Geoffrey Meredith
Thoughts on Technology


(posted on 29 Mar 2012)

In 1998 we were living in San Francisco at the height of the dot com boom. We got one of the first residential DSL lines that PacBell started to roll out. It took them 2 full days to get it installed! I think that the initial price was $160/month for what today would be seen as a very slow connection. What was important was that it was always on -- at least if it didn't rain. Not only did we have a "fast", always-on connection to the internet, we could run our own internet services. We could replace our very expensive DellHost server that we were using at that time.

We built a beige box tower computer that had a 400MHz Celeron CPU on an Intel SE440BX-2 motherboard, 128MB of RAM, 10GB of disk space and running Debian Linux and call it Matrix. We ran a number of websites from Matrix., and well as personal websites and some sites for others. We created websites to play around with some early SEO techniques and even a bit of content farming. This went on for a couple of years until ISPs started complaining about putting web and email servers on residential connections and we finally had to go back to data center hosted servers. Once Matrix was retired as a production server it took up service as a development server for developing websites before pushed to a production server. Over the years it has it's RAM tripled up to a whopping 384MB and had it's version of Debian upgraded many times. It eventually was too slow to effectively be used as a development server and was retired from development service sometime around 2005.

Matrix still ran reliably so we started to use it to do regular backups of our production servers. We added a couple of hard drives in the years since then as our backup needs increased. It has run for the last 7 years constantly transferring data to and from production servers in data centers around the world and to NAS devices that we have on our local LAN.

I noticed this morning that it was having a DNS problem and that it had not done some of the backups it should have done. I traced the problem down, fixed it and restarted it's backup. The load was too much for it. After transferring a couple of gigabytes from our production servers Matrix crashed. Only the second or third time it has crashed in it's many years of service and only about the third reboot in about 6 years. It never recovered from that crash. The BIOS booted very slowly, RAM check was glacial and it only recognized 2 out the 4 IDE devices connected to it. Matrix halted displaying the dreaded "Operating System not found" error.

I spend an hour or so cleaning it out and attempting get the machine to boot off of different devices without success. So after 14 years of absolutely reliable service, Matrix has been powered down one last time.