In-Depth

Crash, Reboot, Repeat

Sometimes it takes losing an old friend.

When our small, yet growing business moved to a much larger facility a little more than a year ago, our network had to be rebuilt in a new location. This seemed the perfect opportunity to move in some new servers, switches and network lines and just generally improve our network while making the move. I luckily had the opportunity to move into the new building in the industrial park of our small Ohio town before just about anyone else, so I had some time to get a new server running while the old one was still being used in the other building.

After much typical hounding of upper management to allow me to buy the parts, I built our new server for around $2,300. This included a 1.4GHz AMD Athlon processor, 512MB RDRAM, three Ultra160-capable Seagate SCSI drives at 36.8GBs each, a SCSI RAID controller card and Microsoft Small Business Server 2000.

The new network was much faster, except for Internet connectivity, which was still dial-up. After proving how much better the increased speed was for productivity in other areas, it wasn’t hard to convince management that we needed something much faster. We decided on a DSL connection. Our DSL modem arrived, and we plugged it directly into the server. This wasn’t the move I would have preferred, but at least SBS includes ISA Server, a software firewall for protection from nasty Internet attackers. The server already had one network card, so I now had to give it a second one.

After installing the second card, everything seemed fine. Then I plugged in the DSL. It worked fine, too. Not just fine, in fact; DSL was great! I got everyone on the connection as fast as possible, so we could all share in the joy together. As I’d expected, everyone was absolutely ecstatic. Everyone loved being able to pull up their Hotmail in two seconds flat, listen to real audio without any break in the stream and in 10 minutes or less, download huge amounts of things they shouldn’t be downloading at work.

Then it happened. The server was running fine one moment, then without even a clue as to what was coming, BAM! The blue screen of death, but in a way entirely new to me. It appeared for just a moment before instantly restarting, all on its own. I was baffled. The only thing that had been changed recently was the DSL connection. After the server restarted, I logged on. Everything was normal. Whew! But it was only a mirage: The server was quiet for a few hours, then it happened again.

The server restarted as before, and I logged on again. Then the problem worsened. The server restarted again maybe an hour earlier than it had before. Then after 90 minutes. Then 60 minutes... then 30 minutes... then even more frequently. I sadly unplugged the beloved DSL connection, which appeared to cure the problem.

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After much discussion, we decided to get a new DSL modem. Soon after plugging it in, the server was back to its old tricks, and it restarted on me several times. It was time for another discussion. We decided that it could be a problem in the network switch or the network card. We tried the cheapest alternative and replaced the NIC with another one, this time a different brand. No luck there, either. The card worked, but the server was still misbehaving.

Having exhausted all other options, we went so far as to buy a completely new network switch (we needed one anyway, as our old one wasn’t expandable and had run out of room.) Thinking this was our last option, we honestly expected to turn that server on and have everything work like a charm. We turned the server on again, watching in anticipation. We watched, and watched, and watched, and waited, and…the crash, reboot cycle started again. I was at a loss to understand the problem. I replaced the network card with yet another new one. No luck.

Finally, I tried something desperate. I’d heard something about server network cards recently. At the time I’d thought, “Come on! Why would I need a special network card just because it’s a server?” A NIC is just a NIC, right? But I had no other ideas. I ordered an Intel Server NIC, which came the next day. These things cost quite a bit more than your average everyday network cards. After plugging this one in and starting the server up, everything was fine. The server didn’t have any more restart problems!

Everyone continued to use the connection throughout the entire day with no problems, and then through the week with no more mysterious reboots. I was still skeptical, but it’s been about a year since that happened, and the server has never magically restarted. I’m now a believer that these server NICs really do work better for servers. We’d always used regular inexpensive network cards in the past—the kind you can pick up at any retail store for $25 or $30. A network card was always just a network card to us.

Our other network card is still a cheap one, but you can bet if my server ever decides to get funky again, I’ll be buying a second Intel server NIC.

About the Author

Kyle Naeve, MCP, has been in IT for about one and a half years. He began his professional career with an A+ certification. Recently married, he's currently working on his MCSE

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