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May 03, 2017

More than ever, old sticks trigger backups

Memory-cageRegular and frequent backups still hold their spot as keystones in a stable HP 3000 datacenter. The backups are even more essential this year. 2017 is the 14th year and counting since any HP 3000 components have been manufactured. Excepting some third party disk solutions, the average age of Hewlett-Packard's MPE/iX servers has more than doubled since HP stopped building the boxes in 2003.

In 2003 a manager might be daring enough to run a shop with a server built in 1991, the first year the 9x7 servers were manufactured. Systems in the first wave of PA-RISC design were still in service, but a Series 950 was a rare box by the time HP stopped building them. That oldest 3000 server at the time was still only 15 years old. That made the average age of a 3000 about 8-10 years.

Add 14 years to that lifespan and it's easy to locate a 3000 and its components which are more than 16 years old. The Series 9x8 systems turn 25 this year. The numbers came up in a recent emergency repair discussion out in public. A Series 918 at Harte & Lyne ground to a halt with a bad memory component, and even a pair of replacement sticks were duds on this 23-year-old system. The 918-928 servers are still among the most frequently used servers in the community.

The manager at Harte & Lyne keeps this hardware high-wire act going because of Powerhouse licensing problems. The repairs of his 918 coincided with very recent backups, but it could have been up to 30 days behind. Loss of company data was well within reach at this logistics company. The backups prevented the calamity that's now started to hit spare parts, too.

Two failed memory sticks, plus two replacement failures, triggered the system halt. The problem was a defective card.

"I am doing a full backup just in case," said James Byrne, "but as it happens we did our monthly CSLT and SYSINFO jobs yesterday. Once the new backup is complete I will add two more sticks and see if they work, and repeat until we encounter the problem of getting the memory cage filled."

Byrne has access to independent support for his 918, but used the 3000-L to diagnose the problem at first. "One of the two replacement cards I initially used was also defective," he reported after he got the 3000 back online. "It took some time for our support people from Commerx and myself to finally realize what was going on, as we pulled cards and swapped locations trying to get a full bank of memory reinstalled."

Fortunately I still have about six two-card sets kept in a vault as spares, together with sundry other spare parts. No doubt there are other duds lurking therein but now I am alive to the possibility. Thanks for all the help.

And yes, the reason for all this dancing around to keep a 23 year-old piece of hardware running is Powerhouse and the intransigent present owners of the 'Intellectual Property Rights' thereto. To describe these people and their representatives as unethical grants them too much dignity for what they are. And what they are I shall leave unsaid.

These aging 3000 servers sometimes have been retired out of production duty, serving out their remaining days in archival mode. But even archives must be updated from time to time. Production data demands a more serious backup regimen, one getting more serious every year.

Solutions to avoid this risk run a wide gamut. Migration onto other environments reduces the age of replacement parts. A stout support contract for MPE/iX hardware ensures component replacement. Good backups are still crucial there. Beyond these remedies, there's one way to get newer hardware without migrating. PA-RISC virtualization software doesn't make backups an optional task. It can make them less likely to be needed, though.

06:41 PM in Homesteading, User Reports | Permalink

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