Sunday, April 26, 2009

Another Geek Side-Project - Part One

As I've said before, geeks always have a tech project or two going.  Well, this one is more of a side-project, but still an interesting one.

Where I work, we had a couple of Mini Google search appliances for use with our web sites.  What's a "Mini Google" you ask?  It's a server appliance that will crawl and index internal web site(s) and provide the same type of search capability on a small scale that the Google web site does for the Interwebs. Pretty nifty. But, there is a small catch...

Google really only supports the devices for two years from purchase.  After that, if anything goes're on your own.  No extended warranties, no purchased support, no nothing.  And that is exactly what happened to me recently.

We had a typical Colorado spring snowstorm blow through week before last.  During the storm we had power blips at work, due to the heavy, wet snow.  Even though this device and the network switch it was hooked up to were on a UPS, one of the brownouts caused the UPS to trip it's electrical breaker and shut down both devices hard.  When I got to work after getting notified of the outage, I tried to bring the system back up.  The sudden loss of power had caused a hard drive file corruption error severe enough that the device refused to boot.

Now, here's the fun part.  Because this is an "appliance," Google had installed all the covers with tamper-proof screws, locked out the BIOS and USB ports and did not provide even a software reload disc on their site.  So I had no way to even begin troubleshooting the problem, to say nothing of being able to fix it.  Basically, the Mini Google became a large, blue doorstop.

Since the device was obviously headed for the "e-cycle" (electronic recycle) pile to go out in the next go-round, I decided to ask my boss if I could have it instead.  I received official permission to take the device home.

I had a plan in mind to possibly repurpose the unit to replace my current home file server.  I currently run Ubuntu 8.10 Server on an older AMD Athlon 1600+ workstation with two 250GB SATA drives in a RAID 1 mirror.  The Mini Google is not quite as powerful, but has two advantages.  One is being a server-class device designed to run 24x7.  Second, being rack-mountable, I could mount it vertically to a wall and take up less room with it.

The first thing I needed to do was get past the tamper-proof screws and get inside the unit.  There were two screws on the back to hold down the top panel, and four on the sides that held on a "security" panel that prevented anyone from accessing the hard drive trays, CDROM drive and power switch.  I decided to tackle the two on the back first.  They had small washers between them and the case, so I just used pliers to twist the washers and loosen the screws a bit.  I was then able to use my fingers to get them out.

At that point I hit a snag.  The top panel normally should slide backwards and come off, but it wouldn't budge!  After a bit of fussing, I discovered the neat "Google" logo on the top of the server was a piece of rigid plastic with adhesive on the back that was stuck down to the top of the case.  It was also stuck to the front panel of the server and was preventing the top from sliding backwards.  I carefully peeled back the front part of the plastic panel just enough to get the top off.

After a quick inspection, it was clear this was an off-the-shelf unit made by Gigabyte.  I, somewhat ironically, Googled the motherboard model number and found Gigabyte's informational page and a link to the manual.

Then it was time to take on the front panel screws.  All the screws had a small, round hole in the end of them already, so I used a drill to widen and deepen the hole.  I then used one of those damaged screw-removal tools like they show on TV to back the screws out.  Took a bit of time, but I won out in the end!

My next task was to get past the BIOS password Google set and get into the settings.  A simple CMOS battery removal and reset was sufficient to get in.  Now we're getting somewhere!

During my tour through the BIOS and boot screens, I learned this unit contains dual Pentium III 1.26GHz processors, 2GB of RAM and a 120GB ATA hard drive.  Not a bad machine, but definitely not a screamer!

I then had to make a choice...which OS to load.  Ubuntu Server would run just fine on this unit, but I've been reading a lot about Windows Home Server lately and decided this was as good a time as any to give it a try.  I downloaded the trial version .iso (900MB) and burned it to a DVD.  I then hit snag number two.

The optical drive in the Google was an old Mitsumi CD-ROM.  It had no DVD read capability.  And, the drive slot is one of those for slimline laptop drives.  I was beginning to think I'd have to shell out for a DVD drive and suffer through a several-day delay, when I suddenly remembered I had a drive in my parts bin left over from another project.  And I was pretty sure it was at least a DVD-ROM unit.  After some digging I found it and sure enough, it was a DVD.  YES! [fist pumping air]

I removed the hard drive cage on the left side of the case and after some judicious cussing, got the optical drive out.  I then swapped in the DVD-ROM and reconnected it.  The drive I put in is a slot-load unit, but since I won't be putting the security cover back on, that shouldn't be an issue.

I booted the former Mini Google up, and it saw the new optical drive and worked like a charm.  I am now in the process of loading Windows Home Server on the unit.  I will provide more detail on that in my next installment.

-- Sundown, Out

1 comment:

  1. You hacker, you. :-) Looks neat, though, even if I personally would have preferred putting Linux on it... will be interested to hear how it works out as a server...


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