Hard disks, and DVD-ROMs, and CD-RWs, Oh my! With all these acronyms -- and those associated with them, like SATA, IDE, USB, and SCSI -- it's easy to lose track of what keeps what information on your computer. This chapter, from Build Your Own Server, by Tony Caputo, covers all this and more (McGraw-Hill/Osborne, ISBN: 0072227281).
The drives of a server—or any computer, for that matter—are the more permanent residence for your data. While information only stays in RAM as long as the system is running, the hard drive will still hold that data, even when shut down. Removable media—such as CD/DVD-ROMs, backup tapes, floppy disks, and Zip disks—are all mediums created to move data from one place to another. CD/DVD-ROMs typically will hold the software you’ll need to install, as well as patches, upgrades, and service packs. Backup tapes provide a means of creating a failsafe copy, and floppy disks (originally used for software installation) and Zip media are also to transport data from one place to another.
Even the hard drive can be made mobile; but using a “hot swap” tray (under lock and key) that will allow you to pull the hard drive out of one server and plug it into another, or pull a hard drive at full capacity out and load in another, without shutting down, gives the hard drive similar capabilities of a tape backup unit, only with infinitely more capacity and speed.
Of course, in addition to file and print sharing, your server could also provide drive sharing. Rather than having a single DVD-ROM, for example, in a desktop for one person to use, you can add this drive into the server and have it serve the many, instead of the one. The DVD-ROM becomes another storage unit within the server to share. Keep in mind while building your server requirements that the amount of use can greatly diminish the performance of the other roles the server plays.
Choosing Your Drives
Typically, any server (file, web, or print) includes one or more floppy, CD-ROM, and/or hard drives. When installing and configuring your system, these three very different drives will actually work together. The floppy disk drive is a random access, removable, magnetic, data-storage medium. Originally, the drive supported 5¼-inch disks that were soft and flexible, or “floppy” (hence the name). These disks were half the thickness of today’s 3½-inch floppy disks, which were developed about 20 years ago by Sony. These floppy disks have a maximum capacity of 1.44MB, which limits their usefulness.
Thanks to the development of networking, network users rarely use floppy disks as a method of file transfer; besides, there are few files under 1.44MB these days. In fact, Apple Computer has eliminated the floppy disk drive from its iMac series, and Gateway Computer offers to consumers the choice of whether or not to have a floppy disk drive in their new computer. However, I believe a floppy disk drive is an important part of the maintainability of your server—mainly because of network operating systems (NOSs) like Windows and Linux, that in a recovery situation recommend the use of an Emergency Repair Disk (ERD) or boot disk.
When the server starts its boot process from a cold start, the motherboard is initialized. After a self-aware initialization, the BIOS in the motherboard then looks for a valid drive and operating system. Typically, the A drive is the default and is reserved for the floppy disk drive. If the floppy disk within the drive holds the bootable MS-DOS IO.SYS file, BIOS will boot the system to an A:\ prompt. Windows 2000 Server or Windows .NET Server require a CD-ROM for an emergency boot process, but you can create a series of four floppy disks that you can use in the event of a mishap.
Believe me, the floppy disk drive comes in very handy when troubleshooting a problem with motherboards, memory, hard drives, the OS, or any server component.
The floppy disk drive is like a stalwart guardian, always there and always ready. It doesn’t need any additional drivers to run, nor does it need any special software. If a motherboard refuses to initialize, or doesn’t find the OS to launch, the floppy disk drive is there, ready to boot your system to the A:\ prompt and give you access to the boot drive. For example, if after installing a new 120GB hard drive you get the Blue Screen of Death (BSOD), and later discover that you need to update the BIOS to handle that hard drive, the floppy disk drive is available. I’ve also used the Windows 2000 Emergency Repair Disk (on a single floppy disk) on a few occasions. Sure, the floppy disk drive is slow and becoming slower relative to faster speeds of newer devices, but when nothing works, accessibility is more important than speed.
Eventually, CD-RW discs, which are dropping in cost dramatically, are sure to replace floppy disks. Also, computer hard drive technology has become more sophisticated since the introduction of the floppy disk, and now provides seamless, uninterrupted operations and new ways of improving the meantime between failure (MTBF), which is the measure of hardware reliability, so the stalwart guardian may find the need to retire. Computer components are thousands or tens of thousands of hours between failures. Anticipating those potential failures and preparing redundancy options reduces any possible downtime.
Emergency Repair Disk (ERD)
During the process of installing Windows 2000/Server 2003, you’re given the option to create an ERD. If your system doesn’t boot into your OS or you get the BSOD, this simple floppy disk can be a real lifesaver. Unless you have an EEPROM burner handy, the floppy disk drive is also the only way to update your system BIOS. If some new hardware is causing some bad reactions, pull out the culprit, clear CMOS by using the jumper or pulling out the CMOS battery for about 60 seconds (refer to Chapter 3), and then boot to the A:\ prompt using a boot floppy disk. Next, download the latest BIOS from the motherboard manufacturer’s web site and, using the appropriate flash utility (see your motherboard documentation), flash (update) the BIOS from the floppy disk.
The floppy disk drive is typically the default first boot device, which is why it’s an important part of system maintainability—it’s always on. It’s a surefire way to access the computer’s information and data. If your hard drive fails, it would be rather difficult to access information by way of the OS if it is on the hard drive that failed.
AUTOEXEC.NT Copy of autoexec.nt
CONFIG.NT Copy of config.nt
SETUP.LOG Contains the locations of system and application files and cyclic redundancy check (CRC) information used during the repair process
If you skipped the procedure to create an ERD during installation, or your ERD is lost or damaged, you can still create an ERD of the system by following the ERD wizard within the Windows 2000 or Server 2003 Backup utility. This is located by selecting Start | Programs | Accessories | System Tools | Backup. Be sure to have a clean floppy disk on hand.
If the opportunity to use the ERD presents itself, you first need to boot the computer with theWindows 2000/Server 2003 CD-ROM or the set of four boot floppies. You can create these by running /bootdisk/ makeboot.exe on yourWindows 2000/ Server 2003 Installation CD-ROM (more on this in Chapter 10). The Windows 2000/Server 2003 setup will begin and take you to the option of Install or Repair. Select Repair and follow the onscreen instructions.
This chapter is from Build Your Own Server, by Tony Caputo (McGraw-Hill/Osborne, 2004, ISBN: 0072227281). Check it out at your favorite bookstore today. Buy this book now.
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