02/17/2001

Fixing an NT server. Or, troubleshooting Ghost on SCSI drives. One of the week’s challenges was figuring out how to Ghost an NT server. I wanted to back up a current configuration of a test server, but when I ran Ghost, it would die about 80 megs into the backup with a sector not found error or some other weirdness.

So I went back into NT, copied a ton of Ghost images to the drive, and watched. No problems. Hmm. So I called in some help. I showed him I could copy effortlessly to the server’s FAT partition. So then I deleted the files, booted off a DOS floppy, and at the command prompt I got ready to fill the disk. First, MD 1 to make a destination directory. Error. Crap!

We thought it over for a while, then he thought of something: what’s that partition’s placement on the drive? So we fired up Partition Magic and looked–it ran into cylinder 1152. Bingo. The 1024-sector limit isn’t a problem with IDE drives these days, but depending on your SCSI BIOS, it can be a problem with SCSI drives. And any self-respecting server uses SCSI drives.

So I deleted the FAT partition, moved the NTFS partition to the end, then created a new FAT partition in the middle of the drive. Bingo. No more complaints from Ghost.

I know it’s tempting to put your FAT disaster-recovery partition at the end of the drive, where performance is slowest, since you’ll rarely touch the thing. Unfortunately, if you cross cylinder 1024, you’ll get burned. So remember this rhyme while setting up servers: Keep FAT before cylinder 1024. You’ll be glad you did.

What, nothing on yesterday? Surely you jest. Of course there’s mail. But after fighting an NT server and Macs yesterday, did I want to deal with mail? Of course not. Look for it tomorrow.

Can’t resist a preview? Fine. One reader quoted The Great Benjamin Franklin: “Those who are willing to sacrifice a little liberty to gain a little safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” Amen, Ben. Were that there were more like you…

Linux. Well, if you’re chasing single-disk Linux projects, you can do much, much worse than to play with Freesco ( http://www.freesco.org/ ), which crams more onto a single floppy than anything else I’ve seen. So dig out your 386, slap in a pair of dusty ISA NICs, disconnect the hard drive to save power, throw in a couple of SIMMs to get it up to 6 MB RAM, boot off the disk, and tell it what you want. You can have an Ethernet bridge, a modem-to-Ethernet router, an Ethernet-to-Ethernet router, Cable/DSL-to-Ethernet router, or a print server. It even includes a DHCP server and caching DNS, if you like that sort of thing. (If you don’t like a caching DNS, it’s obviously because you’ve never seen one in action.)

Even if you have no need for its routing capabilities, it’s nice to be able to take an obsolescent PC, throw in a cheap NIC if it lacks one, and configure Freesco just as a caching DNS. Stick the PC in a corner anywhere you have a free drop and set it up to boot without a keyboard, configure your desktop PCs to use it, and you’ll reduce network traffic. With one caching DNS per subnet, you’ll get speed gains worth far more than it would cost to haul that old PC away. (And trust me, you want one on your local network–it’s worth the effort to get your 386 or 486 working again, even if you have to go buy a $12 ISA NE2000 clone NIC to drop in it.)

If you want a fast boot, you can install Freesco to a smallish hard drive, but if you do that, set it to spin down the drive because as long as you’ve got 6-8 MB of RAM, it’ll never touch the drive after it’s done booting.

Setup is insanely easy. Boot off the floppy, type setup, login as root, and follow the menu options. Even if you know no Unix whatsoever, you’ll be able to configure this. Check it out–you’ll be glad you did.

Unlike a lot of similar projects, Freesco is based on the 2.0.38 kernel, which is smaller than more recent kernels but networking’s not quite as fast. Still, in most cases the inclusion of the caching nameserver more than makes up the performance difference–not to mention the five-minute configuration time. And its network performance is still faster than NT.

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