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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Reader Comments:

Tue, Nov 15, 2005 Rich Reading,PA

FYI The Blue screen was a memory dump. Couldn't figure out how to stop it. No conflicts showed up and disk was physically fine. Tried Repair & Recovery Console, no help So I format & Install....Problem solved I guess I could have done that in the first place but where's the challenge in that!

Sat, Nov 12, 2005 Rich Reading,PA

Good article but I agree,don't know if he really found the problem. I have a Dell comp. with onboard NIC. When NIC is enabled and TCP IP address info is configured, right before login screen when Windows looks to the network BAM Reboot. Reinstalled NIC drivers...No help. Disabled NIC in CMOS, No reboot. Installed PCI NIC problem comes back. Conclusion.. not NIC. Also if I install NIC while logged on I can access Internet through LAN connection but If I try to access a network resource (Email Exchange Server) Bam Reboot. I'm wondering if the registry is corrupted. Any ideas. I will try to read the blue screen now that I know how to stop reboot.

Thu, Oct 27, 2005 Anonymous Anonymous

Good article about an interesting problem, I found it to be a good read.

Thu, Mar 4, 2004 Kyle Dayton, Ohio

By the way, for all the immature people that decided to slander me on here, you didn't read the article carefully enough. Also, thank James, as you said, they don't know the situation. Anyhow, the point being that I tried several DIFFERENT network cards and still had the same problem, it wasn't a simple problem with one badly written driver.

Tue, Mar 2, 2004 James Florida

Dang, lay off people. No one has any real idea of the situation not being personally involved. All in all, a good article IMO.

Sun, Feb 29, 2004 Anonymous Anonymous

blah blah blah. Sounds like you had no idea what the hell you were doing! I hope your employer is run by a bunch of idiots, I'd hate to see you lose your job... since you evidently didn't know how to do it.

Mon, Jan 19, 2004 Tom Texas

I think it's a very good article. Interesting alternative solution to the problem.

Tue, Nov 18, 2003 Anonymous Anonymous

Kyle, your a moron. Get a new DSL modem? For a blue screen? Try trouble shooting next time. This involves figuring out why something happens before stabbing in the dark.

Tue, Oct 28, 2003 nemisis uk

Why didnt you review the crash dump jerk!!!!!1

Thu, Oct 23, 2003 BG Anonymous

Was this a Windows machine?

Wed, Oct 8, 2003 Brett NZ

Numerous reasons it could have occured.
Have found Device driver errors in the past to be the main culprit.
One thing that did happen once was a buffer overflow in the cheap network cards I was using - that brought down SBS ina similar manner but did not repeat in the same fashion as this problem.

Fri, Oct 3, 2003 Anonymous Anonymous

Still doesn't really explain underlying cause!!!

Wed, Oct 1, 2003 Kyle Dayton, OH

Thanks for the comments. I never found out about the blue screen, thanks for that tip. To the thing about the poor device driver, I tried several different cheap cards and also downloaded new drivers for each. It was definitely this card that fixed the issue. To James, it was set to full, but I did also try setting it to half with the same problem both ways. :-) ~Kyle

Wed, Oct 1, 2003 James Texas

Also, was the NIC set for half or full duplex? Over all good read! : )

Tue, Sep 30, 2003 Chris Fort Wayne, IN

It's a good tip, but the problem is not necessarily do to the quality of the hardware. You were probably getting the blue screen from a poorly written device driver for the cheap card.

Tue, Sep 30, 2003 Come on NY

How about event viewer?
What was the error on BSOD?
You ever heard of routers, NAT and such?
The article is OK, but the troubleshooting skills are kinda poor.

Tue, Sep 30, 2003 Keith St. Cloud, MN

Did you ever find out what the blue screen that was briefly displayed actually said? Usually you can disable the auto reboot in the system control panel so you have time to read the error. Good story though, and another reason to buy a name-brand server instead of building one.

Tue, Sep 30, 2003 Kyle Dayton, OH

I did not necessarily mean the article to apply to everyone's situation, however hopefully it will help someone some day if they do happen to experience this particular rebooting issue.

Tue, Sep 30, 2003 Francis Bangalore

I am not convinced about this article. I am using the same type setup (DSL) with ordinary 02 NICs. It is working fantastic. We are running Mail server, HTTP server and FTP server through this connection. The HTTP is re-directed to the illeagal IP. I must mention with sad that the only difference is that I am using a Linux machine in the Gateway. But my whole of network is Windows domain.

Mon, Sep 29, 2003 Anonymous Anonymous

Good article

Mon, Sep 29, 2003 mdrake Cincinnati

Interesting, but the science-trained part of me is not completely satisfied. There must be a plausible mechanism, a theory for why this happens.

Mon, Sep 29, 2003 Anonymous Anonymous

Well written and very informative for an unpublicized problem.

Mon, Sep 29, 2003 Don Top Denver, CO

Well written and useful for future reference. Sounds like an "undocumented" feature to me! Thanks for sharing it.

Sun, Sep 28, 2003 Anonymous Anonymous

Interesting read. Sometimes it's the least thought of hardware that can create the biggest hasle to the tech guy. A good tip to file away for another day. Thanks.

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