2008-11-14  The Great JezUK Computing Lab Infrastructure Rejiggle of 2008

Because I like to at least pretend to be a proper software professional, I have more than one computer. Some of them of just lying around the place gathering dust, there's a laptop I permit the family to abuse, I have a laptop of my own, and then there are the three that sit under my desk serving things. These three boxes constitute the length and most of the breadth of what I laughingly refer to as the JezUK Computing Lab.

The first of the three boxes is Falcon, a little linkstation, which sits there whirring away serving files. I got it a couple of years ago to replace the previous fileserver, which was an old PC which had finally surcome to repeated exposure to houses being replastered. It's a dinky little box and if you're after that kind of thing, you should give them a look. This box it replaced, Hawk, was one of a pair of machines that have been hanging around under my desk for about ten years. As in real life (or as real as pro-wrestling gets) while Hawk is no longer with us, Animal is still soldiering on while being, by modern standards, pretty thoroughly washed up. Running an aged SuSE Linux release, Animal was an email toaster and also hosted my subversion repositories. The final box, Etrigan, a tower system so large and black and solid it looks like an escapee from a Stanley Kubrick film, was, until recently, my main dev machine. It had the scanner and printer plugged into it, and so even when it was retired from every day use got left on so that people could scan and, erm, print.

Because everything worked, I've always been loathe to change anything simply for the sake of changing. Indeed, previous changes have, generally, been precipitated by failure. A fileserver failure about 4 years provided the opportunity, for instance, to move my email clients to IMAP rather than POP3, requiring the email toaster setup. (I know this reverses the usual server cause-and-effect chain, but it's my lab, my rules.) It's a shift I'd hinted at at least a year before, but it wasn't until provoked by dying hardware that I made the change. Once Animal was set up and handling the mail properly, I didn't touch it again. No package updates, no kernel rebuilds, no nothing. Why break something that worked? This conservatism/pragmatism/laziness has been a signature feature of my infrastructure management, and I commend it to you. Print it up on a big piece of paper and pin it up on the wall - If it works, don't touch it.

In the last week though, I have made considered, unpanicked, and significant changes to the way things work, to the point where I powered down Animal (probably for the last time) and I'm looking to power down Falcon sometime relatively soon. Two things prompted these changes - a noisy fan and some very clever software.

I'll burble about both those things later ...


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Jez Higgins