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How Do I Provide a Workstation To Last 15 Years?

timothy posted more than 5 years ago | from the solid-state-prayer dept.

Businesses 655

An anonymous reader writes "My father is a veterinarian with a small private practice. He runs all his patient/client/financial administration on two simple workstations, linked with a network cable. The administration application is a simple DOS application backed by a database. Now the current systems, a Pentium 66mhz and a 486, both with 8MB of RAM and 500MB of hard drive space, are getting a bit long in the tooth. The 500MB harddrives are filling up, the installed software (Windows 95) is getting a bit flakey at times. My father has asked me to think about replacing the current setup. I do know a lot about computers, but my father would really like the new setup to last 10-15 years, just like the current one has. I just dont know where to begin thinking about that kind of systems lifetime. Do I buy, or build myself? How many spare parts should I keep in reserve? What will fail first, and how many years down the line will that happen?"

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655 comments

Penis (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27467949)

you should grow a big dick

Re:Penis (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27468217)

Hi, I'm a Mac-loving asshole posting anonymously. You'll never guess which Jobs-humping piece of shit I am!

-jcr

Moving parts are the main problem (4, Interesting)

jonbryce (703250) | more than 5 years ago | (#27467955)

Hard drives and fans will be the first to fail as they have moving parts.

You can get systems that don't need fans, but replacing the hard drives with flash memory probably isn't going to help reliability.

Re:Moving parts are the main problem (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27468093)

Most of the failures of my home machines in the last six years have been fans and/or the power supplies housing them. (sometimes hard to tell what died first) With six desktop class machines running in the house, I've only had one drive failure, but I've replaced four power supplies and several frozen case fans. These aren't gaming rigs, just basic surf/email/homework boxes.

That said, with the price of used off lease gear on ebay and elsewhere these days, you could pick up machines that would run rings around the existing systems for uder $300.

Re:Moving parts are the main problem (3, Informative)

Vadim Makarov (529622) | more than 5 years ago | (#27468455)

Get well-designed fans [noctua.at] ? Might not worth the trouble for computers, but we get them for self-built scientific equipment with potentially long lab life.

Re:Moving parts are the main problem (5, Informative)

Shivani1141 (996696) | more than 5 years ago | (#27468199)

Not so with the flash drives. I was looking into an equivalent for MTBF for flash drives, and not finding one i started looking into the maximum capacity of writes, and found an article extolling a sort of half-life figure for flash drives. looking into the drive i have installed in my media center (for Quiet) an OCZ model. i found that i'd have to be writing to the drive at maximum capacity 24/7 for 18 years before the available capacity of the drive would decrease by half. they're quite long-lived, if the maximum writes per sector figures are to be believed.

Re:Moving parts are the main problem (4, Informative)

ThePhilips (752041) | more than 5 years ago | (#27468375)

Any chances that you still have the link(s)?

Because my reading of Anand's research [anandtech.com] tells me that in active, non-stop use SSD would fail in about the same time as normal laptop 1.8"/2.5" harddrives - 1-1.5 years. Limit on number of rewrite cycles is high (~100k), yet is quite easy to reach.

Re:Moving parts are the main problem (4, Informative)

mariushm (1022195) | more than 5 years ago | (#27468337)

Build a computer with a processor that has very low frequency, something like an AMD Sempron LE-1300.

It runs by default at 2300Mhz but you should be able to lower it to something like 1Ghz or maybe even lower, which will increase the compatibility with DOS (if needed and if there are any incompatibility) and it also means that the computer will run even without the fan running over the processor.

You can solve the power supply fan problems by buying a passively cooler power supply.

You could also get a SSD drive or maybe a cheap Flash to IDE/SATA adapter and use 1 or 2 GB compact Flash card for DOS.

Though you can simply create a virtual machine or even DosBox (if you don't need some complex printing functions)..

Electrolytic capacitor problem (4, Informative)

prefec2 (875483) | more than 5 years ago | (#27468357)

The electrolytic capacitor on the main board are also a typical part to fail. The hotter the system the shorter there lifetime. So a cool motherboard and system is required.

Re:Moving parts are the main problem (5, Informative)

mysidia (191772) | more than 5 years ago | (#27468371)

Keep in mind that it may be prudent to pick less-reliable hardware that should still last 4 or 5 years (most likely), over slightly more-reliable hardware, WHEN the price difference makes it more cost-effective to ANTICIPATE replacement.

Even the most reliable components may be expected to fail in 5 years.

I think he's been very fortunate that his setup has lasted 15 years. On average, a computer has had a lifetime of 5 years, before some hardware failures occur. To be honest.. in many cases, newer hard drives has been less reliable or has not lasted as long.

The higher data density results in more failures not less. The more bits (at essentially the same rate of defects), means it's much more probable for there to be at least one sector defective on a larger drive.

Power supplies can fail within 1 year or 10. It's random, so there can be no guarantee that the setup will last 15 years without any hardware replacement. (Even using the hardware he has right now, something could have failed in 1 year. A drive could go completely bad tomorrow.)

So get a very decent power supply, preferably one that is efficient at the anticipated load (which you should calculate for the chosen hardware), but can handle a lot more.

Using SSDs would improve reliability if used in a RAID 1 array, and a choice made with decent cache and wear-levelling, provided your app is reasonable they should last 50 years (typical use level), more likely the RAM dies first.

But unfortunately, the suitable SSDs of any reasonable size are also highly expensive. the cheaper ones don't have the few gigabytes or so of battery-backed RAM cache that would be necessary for high speed. --- Which come to think of it, may also be a reliability risk, since most types of rechargeable batteries don't last 15 years.

And I expect you don't need high speed for a small veterinary database, so the most inexpensive SLC or MLC may be just what the doctor ordered..

Another possible application for flash is simply to boot off of it, and then use an ordinary mechanical hard drive for storing your data. This way, mechanical wear is not introduced when you boot your OS, and writes are rarely required.

However, Windows XP (or Vista) is not suitable for this, as it likes to write to its own boot media. A Linux-based kiosk with a mysql-backed database app of some sort could work great there.

Make sure you get a lot more space than you need, i.e. try to fit everything you need within 5 or 6 GBs. And use a 50gb drive, so you can have an "active" partition and "backup" partition

Minimize mechanical wear on your drives by getting enough memory to run the workstations without a swapfile or pagefile. i.e. get 1GB or 2GB (a workstation that can use ECC memory is better, as you reduce the small possibility of silent data corruption), and make sure you disable all paging/swapping features within your OS.

Use the most reliable drives available for a reasonable cost; these are probably NOT 1TB 7200RPM drives; these are more likely 30gb 5000RPM drives that come with a 3 year or 5 year warranty.

Have each workstation backup the other workstation, i.e. so there are always two copies of the database. This is in addition to daily backups to external media to be stored offsite.

Unless you are using a UNIX/Linux OS with a journalled filesystem (or something like ZFS), it's pretty much a fact, that you are likely going to need an OS recovery at least once.

Each workstation should have two drives and a 'working partition' and backup partition. That you manually refresh every few months. Even better if they are separate physical disks (but again, more expensive)

Reliability will be maximized if you use a UNIX or Linux based application. And you minimize unnecessary reads and writes to your mechanical media, and minimize unnecessary load (and therefore heat) emitted by your hardware.

In any case, the usernames logging into the workstation for everyday use should not have Admin rights.

If windows is the host OS, it should be locked down such that software you didn't design for cannot be installed. Operation of unanticipated software could reduce the life of the hardware in an unexpected way, due to the extra reads and writes generated while ancillary applications are running.

I.E. Having programs like 'windows soitaire' (but that use more resources) on the machine may be a terrible thing if you want it to last 15 years.

If Windows is utilized, make sure it's running in a Kiosk mode --- don't LET it look like a normal personal Windows desktop machine, and don't provide access to general purpose software beyond what is required..

If possible, don't display a start menu with any items on it. Lock the icons on the desktop (so they can't easily be accidentally (or intentionally) changed within the lifetime of the workstation).

Hardware can cut the life of an installation, but so can human actions.

If unnecessary software is running or unnecessary configs are applied to the workstation, it may seem to run slow and need an upgrade, when in fact it is just being abused.

No matter the OS, all unnecessary services and software should be turned off and disabled (set to never start again).

In Linux this means adjusting init scripts and inetd.conf to stop daemons from running.

In Windows this means turning off unnecessary services like Indexing Service, "Shell Hardware Detection", "Network Location Awareness", DCOM RPC, Universal Plug n Pray / SSDP discovery, Themes Service, Windows Audio Service, and a multitude of other services not necessary for the expected use of that workstation.

To be clear: this is about making it run faster, making it be more secure and robust.

Oh, and by the way, get XP, not Vista.

Get software in the here and now that fits all needs anticipated within the next 15 years, and make sure that no additional software can be added.

Additional software would slow down the equipment

Pentium 66mhz and a 486, both with 8MB of RAM (0, Troll)

linhares (1241614) | more than 5 years ago | (#27468387)

Well, my friend, with those specs, you may have to consider that your father may fail first.

Mine did.

Buy any current workstation and... (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27467969)

Virtualize!

Then your father's old setup can remain DOS and Win95 effectively forever, on any modern hardware. I've done this for lots of clients with legacy WinNT and Win95 systems.

The process is called "physical to virtual" (P2V) migration.

Re:Buy any current workstation and... (4, Informative)

amcdiarmid (856796) | more than 5 years ago | (#27468123)

Mod parent up.

You need DOS and Win96 compatibility: You can virtualize the existing system into a new system, and make it portible; back-up-able (as a Virtual Machine) by virtualizing it.

As an aside, I always thought Win95 was a dog. You may wish to check to see if XP compatibility mode will work, or check (ha ha) to see if WINE will work. (Actually, trying the application set with WINE is not a bad idea - it should be compatible with Windows 95 by now.)

Remember it could be worse: I have a friend who deals with Vet who has an old Xenix system - they buy parts of ebay in bulk;)

Re:Buy any current workstation and... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27468247)

Xenix? Yuck. He's probably running old AVS Better Choice. I used to work for them and support that pile of shit. It's written in COBOL! Nasty.

Re:Buy any current workstation and... (1)

yerktoader (413167) | more than 5 years ago | (#27468177)

I would guess that it would be a better idea to do both a VM AND build a solid machine with backup parts. It's not guaranteed that a given VM developer will be around in 15 years, nor is it guaranteed that hardware sitting unused in a environmentally controlled room will fire up in 10(though I would expect it more than likely to be just fine).

I would try to stick to parts that are verified by the motherboard manufacturer as compatible. As others have already stated, components with moving parts are likely the first to fail so those should be high on the list of backup parts. Power supplies are another already mentioned, though I suspect most failures among high end power supplies are either due to heavy use such as gaming, and lack of maintenance - dust and moisture really are killers.

I'm wondering what the outcome of the AMD/ATI - Intel - NVidia war is going to be. In 10 years you could end up looking at a market of PC's running on NVidia processors or a whole new dynamic altogether - if Ray Kurzweil is right, though that's pure speculation.

I figure if you both virtualize the former server on new, decent hardware with a few spare parts - probably at least one to two spares for each component - with proper maintenance you'll more than likely be just fine.

Or at least (4, Insightful)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 5 years ago | (#27468277)

forever

Until the virtualization software is made obsolete by the vendor.
 

Re:Buy any current workstation and... (1)

m509272 (1286764) | more than 5 years ago | (#27468309)

Absolutely. Great idea. Set it up, have VM copies on multiple HDs and solid state that you test periodically. Make sure that his application VM isn't contaminated by loading "new" apps. Periodically switch to "new" hardware as need be. I might suggest a Linux OS as host OS.

Re:Buy any current workstation and... (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 5 years ago | (#27468441)

Sounds good to me. DosBox or VirtualBox running under Linux would work just fine depending on if you want to run it under Windows 95/98 or Dos.
With Virtual Box you could even do a complete backup on a USB key and maybe even to the "cloud".
I wounder if you could even run VirtualBox on EC2 and us S3 for making backups.

A great solution! (1)

beaststwo (806402) | more than 5 years ago | (#27468457)

I'm working with a customer that has a very high regulatory sensitivity to hardware changes. Whenever they change the hardware platform, there are mountains of paperwork to fill out.

We went with Vmware,so that as they have to change hardware dueto life-cycle replacement, the virtualized hardware seen by the OS and applications never changes.

Either Vmware's or Microsoft's products should provide as consistent a virtualized environment as can be had today. Certainly less painful than moving the existing software environment to a new machine.

forget it (5, Insightful)

Arthurio (1392181) | more than 5 years ago | (#27467973)

Tell him that replacing the system every 5 years will be cheaper than getting one that will last 15 years. There, problem solved.

Re:forget it (5, Funny)

vajorie (1307049) | more than 5 years ago | (#27468389)

lol, it's her father, not her client.

Re:forget it (3, Insightful)

friendofthenite (1226310) | more than 5 years ago | (#27468419)

There, problem solved.

That doesn't solve the problem, it ignores his principal request. The guy looking to buy a computer has made it clear that he doesn't want to have to replace his computer every few years; nowhere does the description say that he's looking to minimise cost. Your response is typical of IT (and other) professionals who presume to know users want, rather than listening to what they actually want.

Build yourself (1)

drachenstern (160456) | more than 5 years ago | (#27467993)

Expect the fans to go out first, then the power supply. It wouldn't hurt to build a duplicate of the system, for spares; however since that defeats the purpose of the build a single box strategy, then obviously that won't work so well.

What are you thinking for storage? I would at the least focus on SATA (the 3.0 spec) and use probably software raid, so you're not stuck on a hardware raid failure causing ultimate data loss. This is probably one of the only times in my life I have ever suggested software raid, but since you have low processing requirements, this should not be a problem.

I think that people are going to say hard drives, but those wouldn't be the first ones to go out. And what about virtualization options? That lets you move around to various hardware without causing an upset on the system build. You might look there, and then even if you replace the base system every couple of years there's no upset, except data retention (meaning, make sure you're running RAID 1 on the boxes...)

Re:Build yourself (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27468393)

When exactly software RAID is not the best option? I mean, any modern CPU can XOR several gigabytes per second... it's unlikely any RAID card can beat that. Of course you need good bandwidth from the card to CPU. Times have run past hardware RAID anyways...

short answer - you don't (5, Interesting)

petes_PoV (912422) | more than 5 years ago | (#27467995)

You cannot guarantee that lifetime, so the best response is to design a flexible solution. One that *could* last that period of tim if there are no hardware problems.

However, you should consider how to upgrade each part in isolation - or with small numbers of associated changes. That means using popular, but not bleeding-edge components. One's that (like with vintage cars) have a good number of enthusiasts using them. That means that spares will be available and the know-how to diagnose and fix problems will be available too.

The final fallback would be to buy two systems. Keep one in "deep freeze" until you need to cannabilse it for spares. However, don't expect the electrolytic capacitors to last that long.

Re:short answer - you don't (5, Informative)

MouseR (3264) | more than 5 years ago | (#27468057)

Or just get quality components to begin with.

At the office, I'm still running a 350mghz PowerMac G4 computer (the bugger is 10 years old) as a server.

All original components. None failed. System still has it's original bleeding-edge 320megs of Ram, runs Mac OS X Tiger.

It was given a new 40gig baracuda drive that's been sitting on shelves for years. had never been used.

We use this machine as a slowest-denominator software test platform for a product in development and as a distributed networked compiler farm node and backup server for another more important machine (it backs up the backup machine's main OS, not it's files).

MS can argue all it wants about Apple making "aesthetic" machines, they actually use good components. Current XServe hardware being another case in point.

Re:short answer - you don't (4, Funny)

afabbro (33948) | more than 5 years ago | (#27468183)

At the office, I'm still running a 350mghz PowerMac G4 computer (the bugger is 10 years old) as a server.

Hmmm, if that's mghz = MegaGigaHertz, then I'm quite awed. But if it's MicroGigaHertz, then I feel bad for you.

Re:short answer - you don't (1)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | more than 5 years ago | (#27468189)

If you have extremely modest needs, you can get by with extremely modest hardware. For Tiger, that system is butting right up against the ram requirements, and forget getting new parts...With the intel switch all the original mac parts are collectors items, and extremely expensive...I had to replace a wireless card on a newer machine recently and it cost nearly 400 dollars.

And frankly, I'd never recommend using anything but a new drive on a system you care about. Old drives don't store well.

Re:short answer - you don't (1)

NormalVisual (565491) | more than 5 years ago | (#27468417)

Even before the Intel switch, some of the PowerMac parts were ridiculously priced. I've mentioned it before, but I have a dual-proc G4-450 that sits uselessly in a corner because the proprietary power supply died a couple of years ago, and for what that power supply would cost to replace, I could build a PC that would run a hacked OS X image in a VM at least as well as the old G4 did.

Re:short answer - you don't (1)

nine-times (778537) | more than 5 years ago | (#27468401)

Well just to take a step back, the big question is, what is the reason for the requirement that the setup must last 15 years? Is it cost? Is it an aversion to change? Is it some sort of ideology opposed to the culture of disposable goods?

Any system can last 15 years, supposing it continues to meet the user's needs and assuming nothing breaks. There are limits to how well you can predict those things, though. Something new might be available in 5 years that would be extremely helpful for the user, in which case it becomes worthwhile to upgrade. Also, even with the best quality products, some percentage of units will break within 5 years. The likelihood of something breaking in 15 years is pretty good.

It's also worth asking why the current system can't be repaired/upgraded. If his 66MHz DOS system is working, you might be able to get a bigger hard drive that's compatible, install Windows 95/98 on it, and keep going. I know it's not sexy, but if the point is to stay cheap or avoid change, and the current system is doing its job, then why not?

But ok, let's say you want to get a new system. What are the requirements? Does it need to run the same DOS application? Have you tested that application in newer versions of Windows? What about WINE? If it doesn't need to be the same DOS application, what's the new application going to be like? There are lots of questions.

As far as hardware, I would say the best thing is to buy a midrange business-class workstation (e.g. Dell Optiplex) that seems like it will meet your needs. Maybe make sure you have a couple extra expansion slots or something, in case you need them. There's a non-zero chance that something will break, but you can't stop that. By getting a midrange business desktop from a major vendor, there's a pretty good chance that you'll be able to find support and replacement parts if you need them, which is really the best you can do.

As far as software, use open source if it's an option. Not so much for ideological issues, but over the course of 15 years, you'll be more likely to find an upgrade path with support for legacy applications and hardware if you're running an open source OS. And that upgrade path will probably be free, if cost is the issue. You really don't want to keep someone running a 15 year-old unsupported operating system on their desktop if you can avoid it-- not in the Internet age. It's much better if you can at least get security updates, even if you're not interested in new features.

Build your own system. Keep it solid and simple. (2, Interesting)

philibob (132105) | more than 5 years ago | (#27468001)

Moving parts usually fail first; get some solid state hard drives. Avoid fans by using components with passive cooling; most importantly get an integrated video card and a passively cooled power supply. Running DOS software? Use freedos. No need to bother with full-blown Windows. Keep to name brand components and you should be fine. As long as you buy standard components, they should be easy enough to replace 15 years from now, don't go hog-wild stocking up on replacement parts. Good luck!

Re:Build your own system. Keep it solid and simple (1)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | more than 5 years ago | (#27468083)

"As long as you buy standard components, they should be easy enough to replace 15 years from now, don't go hog-wild stocking up on replacement parts"

You'd be surprised. I have a 15 year old desktop that takes ISA cards, and I have seen younger systems (relatively speaking) that only took AT keyboards. What seems like a standard technology now, that will "never be replaced," may very well be long forgotten in 15 years. 15 years is a long time to try to keep a single system operational; I would suggest an approach based on virtualization, so that if the entire system needs replacing in a few years (e.g. a mobo failure with no compatible mobo available), the migration process is not so painful. Also, use some sort of RAID, but be careful as it may not be possible to find a compatible replacement hard drive in 10 years -- again, virtualization may solve this problem.

System Longevity (1)

jimbo1708 (1144391) | more than 5 years ago | (#27468005)

Wow, that type of longevity is very ambitious. If its just hardware he wants upgraded, then go for it. If its software, then leave it to the pros because there are plenty of canned office management suites out there. Yes they are expensive, but you know that if you install, then the next 10-15 years, you will be the tech support!

virtualization = future-proof. (2, Interesting)

spazdor (902907) | more than 5 years ago | (#27468009)

If the goal is to get legacy DOS software running on new hardware and being robust, then the most rock-solid option (and maybe the cheapest) will be to put it into a VM such as qemu or VMware. This will allow you to transplant it to new hardware, make/restore backups, far more seamlessly.

As for the hardware itself, have you considered a Soekris [soekris.com] box or similar?

Industrial PCs? (5, Insightful)

Rorschach1 (174480) | more than 5 years ago | (#27468013)

How about industrial hardware? You'll probably pay at least twice as much as you would for a consumer desktop, but PCs made for industrial control applications tend to be a lot more rugged and build to serve for many years in harsh conditions. Sounds like you don't need a lot of processing power, so you could probably get by with a fanless system and eliminate a major failure (and noise) source.

I haven't bought anything from these guys, so I don't personally know anything about their quality, but SuperLogics has a barebones fanless Atom-based system for $315. Something like that might be a good start.

specify... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27468015)

if you're planning on replacing the software itself, along with the hardware - don't. i've gotten my veterinary software (DVM Manager DOS) to run on everything from DOS to the Windows 7 beta. If you're just replacing the hardware, then along with a bit of extraneous information, you're pretty much just going to want to go with top of the line business-class pc's. considering that the software you're probably running precedes the hardware by a decade or so, you shouldn't have any issues for a looong time.

Mainframe (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27468031)

just buy your dad a mainframe. The knowledge you learn could also help you get a job at IBM in -20 years.

Neurosine (2, Interesting)

neurosine (549673) | more than 5 years ago | (#27468035)

Go with an entry level enterprise server, like a Dell T300w/ 5 Yr. NBD warranty, throw on Xenserver 5, Spring for 2003 Standard, and possibly 2008. Install both OS's, develop for 2003 with the idea of migrating to 2008 as you can run both OS's live and migrate at your leisure. At the other end place a Wyse terminal(or use the current workstation as an RDP client if it's not too flakey.) With an ADSL connection he can have a consistent environment from work or home, and more terminals can be added as necesary. I know you could have done this for less than 5 grand last year. Prices have changed, but it would probably still be viable. 15 year solutions aren't easy these days. Lifecycles have diminished with price.

Once again, "it depends" (2, Insightful)

thomasinx (643997) | more than 5 years ago | (#27468045)

It depends....

Do you care what OS it runs on? (It'll be harder if he wants to keep using windows 95..) For reliability, I'd suggest windows 2000, since it will also work with most recent drivers. The trick will be getting his old software working on it. However once you get the whole setup working, it will be reliable.

How much effort do you want to put into it? You could make this quite reliable by mirroring some 4gb drives, and telling your dad to replace broken ones with spares set aside. Since 4gb drives are pretty cheap, this is a relatively simple solution. (Since 15 years from 1 hard drive is pretty unlikely, use cheap replacements, since space doesn't matter)

Do you care about the speed of the machine? If the only need is to make it keep working, (no real compatibility with existing technologies) this could pretty easily be done with anything in the area of a P3 or P4. These can be pretty cheaply picked up at a lot of used computer stores.

Although, no matter what you do, you're not gonna be able to just buy an off the shelf machine and get this kinda reliability.

Re:Once again, "it depends" (2, Insightful)

Scrameustache (459504) | more than 5 years ago | (#27468345)

Do you care what OS it runs on? (It'll be harder if he wants to keep using windows 95..) For reliability, I'd suggest windows 2000, since it will also work with most recent drivers.

I'd be worried about Microsoft (or any closed source vendor) dropping support for older OSs, there may very well still be exploitable security bugs in there that could go unpatched.

Most 15-year old Sun workstations are still useful (4, Interesting)

blind biker (1066130) | more than 5 years ago | (#27468047)

Take an Ultra 1 or Ultra 2 - they are still rather useful computers, and the OS they run is rock solid by any standards. And there's a ton of software for them.

Now, I'm not suggesting that a 15 year old Sun Ultra 1 would be what your father is looking for, just that it is possible to have hardware that is both good quality and long lasting, and that it would run an OS and software that is still relevant nowadays. Sun did a great job at keeping Solaris backwards-compatible, both hardware-wise (supports older architectures) and software-wise (you can run a lot of vitnage software even on the newest Solaris).

Anyhow... an Ultra 1 is still a damn good computer.

Re:Most 15-year old Sun workstations are still use (0, Redundant)

Athens101 (815168) | more than 5 years ago | (#27468227)

I second this idea of old Sun hardware. My old U5 precached six years ago is still going strong.

Re:Most 15-year old Sun workstations are still use (1)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | more than 5 years ago | (#27468235)

Sun hardware is awesome. But so is the price tag, and, if you're not willing to pay support, so is the bill if something breaks.

If you use commodity hardware with OpenSolaris or Linux, you can get some of the same benefits, without the cost.

I wouldn't recommend Sun for a small shop with indifferent data storage requirements. It's worth the money if you're dealing with a lot of money, but otherwise cheap works just as well.

Re:Most 15-year old Sun workstations are still use (1)

downix (84795) | more than 5 years ago | (#27468323)

I run an Ultra 10 and I concur with this statement.

I have little to contribute (2, Insightful)

Scrameustache (459504) | more than 5 years ago | (#27468049)

But I'd just like to say that this is one of the most interesting "ask slashdot" questions in a long time, and I look forward to replies from my more knowledgeable peers! :D

Ok, small contribution: The dad obviously doesn't need much power, so maybe this would be a good time to make him switch from windows to a bare-bones open source solution which will be most likely to still be supported in 10-15 years, as opposed to the much shorter upgrade-and-obsolescence cycle of Redmond.

Re:I have little to contribute (1)

troll8901 (1397145) | more than 5 years ago | (#27468165)

I believe people who says they have little to contribute, are sometimes the most reliable people to ask, because they consider more factors, yet are in no hurry to show off their knowledge.

I admire your courage and humility, Mr Scrameustache. I really do.

Replacement cost has drastically reduced (3, Insightful)

maroberts (15852) | more than 5 years ago | (#27468053)

The original systems probably cost $5k-$7k 10-15 years back. Systems to replace these will cost $1-2k and deliver much higher performance. Tell him not to worry about lasting 10 years as the investment cost is not so high. He needs a backup system which it sounds as though he hasn't had. It sounds as though his backup can simply be a couple of USB keys which would hold all his data.

Re:Replacement cost has drastically reduced (1)

Fenresulven (516459) | more than 5 years ago | (#27468431)

I don't think he worries about the cost of upgrading, I think he worries about having to learn how to use the new system. I'd bet that's the reason he wants such a long lifetime.

Car built for 15 years... (2, Insightful)

node159 (636992) | more than 5 years ago | (#27468061)

Would your father ask you to get him a car that lasts 15 years?

I hate to say it, but lasting the designed life span of computer parts (2 years) seems to be a challenge as of late, and buying quality doesn't seem to gain much.

The failure rates now days have been getting a bit long in the tooth.

Re:Car built for 15 years... (1)

Toonol (1057698) | more than 5 years ago | (#27468121)

Would your father ask you to get him a car that lasts 15 years?

Many people do drive the same car for over a decade.

However, I bet the father is not concerned about the cost of the hardware; the problem is the cost and failure rate of changing hardware. Every OS upgrade runs a risk of something not working; every time a configuration is touched, something may mysteriously break. Every change means time and effort spent training, changing work procedures.

I think the best bet is generic commodity equipment and a virtual environment. Then it can be copied onto other generic equipment in five years, without any actual change to the product.

Re:Car built for 15 years... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27468195)

???

Is a 15 year-old car abnormal? Mine is currently 15 years old and I have no plans to replace it in the near future. And that's what I expected from it when I bought it. I know several people that have cars that old. (Of course, none of those are American-built cars).

Re:Car built for 15 years... (1)

Q-Hack! (37846) | more than 5 years ago | (#27468329)

Would your father ask you to get him a car that lasts 15 years?

I hate to say it, but lasting the designed life span of computer parts (2 years) seems to be a challenge as of late, and buying quality doesn't seem to gain much.

The failure rates now days have been getting a bit long in the tooth.

Your car analogy doesn't work. Many people get 15-20 years out of a vehicle. I personally drive a 1991 VW Jetta.

Getting computer parts to last is not hard either. Don't buy bleeding edge. Those brand new super high speed drives today do tend to fail, so buy the slower models that came out a couple of years ago. They have the bugs worked out.

The current system is flakey (1)

syousef (465911) | more than 5 years ago | (#27468065)

The current system is getting unreliable. If your father leaves it 10-15 years between upgrades the next system will be even less reliable.

Also realize that no matter how much you and your father dislike it, current machines aren't built to last as long as old machines were. The parts can do amazing things but wear out more quickly. I don't know if you'll get 15 years out of a modern disk drive (but then consider that a Gigabyte on one drive would have been a far fetched dream 15 years ago but is commonplace today).

The best thing to do is plan an upgrade cycle every say 5 years. Even then you might need to either buy spare parts of upgrade sooner than you expected if a key component fails and you can't find a spare. One way to combat this is to buy spares in advance but this will end up costing you a lot more in the long run since computer parts get cheaper over time and leaving it to the last minute can save you a fortune. You may also be able to replace older parts with parts that give you new capacity or capability if you adopt a just in time approach.

The other reason to go with a more reasonable upgrade cycle is that computers now tend to be interconnected, and having a 10 or 15 year old system you can no longer patch for security holes means its not as safe to leave on a network of any kind.

In other words, convince your father to upgrade more often (5 years max), backup your data, and buy spares for critical parts but only if you absolutely have to. Unfortunately the pace of change has increased and not putting time into upgrading more incrementally will make the big bang implementation you have to do much riskier.

You don't. (5, Insightful)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | more than 5 years ago | (#27468067)

15 years ago systems were night and day with the way they are now, and it's only going to get worse. After 10 years you won't be able to find anyone to work on the legacy stuff (unless you buy a proprietary unix system), and there is no guarantee for new parts.

The only way you've gotten away with it is that you have one application which has a very limited required environment, and drive interfaces have only changed once. If you stick with that philosophy, and get lucky with the drives again, you may be able to get by with something similar.

If you have to (which I don't recommend) then pick up a midrange quad core server with a ton of RAM and plenty of room for extra drives. Put a Linux distro on it: no hope of keeping up with Windows security for 15 years, and forget Mac, they're very prone to changing interfaces internally, and then discontinuing the old products.

Then use the server to push whatever app you need to some low duty desktops. You could use a web app, or a client/server desktop app. Again, you're probably good with a *nix.

Your biggest fear is drive space. In 15 years you won't be able to buy the drives you're using today, but there is no point in stockpiling them: they'll be dead in the box after 15 years. Solid state won't fail in the box (probably, but they're too new for it to have been tested) but you may have to replace them more often, depending on your utilization.

Just from personal experience, you're much better off buying a modest new system every 5 years, than a major new system every 15. It's cheaper, and the chance of a catastrophic failure are lower.

Re:You don't. (3, Insightful)

Ian Alexander (997430) | more than 5 years ago | (#27468231)

If you have to (which I don't recommend) then pick up a midrange quad core server with a ton of RAM and plenty of room for extra drives. Put a Linux distro on it: no hope of keeping up with Windows security for 15 years, and forget Mac, they're very prone to changing interfaces internally, and then discontinuing the old products.

Then use the server to push whatever app you need to some low duty desktops. You could use a web app, or a client/server desktop app. Again, you're probably good with a *nix.

I think that's overkill for one veterinarian.

I suggest going virtual on commodity hardware that changes out every half-decade or so. I suspect that as long as your virtual machine itself doesn't change the cost of buying hardware with the chops to run it will only decline over the years.

No way... (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27468439)

Wow... your advice might be somewhat interesting in the general semse, but I think it totally misses the point for this particular question.

The guy has a legacy DOS app he wants to keep running. It runs fine on a 486 computer. Redesigning this system to be a quadcore server with new webapps etc is crazy! (not to mention, web technologies are about the LEAST stable area of computer development at the moment). The guy is running a 486 with a 500mb harddisk, and you want him to upgrade to a quadcore server with tons of memory and room for multiple disk expansions? I just don't agree with this at all..

I also doubt that in 15 years SATA drives will no longer be available. Hell, I doubt that IDE drives will be that hard to find in 15 years, though I could be totally wrong on that one...

The solution--IMHO of course--is what many others have suggested. Virtual machines.If you need two computers (as the poster mentioned), and REALLY do not want to worry about any changes in setup for 10-15 years, then buy three or or four modest desktops (and I would highly, highly recommend a backup server that does regular backups and lives offsite...this can run linux or whatever floats your boat). Design the system so that if one computer dies you can swap in another painlessly (restore from backup, unplug old, plugin new, done). Beyond that, UPS UPS UPS. IMHO, even with reliable component brands, getting a computer to last 15 years is still a crapshoot. I've done it with crap generic brands, while good brands have had unexpected failures. Plan for eventual hardware failures and you won't be disappointed :)

I've been in a similar situation maintaining servers for a small family business. Depending on your age now, you may have a lot of time and flexibility to help the parents, but if you end up moving else where, college, gradschool, new job, whatever, you want the system to be simple and to take as little of your time as possible! It's best for all involved. (also consider VNC/Remote Desktop/SSH/etc to allow you to help out remotely)

Short Answer: Windows Server (1)

yakatz (1176317) | more than 5 years ago | (#27468071)

In one of my offices (programming POS and web applications for a retail store), we have been running happily on two Windows 2000 Servers (one is SBS) for over 8 years.

Long answer: some of our network closet is held together with duck-tape.

Re:Short Answer: Windows Server (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27468131)

I think his problem is hardware related. Surprisingly there are still computers running win95 around.

Re:Short Answer: Windows Server (1)

creimer (824291) | more than 5 years ago | (#27468355)

Plus a few machines still running Windows 3.11 and DOS. I did one-night tech job a few years ago converting a Token Ring network to Ethernet network. I seriously never expected to see a full blown Token Ring network in the field.

Re:Short Answer: Windows Server (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27468241)

They make tape out of ducks?

build your own and amd is more backwards-compatibl (1)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | more than 5 years ago | (#27468073)

Just use standard parts and you should be able to easy replace stuff if it brakes down with a standard part no need to replace the same video card, psu, hdd or other part just replace it with a new one that uses the same bus.

if he's ok with DOS, just buy a new machine (1)

sneakyimp (1161443) | more than 5 years ago | (#27468089)

You could get computers about 15 times more powerful than his old system with 1000 times as much storage for under $300. My guess is that the hard drives are definitely going to fail in 10-15 years -- possibly several times. You could get a motherboard with RAID 5 and that would help prevent data loss.

You would also need an install disk for Windows 95 or Windows 98 -- try to get the most recent operating system that this dinosaur can still run on.

I would also expect that the fans and the power supply might get kind of tired after 15 years.Another consideration is the connection technology of power supplies and hard drives. Hard drives are all SATA now. I'd bet that will change at least twice in 10-15 years so you might consider buying a few extra hard drives -- but only when the next big hard drive connect technology has been announced. They'll be cheaper then.

If you want to replace the software, you *might* consider migrating his data to the cloud or something (google docs or Amazon EC2 or something? I don't know what his software does). Changing his software setup is a lot more work though and you could incur significant time and effort and expense extracting the data from the legacy system and getting it into some new format. On the other hand, if you trust Google/Amazon/whoever to be your cloud provider for the next 10-15 years, you don't really have to worry about the machine.

Re:if he's ok with DOS, just buy a new machine (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27468169)

You could get a motherboard with RAID 5 and that would help prevent data loss.

The fallacy of RAID-5 continues.

Once you lose a single disc in a RAID-5 the odds drastically rise that you'll lose another while rebuilding the array, losing ALL of your data in the process.

RAID-1 or RAID-6 are much more reliable choices, but in this case neither is really warranted. Just use a couple USBs or an external drive for backup.

points of failure (1)

Tumbleweed (3706) | more than 5 years ago | (#27468091)

Okay, here's my thinking: consider what things fail on a system, and why.

Number one thing that shortens system life of your average non-overclocked machine: bad power. This includes a crappy PSU, and bad power coming into the machine from the wall. The solutions: PC Power & Cooling PSU, and a good power-regulating UPS. Keep in mind if you have some severe power surges, you may have to replace parts of your UPS over the years. Better parts in the UPS than in the computer itself. It's there to take the hits; accept it's brave sacrifice and move on.

Number two: cooling. Cool your system! Make sure the system shuts itself down when fans stop running, so the system doesn't fry itself. Replace your fans every 2 years. They're cheap ($10 per fan for the good ones). Don't forget the fans on the HSF (heat sink fan unit on the CPU) and on your video card. Or better yet, get a system with integrated video. One less fan to worry about, and if it dies but everything else on the mobo works, you can always add a videocard later.

Number two A: underclock the system a bit. Nothing drastic, but why push it, since you're going for longevity?

Number two B: Keep the system cleaned out on a regular basis. I'm not talking about defragging (we'll get to that), but keep the insides free from actual dust. Regularly. That doesn't mean once a year, but at least a couple of times a year. More often depending on the environment it's running in. Some cases have filters where air is bring drawn in from the fans, but almost all cases will be bringing in air from more places than just the fan intakes, so you'll get dust no matter what.

Number three: crappy RAM. Look, just buy quality components, run Memtest86 whatever on it to make sure it's good when you get it. Again, don't overclock this, or anything in the system.

Number four: quality mobo. This includes things like solid capacitors (not 'solid-state', which some people confuse this with), etc. Read the reviews from the hardware sites and make your choice. This kind of thing is where you'll most likely have to build your own machine. It's not that hard, so don't worry about it if you've never done it before.

Number five: storage. Okay, here's something that's in flux right now - spinning drives or SSD (solid state disk, meaning no moving parts). I'd say go with an SSD now, and upgrade in 2 years or so once things have settled down a bit. Higher-quality SSDs are already pretty nice, especially with wear-leveling, etc. Make sure you dispose of these properly, as the ability to reformat an SSD isn't as secure (as far as I know) as with spinning discs, yet, to a level I'm comfortable with. When an SSD dies, the information is still readable, generally, so you can't (maybe) reformat it completely. The bit gets marked as bad (non-writable), and I'm sure someone could (or has already) written a program that can read those bits to get information that you would hope is gone after a format. The rise of SSD for storage will be one of the biggest boons to long-life systems, as long as you follow the above advice first.

Number six: If he needs a floppy drive for some reason, turn off the auto-check feature on it. That kills floppy drives faster than anything. I've had floppy drives last longer than ten years. So long that the entire format went obsolete before the drive itself died.

Number seven: security. Put the thing behind a firewall or at least a NAT 'firewall'. Lock the machine the hell down; no root/administrator access to normal users, etc. If in Windows land, install Vista/Win 7 - the sandboxing abilities are far superior to that of Windows XP & older. Obviously, some type of Linux OS is preferrable. Security is a process, remember, so you have to keep checking things out.

And that's all I can think of off the top of my head right now. I'm sure there will be plenty of other good advice to come along from others.

Re:points of failure (1)

Renraku (518261) | more than 5 years ago | (#27468333)

Actually, building a barebones system shouldn't be this complex at all.

You can build a decent machine that doesn't require a fan on the CPU at all. Granted, it wouldn't be very fast, I don't think the current setup is very fast either.

Just use onboard sound/video/data and use a cheap 200GB or so drive that will cost you $30 to replace, new, if it dies. Backup regularly and it shouldn't cost you more than $200 or so to replace most of the system. A UPS is important, though, as it will greatly extend the life of your power supply if it gets out of the infant mortality stage.

Veterinarian (5, Funny)

robably (1044462) | more than 5 years ago | (#27468105)

I wouldn't worry about the system having to last for 15 years if he's already a veterinarian. What is that, 140 years old? Wow.

Hard disks are your bane (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27468107)

Moving parts (as mentioned earlier) --fans, hard disks will die. Build the box yourself. You can get much better components (motherboard, etc) at a lower price. The low price is a bonus, the better components are the real win. Build with as new a kind of technology as possible. Old tech is dying tech. You will likely have to replace hard disks so buying a new style (sata, not ata) means not having to find an ata drive in 10 years (there may be none). More memory is better than less. Also, it shouldn't be hard to back everything (the whole disk) to another disk (or two) in the same box. If one dies, you only lost maybe 1 days worth of data. Don't overclock, pay attention to heat. Cold is your friend here. An incandescent light bulb running at half power will last 50 years. At full power: 20000 hours max. Old computers did not get that hot. New ones do. I built a corei7 box a few months ago. It idles along at 30 degrees C (86 F). When it gets hot, its at 57 degrees C (134.6 F). This is after an aftermarket cooler went in, which dropped the temperature by 10 degrees C! An atom processor will give more performance than he has now, and if cool last for what you are looking for.

Simple answer, is it's time to redesign the system (1)

ducomputergeek (595742) | more than 5 years ago | (#27468117)

I went through this with a company 3 years ago that was running their billing and inventory system off DOS and it still worked with all their venders/payment company. The owners were getting ready to sell and retire (both in their mid 60's.) Contingency of the sale was the upgrade of their systems.

Fortunately, their backend wrote to CSV files. When it came time to choose a new billing system, we found one that ran over generic ODBC and could support a number of database venders including PostgreSQL (which is what we used) and coded the front end in Java.

The software now is no longer dependent on hardware platform. Now moving forward, if a server fails, load the last back up on new hardware and go.

Re:Simple answer, is it's time to redesign the sys (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27468319)

Postgres sucks. You should look at MySQL, which has enterprise-level abilities. Don't trust your data to some small hobby project like postgres.

Re:Simple answer, is it's time to redesign the sys (1)

QuoteMstr (55051) | more than 5 years ago | (#27468403)

Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference between fanboyism and astroturfing.

RAID 1 (1)

thue (121682) | more than 5 years ago | (#27468133)

We have an old server in the basement with a very custom setup, which I would rather not mess with. It is internet gateway for 300 people, so I would rather not take out of production to play with it.

It has a 3-way RAID 1 (linux software raid), so it will take 3 disk failures for the storage to die. In fact, one of the disks have failed already, but since it still have 2-way RAID it I see no reason to do anything about it :).

The point: Using 3-way RAID is a good insurance for a long lifespan without maintainance :).

Internet access? (1)

st0rmshad0w (412661) | more than 5 years ago | (#27468135)

Quick question, is either of these systems currently or in the future going to be connected to the outside world?

If so consider this, you have obsolete, out of support software running without anyone developing security patches for it anymore, which is storing client and financial info. The only thing protecting it is its own obsolecense. That is simply not acceptable.

If its an air-gapped network that will never touch the outside world run whatever you like.

My personal suggestion, virtualize the workstations on new hardware, easy to shift from hardware to hardware and maintain the obsolete software and if needed you could create seperate VMs if there is a need for external internet access.

Or if you like you could set up a server and use something like Wyse thin clients on the workstation end, those will probably last you 15 years hardware-wise. The server tho, hard to say.

Basically little to no commercial PC hardware is built to last 15 years.

Better solution? Don't be afraid of upgrading. (1)

darpo (5213) | more than 5 years ago | (#27468137)

Don't count the current systems' 15 year lifetime as a population-wide trend; count it as a fluke. It's probably sheer, blind luck that's enabled them to last that long.

Modern PCs aren't appliances. They are not an oven with reliable, decades-old technology in them. They are if you're NASA, but not in the real world. They're ever-changing. If your business relies on them, you should learn about how they work and not be afraid of them.

Re:Better solution? Don't be afraid of upgrading. (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 5 years ago | (#27468347)

I can see your point but his business doesn't rely on them. He could do everything with paper and pen. The computer saves him a little and time and money. His current software might do everything that he wants to do. For example take a look at the new ATM machines. They can put up pretty pictures now and in full color. Do they do anything more for me than the old ones? Not really. Now the ones that can read the checks you deposit are really cool but the new ones that just have the new pretty UI bring no extra value to me.
An 80 year old hammer is as good as a brand new hammer.

Re:Better solution? Don't be afraid of upgrading. (1)

try_anything (880404) | more than 5 years ago | (#27468427)

I bet the fear comes from the software side, not the hardware side. How easy is it to install the software? Does he know where the install disk for each piece of software are and whether they still work? How hard was it to get the software configured correctly in the first place? Can the configuration be migrated, or will they have to recreate it using trial and error? Does the database make it easy to migrate data from one database to another, or does that require a proprietary tool from a now-defunct company?

Heh, what are the odds that someone who hasn't experienced a failure in fifteen years even thinks about these issues? Or bothers to back up his data?

Upgrade the current workstation. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27468143)

Do not do anything more than strictly necessary. Go on ebay or ask some friends for a 5GB disk and some old ram dimm. Those who don't like to use recent technologies, do not deserve them.

Virtualization (1)

n0dna (939092) | more than 5 years ago | (#27468147)

This thread was finished on the third post.

Keep it powered on (1)

donstenk (74880) | more than 5 years ago | (#27468149)

Get a UPS, you don't need a powerful machine so get something quiet with low energy consumption and let it switched on at all times.

Notice how a bulb always fails when you switch it on? It is much the same with most electronics - just keep it running!

15 years? (-1, Flamebait)

Pig Hogger (10379) | more than 5 years ago | (#27468185)

What a cheap bastard. It's not like he is indigent; he's a vet, after all. He can afford to change computers every 3-4 years.

Re:15 years? (1)

donstenk (74880) | more than 5 years ago | (#27468269)

And add to the high tech junk pile just for the sake of it? There are actually still people in the world that:

1) buy only what they need or seriously want
2) spend on quality
3) keep it as long as it works

It is against the consumeristic trends, but really - why on earth would you need a new computer every 3 years to store clients records? To other professions a computer is just a tool like any other.

Actually - why does the 15 year old PC need changing? Just because they are getting a bit long in the tooth - that's no reason at all! (Actually fair enough - and well done).

Re:15 years? (1)

blueg3 (192743) | more than 5 years ago | (#27468307)

What purpose is there in spending money unnecessarily?

Why Not Just Update? (1)

flnca (1022891) | more than 5 years ago | (#27468187)

If the hardware is still running, there's technically no need to purchase new computers. You could replace the 500 MB drives with up to 4 GB ones (Win95 can handle that much). Do an inventory of all applications installed on the machines, and reinstall them after setting up fresh Windows 95. Or use a tool that can copy a smaller drive to a larger one. If the software works and everything, it should be best left as is. A new system might offer more speed and storage space, and reliability, but the custom application might not run anymore. There are solutions like virtualization, but you could also use Linux running DOSBox (which are both free). DOS applications are very picky when it comes to their runtime environment, so you should test your solution with your father's programs and data on a separate machine first. For durability, I have no idea what to recommend you. PC hardware has become a bit less reliable in the past years. You might try a PowerPC solution (which requires less powerful hardware), and run OpenBSD or something on it. DOSBox or QEmu might be suitable for running DOS apps on BSD. OpenBSD has the advantage that it never changes until you change it, there's no update ever until you do it manually. Another solution might be FreeBSD, which should also work very reliably. For longevity, I would abstain from all things Windows. Recent Windows platforms like XP or Vista that require activation may fail to be reactivated when Microsoft switches off its servers. Also, Windows Updates for a particular platform might be no longer available at some point. So, using a UNIX-like system might be the best idea. If you use Linux, switch off the automatic update feature to avoid breaking the system by update (does happen sometimes). I would use OpenBSD or FreeBSD for a system that needs to last for a long time.

Virtualization is a good answer here (1)

Kjella (173770) | more than 5 years ago | (#27468191)

And what about virtualization options? That lets you move around to various hardware without causing an upset on the system build.

I'd second this. I've had pretty much every component in a computer fail on me, CPU, mobo, graphics card, HDD, PSU, whatever. Shit happens and trying to make sure you're covered with spares on everything in 10 years is highly impractical. Things like a bad PSU can kill a component twice before you realize the true problem or fail twice just for the hell of it Of course you can pick quality hardware, run a pair of disks in RAID1 and all that but having an easy migration path that'll be up an running in minutes on a new box is much better.

However, is he still planning to keep this an offline setup? If so he doesn't have to worry much about security problems, because that's the most normal reason you don't try to do this. Even the most extended support from Microsoft, Apple or Linux distros don't last 15 years. For any internet connected PC I'd certainly want the host OS to stay in support, then run any legacy apps from inside a firewalled virtual image. Seems the easiest way to not mess with what works while keeping the shields up.

You're overthinking it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27468239)

Take a step back, and ask what's the reasoning for the 10-15 year goal? Cost savings? Having to avoid the effort and time in transition to a new machine?

As others have pointed out, you can't guarantee that long of a life span. You can buy high quality parts (or high quality machines) to make it more likely, but buying lots of spare parts or an entire back-up computer should require a significant justification. Buying spare parts means you're paying for something you don't need now that will cost much less later on.

Here's a thought for a 10-15 year plan: Buy a computer. If it breaks while new compatible parts are being made, buy the necessary replacements. If it breaks and no new compatible parts are made, buy a used machine from around the same time period. If you want some extra insurance and peace of mind: once the cost of your computer becomes low enough - say $50 - buy a compatible machine as a back-up, rather than waiting for something to break.

Dont overthink this (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27468245)

Get two new cheap workstations, and get a low to mid-range server machine with either RAID or a fail-over. Check the system health regularly, and monitor for when repair or maintenance is needed. the most expensive thing is going to be the server, but in reality it can be a third workstation that is just dedicated for the database, and email server (if they use one). I set up an ERP on a fairly powerful computer that ran about $700 that had 15 workstations communicating with it, and the only problem was dust build up.

Go server hardware (4, Interesting)

Bigjeff5 (1143585) | more than 5 years ago | (#27468255)

Get server hardware. It's the only stuff built these days with reliability as the #1 concern. And get GOOD server hardware. That doesn't mean dual quads with 64gb ram, that means a well known line in a company known for servers. I'd probably go HP or IBM, and for what your father needs you can pick the bare minimum and it will be fine for years.

Remember when you spec this out, that #1 failures are those with moving parts, as others have said already. This means, when you build your server, you want the LOWEST capacity and LOWEST speed you can get, for reliability. The high capacity, high speed drives fail the quickest because they push the hardest. SSD might be a good alternative, but as yet the long-term reliability is unproven and they have a definite limited life-span (i.e. # of writes, how quickly that is used depends on the application), instead of a constant potential failure rate. The plus on that is there should be very little chance of a SSD failing until it actually reaches its end of life.

So, slowest fans you can get, or no fans if possible, and slowest HDD. You should probably go with as low a power CPU as possible also, to keep from taxing the PSU.

Also note, VM would be a heck of a lot of work to get going, but new migrations and failure recovery should be simpler. Gotta pick what works for you.

Your father might be in for a shock (5, Interesting)

try_anything (880404) | more than 5 years ago | (#27468281)

Your father might be in for a shock if he thinks he can keep running the same computer system for the next fifteen years. Almost all veterinary clinics have a web presence these days (if only contact info, a map, and some cute photos) so it's a cinch that in five years the bar will be raised to include real online functionality. Make an appointment, see when your dog is due for shots, see how much Poo-Poo weighed at his last checkup -- sounds nice, right? His current customers won't care if he falls behind, but without a steady stream of new customers, his practice will dwindle.

That means he needs to plan on new software. Software upgrades are much more painful and expensive than hardware upgrades, and new small business software has a way of running poorly on five-year-old machines. The next fifteen years will bring painful changes for his clinic's computer systems, much worse than simple hardware upgrades, and he is the one who will have to understand and deal with it. Of course, he might soon have the option of having his data and applications hosted elsewhere, so he might be able to keep the same hardware for the next fifteen years after all, but I don't think that scenario satisfies his current expectations.

Re:Your father might be in for a shock (1)

Scrameustache (459504) | more than 5 years ago | (#27468435)

a web presence these days (if only contact info, a map, and some cute photos) so it's a cinch that in five years the bar will be raised to include real online functionality. Make an appointment, see when your dog is due for shots, see how much Poo-Poo weighed at his last checkup -- sounds nice, right? His current customers won't care if he falls behind, but without a steady stream of new customers, his practice will dwindle.

I don't think there's a reason why a low-power system couldn't be used for data-entry to feed a remotely-served web presence.

In fact it would probably make more sense for a vet to hire an outside company to do his web services for him rather than do it in-house.

Call IBM (1)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | more than 5 years ago | (#27468289)

I'm pretty sure you can get a Z-series mainframe that they'll support for > 15 years.

He likes what he has right? (1)

freedom_surfer (203272) | more than 5 years ago | (#27468293)

Just build a new single system and virtualize the two components of the previous system. He won't have to learn how to use it, you know it works for what he needs and considering you are emulating such old hardware, can be done on cheap modern hardware. Just get a low end core 2 duo with VT, and install Ubuntu and kvm virtualization. You could probably get a bare bones system for the same price as two new Microsoft licenses. Spend the real money on a big display for the old man instead!

Ridiculous Replies (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27468295)

So many of these replies are utterly ridiculous. He is asking for a replacement for two 66mhz workstations with 500mb of storage to run an old dos app and people are suggesting raid 5, xserves, mainframes, etc? This is a "veterinarian with a small private practice" -- I think he will survive without ten remote backup sites and eight firewalls. It doesn't even sound like the machines are internet connected, why would they be?

Give up the 15 year fantasy. He got lucky, he might again, but don't count on it. I'm guessing he wants a system that will last this long mainly to save money. Well, he's in luck, computers are a lot cheaper nowadays. He can replace it every few years and still spend a lot less than he originally did.

My suggestion is just to get some cheap desktops from any well known beige box vendor, install vmware/virtualbox/virtual pc, periodically back up to a thumb drive, and be done with it.

IINBDFI (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27468305)

If its not broke...

Why change anything?

Win95 needs to be nuked and re-installed every few years. If this machine is not connected to the internet, why not just clean the detritus out of the hard drive, or start over with a fresh install after a proper backup of the hard drive, and maybe a new SMALL hard drive.

You will have more problems getting that old DOS system running on anything you can buy today.

You might upgrade to windows 98 or Windows 2000, but getting old dos applications to run on current versions of Windows and current processors is often a real pain.

Virtualization (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 5 years ago | (#27468343)

Just take image-based backups. When the system finally fails, virtualize a new one on top of whatever system can do it cheaply and reliably. Repeat until there's some compelling reason to upgrade the software, and thus the [virtual] hardware. Start over with a virtualizable platform... Right now your best bet is Linux on x86, but Windows on x86 is a strong contender as well. x86 should be around for quite a while yet and if it isn't then you can bet there will be shitloads of emulators.

JPL (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 5 years ago | (#27468359)

Ask the Mars MER rover team.

IBM Mainframe (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27468405)

Get an AS/400 they will always be backwards compatible. In my experience they are the only machines that can go for 15+ years without any issues. A tape drive for backups is must too.

Consider changing IT cycles. (3, Insightful)

barfy (256323) | more than 5 years ago | (#27468421)

There are two possible solutions.

First is to change nothing. Why fix what isn't broke?

The second is to change your time frame entirely. 10-15 years is too long and too disruptive when the time comes, and you lose out on presumptive benefits in the middle.

Surely there are network aware applications that do what you want on standard systems today.

You want to be network aware. In todays world you do not want to be cut off from your customers, and more importantly you want to push of data integrity to others.

You should develop an annual budget for IT expenses that rolls over. You should be on a 3-5 year schedule rather than a 10-15 year schedule. If you do this, you will have more predictable costs. You won't have competitive disadvantage because of software. You will have advantages of providing more and more reliable services to your customers.

As in all businesses information and digital information can be used to extend and monetize your business in all sorts of ways. But only if you choose to keep on top of it, and you don't constrain your learning cycles to whatever is new now.

Build yourself (1)

linzeal (197905) | more than 5 years ago | (#27468423)

Zeroth is of course fans, they are the only moving part so the only thing I use is dual ball bearing [google.com] fans.

First thing is quality of motherboard I would go with Solid Caps, heatsinks (NO FANS) on the S and N bridges and look for an 8 layer PCB design they tend to be more robustly engineered.

Second is to underclock and undervolt the CPU and memory which will increase the lifetime. I have an Athlon 5000+ running at ~1 volt that runs at 24c in an almost fanless case. He is not going to be using it for anything that requires a lot of clockcycles so pare them down as much as the CPU/Memory will allow while being stable. It will increase the lifetime dramatically.

Third you need an all metal computer case for durability. Everything that is plastic in 10-15 years will become brittle and stuff will start breaking like around the power switch and other heavily used areas.

     

Virtualization and Lapkosoft (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27468451)

For less than 1 grand,you could get several used,refurbished IBM servers that would easily last 10 years and have all the spares you'll ever need for the other 5 years. Set it up with a recent copy of fedora and you'll have all your father will ever need for his vet service

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