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I have a headless server (with a desktop (ubuntu 10.04)) that I VNC into (using RealVNC) whenever I want to do anything with it. However, VNC-ing does not seem reliable. Every week I have a connect a monitor because something went wrong and the server shut out the rest of the network. So how do you admin a headless server?

NOTE: I wasn't sure if this should be CW or not so if you think so please comment.

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You don't really have a problem with running a server 'headless' (I almost never sit down at a physical server); you need to figure out why your server keeps 'shutting out' the rest of the network. –  Andrew Barber Dec 8 '10 at 5:31
    
@Andrew: Yes, I did have that feeling I was going about this the wrong way... Thanks for the direction. –  John Dec 8 '10 at 5:41

3 Answers 3

  • IF that thing really is supposed to be headless, get the hardware for it to be headless (KVM hardware so that you can attach remotely to a virtual monitor). Bad news - that costs... unless the motherboard is prepared, then it is cheap.

  • If the server regularly crashes, replace it and REPAIR IT.

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Yup, yup; as I noted in my comment, that's the 'real' problem here. My home router/firewall is a headless Linux box stuck in a corner of my basement. I physically touch it maybe twice a year, if that. One of those times is to restart it if the power dies longer than the UPS can handle. For the other time... adding KV temporarily isn't a big deal. –  Andrew Barber Dec 8 '10 at 18:10
    
I can't figure out what's wrong with it because when I try to plug a monitor in to see, the machine won't recognize it without a reboot, thereby erasing all evidence(I think) of the error. So I can't think of any way to find out what's going wrong. –  John Dec 10 '10 at 1:27

While I do use VNC for MSWindows servers, I never use it for Unix servers - there's very little you can't do via a command line session over ssh (and the of the few things you can't do this way, most of them can't be done via VNC either). Sometimes a GUI is convenient - but X window will run quite happily over an existing ssh conenction - without having to rely on a VNC server being running.

However if your system is not talking to the network that's not going to help (unless you've got a serial TTY link to a machine which is connected). That's an indicator of a very sick puppy - which you need to fix.

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+1 for the extra info about VNC not really being needed. Even Windows servers since Win2K can do RDP for remote; for nix's, SSH is *the way to go, and X over SSH if you need a graphical interface. –  Andrew Barber Dec 8 '10 at 18:05

I wouldn't admin a headless server without a way to log in via the serial port. I run a Linux box as router and while I haven't had too many problems, while experimenting with DHCP I got annoyed at getting locked out of my headless box.

Do this:

  • Obtain a decent-length null-modem cable and connect one side to your server's first serial port and the other to the machine you use normally.
  • Learn about running getty on the serial port. The comments in /etc/inittab can help you; be careful.
  • Via /boot/grub/menu/lst, get GRUB to output messages over serial, and the kernel as well. Comments in that file are helpful as well.
  • On the off chance your desktop BIOS supports serial redirection, enable it. You'll then get the BIOS over the serial port as well.
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+1 for Serial connection mention; They are indispensable for headless systems when you do get blocked network-wise. Depending on the installation/network, they can be a decent primary means of access, too. –  Andrew Barber Dec 8 '10 at 18:07

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