Intel donates servers to CS Department

Boxes O' ServersBoxes O' ServersOk, I posted some pictures yesterday and since the new content notifier doesn't have a setting to not notify when just images are posted, everyone got notified... and there wasn't a story to go along with it so I got a few comments asking... HUH?

To clear everything up... I posted the pictures to my Work Image Gallery... because the pictures were work related.

Turns out that two pallets arrived yesterday... because Intel donated twenty-six 1U rack mount servers to the MSU-Bozeman Computer Science Department. It just happens to be my job to do something with them. Hey, it took quite a while to get them all unpacked.

Click on thumbnail images for popups of larger versions or go directly to the image gallery.

The servers aren't new but are a few years old and were a tax write-off for Intel. Intel paid for shipping (over 800 lbs) so I'm sure that cost a small fortune. I'm sure anyone reading this wants to know what they are. There are two different types. These are servers that were made by Intel to loan out to various software and hardware developers in order to test out various Intel communications chipsets. As a result, they aren't really name brand with a specific make and model... so I'll give them names. Server Type 1 and Server Type 2. Both server types came with Immunix and MontaVista's Hard Hat Linux media and documentation circa 2001.

Server Type 1Server Type 1Server Type 1

There are twenty of these. I don't know if they all have the same exact hardware inside or not... but from the couple I've opened up... they are dual 866MHz Pentium III's with a 133MHz FSB and 256MB PC133 RAM (expandable to 4GB). The motherboard is a bit weird... and is actually two motherboards, one on top of the other, connected by three interconnections. Both motherboards have their own power connectors. The one on top has the CPUs, the one on bottom has the single PCI slot. The combo motherboard supports both SCSI and IDE drives and the case has room for four drives. One has 1 SCSI drive installed while another has 2 IDE drives installed. What's missing from these machines? They have three 10/100 NICs, one Fiberchannel port, two USB ports, a serial port... BUT they DO NOT have a floppy drive, an optical drive, nor a video card. Oh, and they came with separate (uninstalled) PS/2 mini-boards that can in theory be plugged into a male PS/2 connector on the motherboard.

Twenty of theseTwenty of theseThe BIOS in these machines is by General Software and the splash screen says that the BIOS (or perhaps it is referring to the machine itself) is for Demonstration Purposes Only... on the Hamer Rapids Evaluation Board... which I'm not sure exactly what that is. Since there aren't any PS/2 ports available, I have to use a USB keyboard and mouse. The machine I was experimenting with had MontaVista's Hard Hat Linux installed... and it could see the USB keyboard just fine. Of course I don't want to use Hard Hat Linux (which specializes in embedded devices) and even if I did, I wouldn't want to use such an ancient copy of it. Unfortunately the BIOS doesn't appear to know what a USB keyboard is so I can't get into the BIOS and do things like set the time and/or set it to boot from a CD-ROM drive that I've temporarily connected just for an OS install. Oh, and I had to plug in a PCI video card so I'd have a display. I guess I could have used the serial port (kernel boot option of console=/dev/ttyS0?) for a display but that sounded too painful for now.

Combo MotherboardCombo MotherboardOk, so I have these little mini-PS/2 boards and a connector on the motherboard for them... but wait... the connector is so close to the case and the mini-PS/2 board so wide and tall that even if it would plug in (which it won't), the lid wouldn't fit on the server because the mini-PS/2 board is too tall... and there isn't a cutout in the back of the case for it anyway. So, I guess what I need is a little 8-pin PS/2 male to 8-pin PS/2 female ribbon cable of some sort... and then run it out the back or something. Remember though, there are twenty of these machines and any hack I come up with would have to be done twenty times. Yeah, I could get one machine the way I want it and image it (assuming the same hardware) and I plan to do that if at all possible... but it would still be reasonable to want to get into the BIOS of each machine at some point.

I've emailed the sales folks at General Software, given them the information on the machine and am hoping that they have a BIOS update that will see USB keyboards. I have my fingers crossed as that would be the best solution to the problem... although considering that the four digit motherboard serial numbers are hand-written I have my doubts.

Server Type 2Server Type 2Server Type 2

There are six of these and they are actually pretty sweet even though they are dated circa 2002. Server Type 2 has dual 2GHz P4/Xeon CPUs with hyperthreading. I don't recall most of the other specs but at least they recognise the USB keyboard. By temporarily connecting a video card (yep, one PCI slot) and a DVD-ROM drive I was able to install CentOS 5.0 just fine. I believe these are IDE only machines (no SCSI) and there is room for two drives. The single one I've cracked open so far had one 20GB drive installed and 512MB of RAM. The Linux 2.6.x kernel saw the dual CPUs just fine and with the hyperthread technology in the CPU, it is like having four processors... with a combined BogoMIPs in the neighborhood of 16,000. Currently our primary departmental server has a BogoMIPs value around 12,000 (and a lot more storage) so you can see why I think they are pretty sweet.

Six of theseSix of theseNetwork? You need network? These bad boys have three 10/100 NICs, one 1GB NIC, and two Fiberchannel ports. CentOS saw eth0 - eth5 just fine... although at this point I have no idea what I'd do with all of those NICs. Too bad I can't trade them in for a video card and an optical drive. Oh, if you were wondering... all of the hardware in the machine is part of the motherboard rather than add-in cards... so nothing can really come out. CentOS 5.0 seemed to do just fine with all of the hardware.

What to do with them?

Physically they did not come with rails and remind me of older Cisco router equipment I've worked with where they mount in an old school type rack with two screws at each corner.

Since these machines are 5 to 6 years old one has to wonder if the hard drives that are in them should be replaced / upgraded. At this point I'd say no. All of them but one are in extremely good condition and don't appear to have more than a couple dozen hours of actual runtime. Many of the boxes these things came in still have some sort of customer shipping label on them... where you can actually see who Intel shipped them to originally as a demo machine. While it is hard to say just how much life the drives (and other components) have in them... all of the caps are flawless and there isn't any dust in / on them at all. The only money I'd want to spend on them initially would be for new BIOS batteries (standard watch type) and a rack... and perhaps a rudamentary UPS of some sort. Only after proving they still have some life left in them would I want to add RAM or upgrade the hard drives.

Lots O' NICsLots O' NICsWhat to use them for?

We have a recently built Condor grid but the CS Department Head would prefer that I make a high performance cluster out of them and then make each cluster a node of the grid if desired. I've not setup a cluster before and at this point I'm not sure what software to use... but I'll get it figured out.

At the very least the six Type 2 servers would make a really fast cluster. Since I haven't installed an OS on the Type 1 servers yet, I'm not really sure what their BogoMIPs value is and if they would be worth the power they consume or not. I'm guessing with the dual CPUs that they will do just fine.

Anyone want to volunteer and give me a hand setting these things up?

Server type 2 - InsideServer type 2 - Inside

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The Return of the Intel Cluster

Well its been a long time coming but I finally was albe to get these babies to boot into a nice new build of Gentoo 2007.1! Some have bad memory and others contained bad power supplies, all in all the build looks quite nice. Check out my blog for more information and the pictures of the cluster assembled in a nice T-Rack.

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