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Datashack Stirrings

Posted 07-20-2014 at 08:54 AM by ttk

One of my ongoing projects, for the purpose of facilitating other projects, is the conversion of our wellhouse to a "datashack" and light workshop. The goal is to run various computers in it without introducing undue noise or heat to the main house.

It's been a while in the coming, but it's coming. Yesterday marked two big steps: I moved my computer cabinet from the garage (where I basically never got to run the systems mounted in it) to the wellhouse, and I installed an air conditioning unit.

Since I don't yet trust the floor in the wellhouse to take the 40U cabinet's weight while populated, I pulled the computer systems out of it and stacked them on the workbench in the wellhouse, and moved the empty cabinet to the back wall. Once I've figured out a good way to reinforce the floor, I'll put the cabinet in its final position and put the computer systems back in.

Before that, though, I need to take stock of the systems, see what still works (I last ran them more than a year ago), and probably install some components. I'd also like to power them through my kill-o-watt unit, to see how much power they actually draw (the wellhouse only gives me a couple of 15A circuits to play with).

The systems, in all:
  • Ten "pocket cluster node" 1U systems, each a four-core 3.0GHz Pentium-D system. I know for a fact not all of them are running, because over the last few years I pulled disks and RAM out of some to replace/enhance others.
  • Two 1U mystery machines which were never actually hooked up, just mounted in the cabinet with the intention of getting them running "eventually". I've forgotten what's in them, and need to open them up and take inventory.
  • Three 1U NetGear 24-port gigabit ethernet switches (amazing what one can find in dumpsters in Silicon Valley). I should only need one, for now, so hopefully one still works.
  • Two 2U "whiteboxes", fairly old systems (2003'ish) which I'm pretty sure are no longer worth the power it'd take to run them. Might just get rid of these.
  • Typhon, a 48-disk custom-built fileserver I built myself. Intended to be the main fileserver for home use (for backups and media files).
  • Atlas, a new'ish 12-disk 2U server I purchased recently from a friend. Intended to replace the server providing with web, mail, user shell and database services.
  • Bunker, my second-string laptop, a Lenovo ThinkPad T510, which has been running in the wellhouse for a few weeks now. I've been using it to monitor the temperatures in there.
  • A big-ass UPS unit, whose batteries are shot and need replacing.

Once the systems are inventoried and brought back up to working order, and their power consumption measured, I need to figure out the power situation. The wellhouse has four 15A circuits, but right now only one of them is readily available via the building's three-prong outlets. One of the other 15A circuits seems to be used for nothing but powering the external light, so I should be able to tap into that one and install another three-prong outlet, giving me 30A to work with.

Of the remaining two 15A circuits, one provides power to the well pump itself, and I have no idea what the other is for. Unfortunately I don't know which circuit is which; when we bought the property in 2008 the breaker box was unlabelled. I've figured out and labelled the breakers for internal power and exterior light, but I'll need to open the breaker box to figure out what the other two circuits are doing. Or not, since 30A is probably plenty for my purposes.

The Plan is to plug one of these into each circuit:

.. and then plug the various computer systems and the air conditioner into them, except for Bunker, which will run 24x7 and control the power on those outlets while also serving as thermostat and firewall.

I expect the pocket cluster nodes to be left powered off most of the time (especially in the summer), as they are a bit power-hungry and I only use the pocket cluster to develop, test, and debug distributed technologies (which is my profession). It will be handy to be able to turn them on and off remotely, and to cold-boot them as needed should a system become wedged.

The air conditioner will be left in the "max cool" state, but powered off until Bunker detects the temperature in the wellhouse rising beyond a threshold, at which point it will turn the unit's power on to cool things off, turning it off again once the temperature is detected to have fallen below some threshold. I've been using a simple perl script to control Bunker's fan speed to regulate its temperatures, and it should be easy enough to adapt that script to control the air conditioner power as well.

Typhon needs to get populated with disks (probably not a lot, for starters) and set up with a Samba fileshare and GlusterFS so we can mount its filesystem over the network. It's not a rack-mountable system (I built it as a 2'x2'x2' wooden box, with fans filling the entire top surface), so it will need to get tucked elsewhere. I intend to leave it running 24x7 so my wife and I can save backups to it and stream media from it as needed.

Atlas also needs to get populated with disks, have an OS installed, and set up with all the software to take over the functions of the old server (a non-trivial task, unfortunately -- the server is a bit overloaded with services, most of which have grown organically with the years). It will be really, really good to host this at home. The server has been hosted by Pacific Online for about a decade now, and it's served us well, but having the server nearby will make maintaining it much easier.

Once the UPS's batteries are replaced with good ones, it will power the ethernet switch, Typhon, and Atlas. It doesn't have the capacity to keep them running for very long, but should be fine for short outages. Bunker, being a laptop, doesn't need to be on a UPS since its battery still works and can keep it powered for a few hours.

I'm not sure what to do about providing the air conditioner with uninterrupted power, or if it's necessary. It's conceivable that the power might conk out on a hot summer day, in which case everything would shut off except the switch, Typhon, Atlas, and Bunker, and it might get rather toasty in there.

It seems unlikely, though, as all of our power outages thusfar since 2008 have been during the winter, not the summer, and I expect that building to remain quite cool throughout the winter, even with three systems running in it (I expect them to dissipate less than 400W, though I need to actually measure that). So possibly it will be a non-issue. Nonetheless, I will continue to ponder.

Up until now, all I've been doing in the wellhouse has been cleaning / rearranging things in *preparation* of moving things in there and working on them. Now that these systems are stacked on the workbench, I can actually work on them! The prospect is very exciting, and I can hardly wait.

In fact .. what am I doing on the living room couch? I'm going to post this to my blog, dig out my kill-o-watt, and head down there right now!
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