Some legacy iron is hard to give away

Vendors like Digital and Hewlett-Packard built systems like tanks. High priced, sometimes over-specified, but durable. A recent interchange on the VMS newsgroup shows how even being close to indestructible has its limits in valuation.

Colin Butcher, an expert in matters migrations off old hardware and more, is trying to give away an AlphaServer kit, as the British call a configuration. As part of reducing the amount of equipment in his lab, he’s offering the following for free:

– a four-processor ES40 workstation with 12GB of RAM and six disk drives
– an MSA1000 disk unit “with additional disc shelf, 28x 300GB 10k discs, two spare controllers, all four controllers with 512MB cache, 2x 2GigFC IO modules.”
– a pair of FiberChannel SANswitches
– two DECserver 900TM access servers

“There are a few other odds and ends of spares and cabling as well. It’s been set up as a two-node galaxy cluster booting from the MSA1000 with local RAID disc for page/swap. I’d prefer it to stay as a complete working system, perhaps for a serious hobbyist or museum, maybe to host freeware archives and open source development for the VMS community.”

Butcher’s lab is in Bristol, UK. The location was a roadblock, in part because he has the temerity to ask for shipping costs. That payment would only be reasonable, but this late 1990s kit drew only some sneers from the Digital list.

What to do with such legacy gear, even the shiny sets, is a dilemma. The HP 3000 mailing lists have many of these giveaway offers, and lately, few takers.

In the AlphaServer arena, Brian Schenkenbergerof TMESIS Software pitched a similar offer in the US. “I have several ES40s with 32GB along the western bank of the pond if anybody is seriously wanting,” he says. “The DS20s and ES45s I have are enough for my needs.”

Fewer options

Aging IT equipment has come in for worse treatment than the dead silence such offers are drawing. In one legendary video in the HP 3000 market, a very old server was subjected to a barrage of semiautomatic gunfire, being used for target practice. It feels unfair to the owners and managers of systems that cost figures and more in their heyday.

The situation can be dodged, just a bit, by integrating an emulation strategy. The more common Intel gear that props up things like the Stromasys virtualized software has an afterlife because of its commodity status. Any network server or web server can employ an older PC.

The Technical Director at XDelta Consulting, Butcher does his duty using older gear. About a year ago he was writing about the lifespan of specialized gear like the MSA1000. HP Modular Smart Arrays were in their heyday before any iPhones buzzed in pockets, but the storage units continue to perform. “Lord knows why anyone would still be running MSA1000s, or keeping old small physical Alphas in production use,” Butcher said at the time. “But there are places still doing that.”

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