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I have a good old HP-C3700 Workstation with PA-RISC CPU here that I would like to use as a subversion server for a very large repository. I just worry what happens if the workstation dies (everybody who knows this computer knows that it is running like an Abrams tank and unlikely to happen in the next decade).

I'm using Debian Linux on this system. If the mainboard dies can I just plug the SCSI drive into a PC and read the files from a normal Intel Linux PC?

Which software RAID levels would be safe?

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Would it not make more sense to have a trigger mechanism that, upon commit, rsyncs the subversion repo to another machine?

Theoretically though, ext3 will not recognise the drive as being in the right endian-ness. You can fix this by running e2fsck with the "-s" option to swap the endian on the drive. This obviously entails reading in all the data.

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What about other file systems? – Lothar Sep 9 '09 at 16:01
Every file system is a specific case regarding this question. – Jeff Ferland Sep 9 '09 at 17:49
@Lothar ZFS is byte order independent, but it's not natively supported under Linux. You should really do what dotwaffle says and use rsync or a similar procedure to keep a live backup. – Amok Oct 1 '09 at 20:53
Which version of e2fsck(8) has that option? I wasn't able to find it on mine. Also, another answer (Luke404's) states that ext3 is byte-order independent. – ptman Jun 16 '10 at 12:26
It appears not to be present on my Ubuntu install, but the option does appear in the manpage on – dotwaffle Jun 23 '10 at 2:52

Would you really bet the safeguarding of your data to that procedure? If the workstation dies, the hard disk is the last thing you should worry. You should get your backups (or a whole backup machine) and put that back online. Then you worry about recovering pieces of the old hardware.

You are considering what if the motherboard dies... you should be more concerned what if the hard disk dies. The motherboard is mostly solid state (with the exception of coolers), has very little chances of breaking. The hard disk, on the other hand, is mechanical, and has much higher chances of failure.

NO RAID LEVEL IS SAFE! RAID is about availability, not backup.

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Of course i would do backups from this machine. So the risk is about one two or three days of work time in the worst case as i plan to do rotating backups twice a week. But Linux should be able to do this. And no my experience with old Unix boxes is that the motherboard always dies first as this is 7-9 years old and the disk is maybe 2 years. – Lothar Sep 9 '09 at 16:44

If the mainboard dies can I just plug the SCSI drive into a PC and read the files from a normal Intel Linux PC?

Yes. The ext3 file system can do this; I've done it several times myself.

Which software RAID levels would be safe?

Read up on RAID.

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I routinely use some PA-RISC machines (I've got two C3600 and a J6750) and while they are not "critical" systems I treat them as production systems. I run a lot of testing and internal services on them for my business. They're rock-solid hardware as you noted and run all the recent linux stuff (I'm using Gentoo Linux with linux-vserver to get virtualized servers, tracking latest kernel and currently using 2.6.34). So you're gonna get some satisfaction from them if you don't ask for fast CPUs (but they've plenty of I/O on pci buses and space for lots of ram).

The ext3 filesystem is byte order and word width independent, you will be able to mount it on every x86 x86_64 ppc or whatever else system you can run linux on, so you can sleep without worrying about a fried motherboard.

Two notes:

  1. you can find cheap HPPA hardware out there (ebay and so on) for spares if you ever want them
  2. the onboard SCSI controller doesn't exactly scream "high performance" in todays terms, and SCSI2 disks are slow, small, and expansive. You can use internal disks for the root filesystem (a pair of disks in RAID1 software will protect your uptime from a disk failure) and run workloads off external storage (USB2, firewire, gigabit eth...) or even go 100% diskless with a network boot. A 64bit / 66MHz Intel gigabit ethernet will get you good performance combined with the bus capacity of those systems.

For the record, I run my systems with root and tmp and swap on internal disks (10kRPM 9GB or 18GB disks in two disk RAID1 on each system) and use USB2 external disks or gigabit ethernet for the actual work data. Uptimes are in the two-three years range if you don't count reboots for new kernels. I'd like to transition to diskless when I'll have time and get rid of SCSI disks alltogether, using storage space from nearby SATA or SAS boxes.

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