For several years, I administered a command and control system for the U.S. Air Force. I sat in a datacenter, surrounded by racks jam-packed full of servers, and they kept the building at 64 degrees year round. I quickly learned to keep a jacket handy.
Our system consisted of a diverse collection of Dell 1U and 5U servers, HP blades, and a couple of Sun SPARC boxes. It was a professional-looking setup, and except for the times we were doing massive system upgrades, the system generally worked as well as it looked.
Then we got a neighbor.
I didn’t notice anything about them at first–it was just a row of racks full of rackmount servers, the same as dozens of others in the building. But one day, I noticed something different in one of the racks. Something green.
I stopped dead in my tracks and looked at it again.
There was a big lowercase green “e” on a desktop computer stuffed into that rack. They didn’t even bother putting it in sideways to try to make it blend in a little. Just a minitower sitting centered on a shelf, with standard rackmount machines above and below it.
Yes, sitting amongst these 5U servers that cost $20,000 and up–apiece–was a $349 consumer electronics staple. Who knows what the $399 junker was doing. Hopefully nothing important. I knew people who advocated using desktop-grade PCs as domain controllers to save money, since domain controllers generally shouldn’t be used for anything else, and DCs fail over by their very nature so it’s not a catastrophe if one does happen to fail, but at least they had the decency to use business-class desktop PCs for that purpose. Using a $349 Emachine for a domain controller seems to be taking that practice too far. (I wouldn’t recommend that practice today–it’s more cost-effective to put your DCs on virtual machines instead.)
But I didn’t think of any of that right then. No, I went back to my office and told everyone I could find.
An Emachine. In a datacenter. A government data center. An Air Force datacenter.
For months afterward, any time I had to walk over to our servers, I made sure to wave at the Emachine. And snicker.
Then one day, the Emachine was gone, and I never saw it again. I wasn’t surprised. If you happen to buy the right model at the right time, they can do a good job for you at home. But they’re generally inexpensive machines built using components from whoever happened to be the lowest bidder at the time. As such, I can’t think of anything good coming from sticking one in a datacenter and having 20,000 users authenticate against it every day. That just seems like a recipe for BSODs to me.
But, come to think of it, that out-of-place machine did brighten my day from time to time for a while. So I guess there was one good thing that came of it.