Chaos Manor Network Attached Storage Upgrade And Retirements – Part 3

Now that Eric has finished the NAS project installation and configuration, it was time to consolidate data from various systems, upgrade others, and consider system retirements. Part 3 of the project continues with Eric’s narrative:

typewriter-297383_1280With the NAS/RAID project completed, the next step was to track down the various elder PCs that were serving as network backup locations, back them up to the NAS, then shut them down in hopes of making a dent in the frightening power bill that had been shrugged off in the days when Chaos Manor was like Frankenstein’s Castle for PCs, with a gruesome experiment running in every corner.

Some of these machines were quite long in the tooth and were due to go off to the farm where they could run and play with the other PCs. They weren’t in operation and adding to the power bill but it was time to clear some space.

First up were the Satine and Roxanne systems. Satine was a Socket 939 (indicating a long ago AMD CPU generation) system with an Nvidia 6000 series video card and a pair of 500 GB drives that may have been mirrored.

The googles note an early mention of the Roxanne system in February 2008: http://goo.gl/lxT07M : “Roxanne, the Vista system that was the main writing machine before Isobel”.

An early mention of Satine – nee’ Sativa – is around July 2006: http://goo.gl/gy1lP3 , also here http://goo.gl/zwR0e8 . Earlier mentions could be in the Chaos Manor columns printed in Byte magazine, but web versions of those sites are not available, at least with a quick search.

Beyond that it was hard to say because Satine was inoperable. It would spin up the fans and do everything preparatory to booting but never would. Not so much as a POST beep of any kind. The properties of some system files indicated it was running Windows XP SP2, so there was probably little value there for anyone beyond salvaging the drives.

So the hard drives were backed up and formatted, placed back in the case, and Satine remained as a project for someone with a strange combination of motive and nothing better to do.

Roxanne was more promising. She had last seen life as Mrs. Pournelle’s workstation but had been replaced by a new build when the case vents had become clogged, causing poor Roxanne to overheat before System Restore could run long enough to repair the damage from the first overheating.

Even with the vents cleared the Pentium 4 HT system was rather loud and hot. It isn’t clear to me whether this was always the case and not a bother to Jerry’s artillery-blasted hearing or if it had become compromised at some point.

Certainly it wasn’t worth any significant investment to replace any of the cooling bits. But it was running Windows 7, raising the question of whether it could become a Windows 10 system with a potentially long life ahead. Therein the saga lies.

Updates and Upgrades

On both Vista and Windows 7 there was just the one Service Pack. (Windows 7 may still get a second due to its business footprint but I’m not holding my breath.) Going back to NT 4, Service Packs were once produced far more frequently. Internet access was far less widespread and the need to store updates locally for installing on numerous machines was far higher. It was especially helpful if a Service Pack replaced its predecessor. Install SP4, and SP2 and SP3 were included in that update.

As the internet and live Windows Update downloads became more the standard, it became more of a hassle to update a new install or a machine that had been offline for a long period. By the time of Windows 7 in the days after Windows 8 had launched, this had gotten a bit painful.

Businesses of the scale to have their own WSUS setup [Windows Software Update Server, a ‘personal’ Windows Update system to centralize and manage updates across the business environment] or enough identical machines to use an updated image weren’t bad off but supporting the SOHO market got annoying. I had one experience where several refurb PCs that came with Windows 7 SP1 needed almost 1.5 GB of downloads to be fully updated. This was a very slow process regardless of how good your broadband speed might be.

Well, Roxanne hadn’t been to Windows Update in over two years. On the first attempt it spent nearly two hours figuring out which updates it needed before I noticed the gas gauge animation had stopped. The Update app was frozen. Start again.

This time it was a bit better. It installed about 150 updates before stopping and announcing it had an error it could not work past.

Along the way, the Windows Defender anti-virus scan announced finding some malware. It was deleted but found several other copies as it worked through the drives. Roxanne had received copies of older machine’s content in the process of originally entering service and consequently the malware implanted itself in each copy it found of certain system files. This was one of those packages that would break Windows Update as part of its activities. Why I was able to get as many updates installed as I did before it kicked in is a mystery.

This meant going off and searching out the ‘fixit’ app to correct the damage. Still more downloads. Then Windows Update failed with a different error.

At this point Roxanne had been updating, more or less, for about 20 hours. (This could have been reduced some if I’d been there to respond every time it needed human input but I have this congenital condition that requires me to spend a certain portion of each day unconscious. It’s very inconvenient. The doctors call it ‘sleep’ and can only offer short-term mitigation.)

A Different Fix Needed

This time a different fix was needed but it was soon found and applied. Finally, almost a day after starting this quest, it was done. Roxanne was as up to date as a Windows 7 machine could be at that moment in early September of 2015.

But where was the Windows 10 upgrade offer in the notification area? It should have been in the last batch of updates. Apparently this issue comes up often enough that there is an app from Microsoft that looks at your machine and determines if it is eligible, and installs the upgrade app if so.

Roxanne wasn’t eligible for the Windows 10 upgrade for two reasons. One was correctable, the other was not. At least, not at reasonable cost, which in this case is not anything over $0.

The Nvidia FX5700 video card had long since fallen out of the range supported by the company after Windows 7. This could be fixed by replacing it with a newer card that would still be old enough to be free or of negligible cost. The other problem was the Pentium 4 HT CPU. It was too old to have NX Bit support.  https://goo.gl/4dgKB0

headstone-312540_1280Considering how much past malware misery could have been prevented if this NX Bit feature had become common much earlier in microprocessors, it represents a perfectly reasonable place for Microsoft to say “here and no farther” when it comes to antique hardware. The last generation of Pentium 4 did have the NX Bit (Intel calls it XD bit) added but this was after Roxanne’s CPU came out of the foundry.

So there it ends for Roxanne. She may find a home yet and brighten some life but we are done with her and bid her farewell.

Wrapping Up

The project met the need of providing a centralized and more efficient data storage for the Chaos Manor network. By consolidating data into that central location with high capacity drives, Chaos Manor gains efficiencies in data storage (data is not in several different places, with the attendant work of synchronizing data amongst several systems). It also makes backing up that data more centralized – which will be the focus of an upcoming project.

Using a RAID 6 configuration allows for data reliability, although you shouldn’t rely on just a RAID 6 for backup or data recovery, it is more of a reliable centralized storage system. You really need to have a process in place for off-network storage of your important data.

As for older computer systems: there’s “old” and then there is “really old”. Determining the moving target that divides those is necessary to decide whether a system should be donated or simply sent to e-waste.

And so ends this project. We hope that it has provided you with useful information, and perhaps some thought for a similar project of your own. We’re always looking for guest authors, see here. Let us know what you think in the comments below, and share this article with others.