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Server retired after 18 years and ten months – beat that, readers!

Home-brew 200Mhz Pentium FreeBSD box ran custom code that made replacement painful

The Register has learned, thanks to a post to a semi-private mailing list, of a server that has just been decommissioned after running without replacement parts since 1997.

The post, made by a chap named Ross, says he “Just switched off our longest running server.”

Ross says the box was “Built and brought into service in early 1997” and has “been running 24/7 for 18 years and 10 months.”

“In its day, it was a reasonable machine - 200MHz Pentium, 32MB RAM, 4GB SCSI-2 drive,” Ross writes. “And up until recently, it was doing its job fine.” Of late, however the “hard drive finally started throwing errors, it was time to retire it before it gave up the ghost!” The drive's a Seagate, for those of you looking to avoid drives that can't deliver more than 19 years of error-free operations.

The FreeBSD 2.2.1 box “collected user session (connection) data summaries, held copies of invoices, generated warning messages about data and call usage (rates and actual data against limits), let them do realtime account enquiries etc.”

The server lived so long because it was fit for purpose.

“It was heavily firewalled and only very specific services were visible to anyone, and most only visible to our directly connected customers,” Ross told Vulture South. “By the time it was probably due for a review, things had moved so far that all the original code was so tightly bound to the operating system itself, that later versions of the OS would have (and ultimately, did) require substantial rework. While it was running and not showing any signs of stress, it was simply expedient to leave sleeping dogs lie.”

Ross reckons the server lived so long due to “a combination of good quality hardware to start with, conservatively used (not flogging itself to death), a nice environment (temperature around 18C and very stable), nicely conditioned power, no vibration, hardly ever had anyone in the server room.”

"At the time of construction, we included large, 24V case style fans with proper bearings, but running on the 12V rail. These ran slowly and quietly, yet moved plenty of air. The clean conditions probably helped them survive. All the fans were still running at the time it was switched off".

A fan dedicated to keeping the disk drive cool helped things along, as did regular checks of its filters.

And now for the $64,000 question: who made the server that survived almost 19 years?

The box was a custom job. So take that, vendor-land. Ross can't remember who made the motherboard and understandably needs to crack on with things rather than cracking open the server.

Over to you now, readers. Has one of your servers beaten Ross' long-lived machine? If so, let us know in the comments or if there's an especially splendid story behind it, write to me and we might just do another story on this topic. ®

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