Some years ago I found at my job’s warehouse a retired server a Dell Poweredge 1300, with these characteristics: Pentium III 700 MHz, 128 MB RAM, 2x8GB SCSI harddisks, Adaptec AIC 7890 SCSI controller. I think it was bought in year 2000 or so.
It was not used, but it worked. That machine was “obsolete” to run any “modern” Windows system, so at job nobody wanted it. But for me it was a great opportunity to learn and try new things without breaking my own machine or disturbing other people, and with no cost for the office. GNU/Linux systems are very modular and you can choose which packages to install, so you can get a running system without too much CPU, memory or disk wasted (well later I knew about the *BSD systems, they are Unix systems and so, very modular too, but in that time I only knew GNU/Linux distributions as free software, Unix-like and also free of charge).
I did my first Debian Etch net install (I don’t remember which year, but Etch was the stable in that time), and got it running! Later I installed Apache, MySQL, and Drupal 5. I used my brand “new” server to learn Drupal. (I called it “negrito” -“little black”-, but it was a joke, since its size was the biggest one at the server room!). I think that in that moment some people at job began to think that I was kind of crazy, getting so excited to work on a so “old” machine.
Some time later, the School decided to deploy some web services: a computer labs reservation system, and a web page for publishing (and un-publishing) of job offers. After doing some research and try some possible solutions, I recommended to use PHPScheduleIt for the system reservations, and Drupal for the web job offer system. Both could be deployed with small tweaks on the standard systems, and we didn’t need a new, expensive server to host the website, since I showed it was working well in my GNU/Linux installation, on the old Dell server.
We used a PC for the “production site” (more CPU, more memory and better network card), and the “Negrito” Dell Server became the “dev” server. It was not my playground anymore, but the playground of my developers workmates. I reinstalled it with Debian Lenny, as the production server, and liked the fact that that old machine was coming to life for people other than me.
Two years ago we did a reorganization of the web servers at job, and decided to use a virtual machine as “dev” site, since it offered more resources for the development team. “Negrito” was retired again, and after the migration I shutted it down, waiting the time for having a bit spare time to play again with it or giving it a new mission.
In the last weeks I decided to migrate our website about free software, which was running in a PC, to the “negrito” server. The server has less resources than the PC, but in the other side it has redundancy (power, disk) and is a good machine on the hardware side, it haven’t had a single hardware fault since it was bought! The website about libre software was running on a Lenny install, so I wanted to migrate it to Squeeze or Wheezy soon or later. In addition to this, after I studied the System Integration subject in my Master on Libre Software, I felt brave enough to create and manage a RAID 1 by software on that two 8 GB disks, and use LVM to easily expand the storage if needed.
And here we are: last Friday I completed the installation and now the website about libre software is running on our “negrito” server. Old hardware, but new, free (as in freedom, and as in beer) and stable software (I installed Wheezy, which is near to freeze and I consider it quite stable). And it works!
I got another “retired” PC from the warehouse and I expanded its memory to 1 GB RAM so it will be my new “playground”. I installed Xen on it and will try to learn about the pfSense firewall in a virtual machine, and the Bacula backup solution in a different one. I also want to try Nginx and Cherokee webservers. And I hope in some months, I can do a new “server reorganization” and put in practice all these things in our humble server room.
Wish me luck!