2. Hardware recommendations
2.4 Network interfaces
2.5 Other devices
3. Preparing the server
3.1 Real time clock
3.2 Boot order
3.3 Boot messages and memory check
3.4 Energy saving
3.5 Mouse support
As stated before, the recommended hardware configuration is as follows:
i386architecture, performance would have suffered.
HIGHMEM). The reason is simple: the kernel runs faster without
HIGHMEM. This means that with the default kernel the usable memory is effectively limited to some 880 MB. On a machine with 1024 MB RAM this leaves 144 MB RAM unused.
NOTICE: A possible solution is to install another kernel. Fortunately
the ServerAtSchool CD provides such a kernel (even though it is not
installed by default). See
You should make sure that the RAM you install is 100% compatible with the motherboard. It is probably best to follow the motherboard manufacturer's recommendations. Do not try to save a little money by using noname or OEM memory; use only first class RAM. If the design of the motherboard allows it, you should use ECC memory. This type of memory is capable of automatically correcting certain errors that might otherwise wreak havoc. The importance of data integrity on a server, especially in RAM, cannot be overstated.
The first disk is to be used as "the" system
disk. Usually this would be device
/dev/hda. This equates
to the primary IDE master.
A second disk would be dedicated to backups. The standard
ServerAtSchool system makes backups of the first disk on the second
disk every night. This protects against the first disk failing. As a
rule, the partition for backups on the second disk is mounted at
NOTICE: The ServerAtSchool server is not designed to create backups on tapes. The simple reason is that it takes a lot of discipline to exchange tapes and stick to a rigid backup scheme, especially for schools without a systems administrator. A teacher has neither the incentive nor the time to perform the task of managing backup tapes every day. Furthermore, tapes are both limited in capacity and error-prone. At about EUR 1 per gigabyte a fast ATA disk is much cheaper and also more reliable.
The third disk in the standard ServerAtSchool setup is to be used as
an encrypted off-site backup for another school. The
idea is to work together: school A stores its daily backup on the
third disk of the server located in school B, whereas school B uses
the third disk in school A's server for its daily
backup. These backups can be done via the 24/7 xDSL connections both
schools probably already have. Since 'they' use 'our' third disk, and
'we' use 'theirs', no money for these 'third disks' needs to change
hands; it's simply a matter of cooperation. In the ServerAtSchool
server software the 'other' school is called a buddy, and the
third disk that holds the backups of another school is mounted at
Good results were achieved with the following allocation of disk devices:
/dev/hda- primary (system) disk
/dev/hdb- CD-ROM disk
/dev/hdc- second disk (holds
/dev/hdd- third disk (holds
With the ever growing needs for file storage, it is a good idea to use disks of at least 80 GB. Even better would be to use 120 GB disks. Good results have been achieved with Ultra-ATA 100 disks, but of course you can also use Ultra-ATA 133 disks, provided the motherboard supports these.
NOTICE: Some older hardware may present problems with huge disks; there is a limit at 137 GB. In order to circumvent problems with this limit, the advice is to stick to disks no larger than 120 GB.
By placing the 'backup' disk and the 'buddies' disk on the secondary IDE-controller, the primary IDE-controller can concentrate on the system disk. This is a performance consideration.
eth0. The other interface is used to connect to the local area network (LAN). This interface is known as
eth1. The design of the ServerAtSchool server is based on the assumption that the server will be connected to the Internet 24/7 (24 hours per day, 7 days a week) via a broadband connection, either xDSL or cable.
Popular speeds for broadband connections are 512 kb/s downstream/128
kb/s upstream, 1024 kb/s downstream/256 kb/s upstream, 2048 kb/s
downstream/512 kb/s upstream. Given these broadband
connection speeds, a 10 Mb/s network interface would probably suffice for the
external network interface of the server. However, bandwidth keeps
increasing and some cable providers now offer 10 Mb/s downstream. In
that case you are better off with a 10/100 Mb/s interface for
The connection to the LAN via
eth1 should be as fast as
possible. The best choice depends on the available network hardware
(network hubs and switches) and cabling. If the existing network
cabling is of good quality (Cat. 5 or better) you might be able to
operate the network at 100 Mb/s. In that case a 10/100 Mb/s network
switch with one or two 1000 Mb/s ports (such as the Netgear FS526T)
would be a good investment if the server has a 10/100/1000 Mb/s
network interface. The effect would be that 10 clients (each with
10/100 Mb/s network interfaces) would be able to connect to the switch
at the full 100 Mb/s and that the combined traffic of these 10 client
computers would still not saturate the 1000 Mb/s connection between
the switch and the server. By cascading two or more of these
10/100/1000 Mb/s switches, you can increase the number of 10/100 ports
with a 1000 Mb/s connection to the server.
NOTICE: A fast network (100 Mb/s or even faster) is not required, but it is recommended. The most important reason is the bandwidth necessary to restore a client image. The faster that goes, the more feasible it becomes to simply restore an image every day. A second important reason is that users in a school often use the same (multi-media) applications at exactly the same time because they only have 10 minutes at the computer. If it takes forever to load the images from the server, you lose valuable time.
Here is an example of a standard ServerAtSchool network:
In the top left corner you can see the broadband connection coming
in. It is connected to the server via a 10 or 100 Mb/s network
eth0 mounted in the server. The server has a
10/100/1000 Mb/s network interface
eth1 which is
connected to a gigabit port on the switch. This switch has 24 ports
which can operate at 10 or 100 Mb/s and 2 ports which can operate at
10, 100 or 1000 Mb/s. At the bottom of the sketch you can see 12 client
computers connected to the switch. Another 12 10/100 Mb/s ports on the
switch are unused in this example, as is the second gigabit port on
the right hand side of the switch.
It is a good idea to use two different brands of network interfaces in
the server computer, say one 3Com 3C905C-TX and one Intel
Pro/1000. During installation these network interfaces will each get
their own driver. This makes it easier to assign the correct name
eth1) to the loadable drivers
e1000) in the configuration
/etc/modules.conf. See also the section 2.1 /etc/modules.conf in chapter V. Configuring all ServerAtSchool components.
Look at it this way: you install the server software once and as soon
as you are ready with that, you simply switch off the
screen. Subsequent system maintenance can be carried out using a
terminal session over a secure, encrypted network connection
SSH). If configured correctly, you can do that from any
client on the LAN (perhaps using the terminal emulator
PUTTY.EXE) or even from a remote location off the school
premises. You don't have to be hanging upside down in a cold
broom closet to work on the server.
The OpenNA/ServerAtSchool server also does not require a mouse; a mouse has no added value at all on a server. You do need a keyboard though. Just like the monitor an old keyboard will be fine since you won't be using it very often.
If at all possible, the server should have a diskette drive
/dev/fd0). This comes in handy when you use the
disk imaging program Ghost for Unix (discussed in section 13 Ghost for Unix in chapter
V. Configuring all ServerAtSchool
components), which works with a bootable diskette. It is very convenient
to have a diskette drive on the server to create such a diskette.
Also, you may want to have at least 1 serial port in your server. You can use it to connect an Uninterruptable Power Supply (UPS) to the server. If a UPS is connected to the server via a serial cable, the UPS will be able to initiate a clean shutdown of the server in the event of an extended power failure.
Finally, a few hints for (new) hardware:
NOTICE: Please make sure that you block the fans to stop them spinning while you are using compressed air. If they spin, they can generate electricity (like a dynamo) and damage the computer electronics.
After restoring the defaults, saving the new settings, and rebooting the computer, the actual BIOS configuration can commence.
The reason to start from default settings is of course to be able to reproduce what you have done. If you don't have a fixed starting point you will never be able to return to that point and start again in case you get lost in the complexity of the BIOS settings. It is not important to specifically reset to factory or optimised defaults, as long as you stick to one or the other.
Since there are a lot of diffentent BIOSes, it is difficult to give exact examples or screen shots. However, there are a few settings that need special attention.
NOTICE: In order to enter the BIOS settings screen you have to press
one or more specific keys on the keyboard at the correct moment during
the POST (Power On Self Test). Refer to the mainboard and/or the
system documentation to find out which key or keys need to be pressed. If
you do not know which key you need to use, you could try
[Del] key, a function key (
It is a good idea, or rather, essential, to write down the settings you change, for future reference.
Some computers have a BIOS that lacks a reset function. In such cases the only thing you can do is to meticulously write down all settings and the changes you have made. Otherwise you will never remember which settings work and which don't.
Using the same reasoning, you should perform the slow-but-thorough variety of memory check rather than use the quick-and-dirty approach.
Some BIOSes even suspend the complete system, slowing down the CPU to a minimum if no keyboard activity has been detected for some time. Again, this might be handy for a client computer, but it is very likely that a server's keyboard will not be touched at all for months on end.
The one thing you should do to save energy is to switch off the monitor as soon as the server is configured and you are ready to leave it to its own devices. You can always switch on the monitor if you need to work at the console for some reason.
Author: Peter Fokker <peter (at) berestijn.nl> $Id: preparing.html,v 1.19 2006/03/31 15:35:47 peter Exp $