliminate the cable problem, since all cables inside the case are within IDE limits and the external cable is SCSI. This has the advantage of still using the IDE drives currently owned, plus having room for more (up to eight), and then you could always put another one in... after all, it looks like a single SCSI device to the server.
Implementing Solution: Rackmountpro.com has a 5U case that is 22 inches deep, the RM5U5S, which would take over for the 2U computer case and the 4U drive chassis. It has room for the floppy, DVD and four external drives, plus two internal drives. Cartman currently has exactly that many drives, in that configuration. As an extra bonus, Rackmountpro.com also sells SCA-style conversion kits for IDE drives, so you can fit three drives in the space of two - ordering two of these with the case means there's room for six drives in the external bay. Maybe a couple of Maxtor 100Gb drives are needed to round out Cartman (and bring his capacity up to just over 500Gb). This case should arrive in early September 2001.

 

Issue: Rack noise. Although not an issue at first, the nearly full rack has somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 fans on it, and between them, its getting a bit noisy.
Possible Solution: Quieter fans. There are a number of sites that sell ultra-quiet fans. Most of the sites are focused on "PC modding", the modification of PC cases to make them look cool (and be quiet). This is a culture that all us old-time computer geeks don't understand - its the new generation of network gamer that hauls their computer around all the time that gets into making their cases look cool. Not that rack mounting everything had anything to do with appearance, oh no... Meantime, the proposal of replacing all those fans is pretty terrifying.
Possible Solution: Move the rack. The basement where the office is will undergo serious renovations in the next couple of years. Likely the office will be moved to a more central location in the house, hopefully with a few windows. Building a server room makes sense, but you still want to have easy access to the rack (easy being defined as "not getting up from the chair"), and besides, why go to all the trouble to build a big black thing with lots of blinky lights if you can't look at it?

Then, the solution presented itself, once again from our good friends and Middle Atlantic. There's a species of rack, typically used for high-end home theater installations that has an in-wall rack mount. The rack itself can actually be slid out of the wall on rails for easy access and modification. When the rack is slid into its proper place, it'll be behind a gasketed, sound-proof plexiglass door in an insulated, air-conditioned and sound-proofed room. Just to be safe, maybe we'll put in two when the renovation is taking place... wouldn't want to run out of space.

And while we're at it, why not get serious about the furniture? Oh, there's the super-futuristic look of Poetic Technologies Aura Desk, but its not industrial enough. There's great studio furniture, primarily aimed at the audio and video editing industry that has rack mount spaces built in. Now everything can be rack mounted, servers in the wall, desktops in the desk.