Booted up in 1993, this server still runs -- but not for much longer

Time is running out on a system that never had an unplanned downtime.

server room
Faber (CC BY-SA 2.0)

In 1993, President Bill Clinton was in the first year of his presidency, Windows NT 3.1 and Jurassic Park were both released, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was signed, and Phil Hogan, an IT application architect, booted up a brand-new Stratus Technologies fault tolerant server.

A lot has changed in 24 years, but one thing hasn't: The Stratus server is still in operation and Hogan -- who works at steel products maker Great Lakes Works EGL in Dearborn Mich. -- continues to keep it that way.

This is a fault tolerant server, which means that hardware components are redundant. Over the years, disk drives, power supplies and some other components have been replaced but Hogan estimates that close to 80% of the system is original.

"It never shut down on its own because of a fault it couldn't handle," said Hogan. "I can't even think of an instance where we had an unplanned shutdown," he said.

This is a famous server. In 2010 Stratus held a contest to identify one of its servers that had been running the longest. Hogan's then 17-year-old server was the winner. (At the time of the 2010 contest, the firm was known as Double Eagle Steel Coating Co.)

This system runs an older version Stratus proprietary VOS operating system, which Hogan believes hasn't been updated since the early 2000s. "It's been extremely stable,' he said.

His company doesn't have a maintenance contract with Stratus, and Hogan has been able to buy parts from a third-party vendor. Still, Stratus says it probably still has parts for it in stock.

This server had been eyed for an upgrade over the years but ownership or business cycle changes interrupted or derailed plans. It also helped that the users weren't complaining.

Even though the system has a character-driven interface, similar to an old green screen system, the users "like the reliability of it, and the screens are actually pretty simple," said Hogan.

Jason Andersen, the vice president of business line management at Stratus, said the systems they produce "are totally redundant in every way shape or form."

Since the 2010 server longevity contest, Andersen said Stratus has learned of other 20-year-old-plus systems but it's possible that the server at Great Lakes Works may still be the oldest.

Stratus fault tolerant systems are used in payment processing, telecommunications, and credit card processing, as well as in manufacturing, energy and natural resources among other industry verticals, said Andersen. Stratus builds systems that support Windows, Linux, VMware and VOS.

But the end is nearing for Hogan's server. Great Lakes Works is now part of United States Steel Corp., in a deal completed in 2015. There is now a plan to upgrade the system in April. At that point the Stratus will be retired.

When the hardware is finally turned off, it might deliver a moment for Hogan. Maybe it will be akin to the feeling of getting rid of an old and faithful car. But the only person who will really know what the server has accomplished in its long life is the person who kept it running.


Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.

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