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I've to solve a nasty problem on a ten machine "cluster": randomly one of these machine hang during an hard computation, sometime still ping sometime not.

The problem was described me at the phone, I've still no touch/see these machine, so I can't be more precise. It seem there's no (real) keyboard or monitor linked to them, so I haven't nothing about keyboard led or messages on monitor.

Don't worry, what I really need is some suggestion where to search the problem, some suggestions on what can cause a kernel hang on a working machine.

I also see this post, but seem same need on a different situation.

My ideas since now:
- HW problem (ram, cpu, fan etc.)
- bad autofs configuration
- bad nfs(?) configuration
- presence of a trojan/hacker/etc
- /dev/"swap" linked to /dev/zero
- kernel out of memory(??)
- kernel bugged

In other words I try to imagine what kind of envent can occour that can crash the kernel insted of the application that generate the event.

What hang have YOU experienced before? Write it to me!


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up vote 1 down vote accepted

First of all, while RHEL 4 is pretty old by itself, it is still maintained and you can try to update with the latest patches (See the Wiki information).

A kernel panic / hang may come from a bunch of reasons. The ones I experienced are mainly due to

  1. Memory problem: install (for instance) an Ubuntu version on a CD, and boot it on it just run memtest86+, it checks actively the memory (may take some time to reveal a problem).

  2. Hardware problem: causing unexpected interruptions that either put the system in a irrecoverable situation, send the kernel execution into "space", break the stack...

  3. Module problem: an inappropriate module (a module which doesn't match exactly the hardware for instance, or a bugged module) has a privileged access and may hang the system. Older kernels are particularly at risk (newer versions better recover having a defective module problem).

Have also seen mysterious (old) system hangs that were due to

  1. The motherboard CMOS battery that was dead (change it, it's cheap).

  2. A bad network cable

Maybe the right time to upgrade to a newer system (nowadays, there is nothing wrong having a server with Ubuntu 10.04.1 LTS for instance).

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Thanks for these ideas, the battery one is really unexpected :) – Ivan Buttinoni Jan 9 '11 at 15:31
+1 to updating to the latest patches. That should be done no matter what. But a bit weird to suggest switching to ubuntu rather than just continuing with the latest Red Hat Enterprise Linux or CentOS. – mattdm Jan 9 '11 at 15:44
Of course update the kernel/OS can be a solution, but before fix a problem I like to find it. – Ivan Buttinoni Jan 9 '11 at 17:50

There are countless ways a RHEL 4 box (or any box) can hang. You need to gather more information. I'd start with logs from the time of the hang. You can also set up NMI watchdog to force a panic of the box if it gets hung in the kernel, and netconsole to record console messages when that happens. If the system is just dying under heavy load, and becoming unresponsive without completely hanging in the kernel itself, you can set up hangwatch to trigger various diagnostic messages (dumped to log or over netconsole) or even reboot the box if it hits a certain load threshold.

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Thanks for the NMI suggestion! If you don't mind I'll be gratefull if you can cite some of "countless ways" you know. – Ivan Buttinoni Jan 9 '11 at 15:28
Buggy BIOS, buggy kernel, buggy 3rd-party drivers, flaky network filesystems, flaky hardware, pathological workload (swaplock). Without more info, it's hard to narrow it down. If you're used to RHEL 4, maybe you should try RHEL 6. The diagnostic utilities are much more advanced. – Chris Jan 12 '11 at 16:50

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