Tuesday, 18 June 2013

What to do about Pingu?

The Painful Truth

It comes with some degree of sadness that I resign to the fact that my current home based server is reaching the end of it's natural life. It's not about to crash any moment, nor is it problematic or unstable in it's operation,.. no, something's come along that's revolutionising it's use. And it's not the first hardware refresh either, but the VIA C7 based machine has been pretty consistent for about six years now, having only software upgrades and additional disks thrown at it.

Pingu (my debian based server) originally started out as a way of adding network shares to my computers back in 2001. It was a simple affair, thrown together from cheap parts and a case so thin that I routinely cut my fingers when ever I 'lifted the bonnet'. A few years later I replaced the whole lot with a Mini-ITX machine and it has evolved along those lines ever since. Additionally Pingu has been a test bed and learning environment for me, and ultimately became the platform for iShare, my photo sharing portal (written in perl). These days Pingu does loads of useful things (web server, torrent downloader, media streamer, caldav server, network shares, timemachine store, dns alias updating, dns masquerading, web proxy and adzapping), but then my kids got old enough to start making demands of it.

Ultimately they're the revolution, and the technical impact that they bring is called Minecraft.

The Minecraft Hammer

It was easy to do, you just install the Java 7 runtime engine, download the server jar file from minecraft.net and run it. It then goes about creating all of the additional files it needs along with a barrage of messages and errors. Knowing the humble C7 to be under-powered for this use and the system low on memory I splashed out a tenner and installed a 1Gb SODIMM (maxing out the motherboards capability). I added a bigger swap file and after a little config tweaking we had a running Minecraft server. The console was throwing up loads of "Can't keep up! Did the system time change" errors, but it wasn't affecting the gameplay so my son was happy. (well,.. as happy as a teenager can be!)

Using the 'top' utility I monitored the impact on the server with just one player in the game. It hovered between 65% and 75% cpu usage while memory use was modest. It was about now that my wife started to mention that the web access and our photo hosting was much slower.

A few days later we had two players on the server, so once again I ran the 'top' utility noticing that the memory usage was still pretty low, but the cpu was consistently in the mid to high 90s. During this time none of the other services were responding enough to be usable, web was painfully slow and in the end we gave up our web browsing and facebooking and watched TV.

After a few days of this I decided we needed a new Pingu.

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