Staying Sane When Your Computers Just Won't Work

One Compaq ProLiant server supports my network. Microsoft's Internet Security and Acceleration (ISA) Server 2000 firewall resides on the Compaq server and guards the four computers that sit behind the server. To verify a procedure I wrote, I needed to bypass the firewall and run some tests. I went to the server console and attempted an experiment. That's when the trouble began.

To this moment I'm not sure what I did, but I royally messed up the installation of BackOffice Server 4.5 on the Compaq server. Microsoft Exchange wouldn't exchange, ISA Server wouldn't secure or accelerate, and the file-and-print services wouldn't file, print, or serve. I was frustrated.

Lesson #1: It's 3:46 P.M. Do you know where your backups are? I had an OnStream ADR50 tape backup unit connected to the server, and I had backed up my entire system a few days earlier. Luckily, I hadn't changed any data in my files since the backup. I can't encourage you enough to back up your systems regularly—the day you don't, you'll wish you had.

After a day of poking and prodding, I decided to scrub the server down to bare metal. This approach meant erasing the system, reconfiguring it, installing software, and copying my data again. I had scrubbed other machines before, but never my Compaq server. Off I went, crate of CDs and product keys in hand.

Lesson #2: Keep all original CD-ROMs and documentation handy. Compaq packages the SmartStart integration program with its servers; SmartStart guides you through configuring the server and installing the OS. To scrub this machine—and, I assume, other Compaq servers—you need the SmartStart CD-ROM, the management tools CD-ROM, OS disks, and OS product keys and license information. I keep important reference materials and manufacturer-supplied CD-ROMs for each machine that I buy or build in a shoebox. When I need to access those materials, they're easy to find.

I also maintain a database on my oldest machine (my secondary workstation), which I call grandpa. I store the product keys and any codes I'll need when I reinstall a product in that database. I almost never experiment with grandpa, so I trust the database on its hard disk. I copy this database to the server so the OnStream unit backs it up nightly.

I tried to follow Compaq's SmartStart procedure to configure my server, and the server died. I fiddled for a day and became very frustrated. Because time is money, I gave up in despair and contacted Compaq technical support. The email support services from Compaq are responsive, and the support personnel provide helpful, accurate information. In fact, the next tip comes from a Compaq support representative.

Lesson #3: Simplify your system when performing a reinstall. The SmartStart integration program can't handle non-Compaq hardware. I had an OnStream backup drive and a Netgear FA310TX Ethernet adapter on my server. Once I disconnected these devices, SmartStart ran without error. I don't know whether other server brands, such as IBM, Gateway, and Dell, require this approach, but it seems like good practice so I'll add that tip to my bag of tricks.

I'm in the middle of an apparently successful reinstall as I write this column. And from now on, I'll have these three tips to help me stay sane when my computers just won't work.

Corrections to this Article:

  • The indication in this article that the author installed BackOffice Server 4.5 on a Compaq system with ISA Server is incorrect. ISA Server is not supported on Windows NT. We apologize for any inconvenience this might have caused.
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