The Rabbit Hole

I've been appointed the task of setting up a new server at work. Not a big deal, mind you. It's part of the job and I've done it before.

(Tech talk to follow, feel free to surf on if this kind of things puts you into a stupor.)

However, this time I'll be working with an x64 machine. For those not in the know, most machines you work with are 32bit (x32) processors. For those not REALLY in the know, that's the computer's brain. 32bit is what most PCs run. Lately (and by that I mean the last five years) there have been some new processors. Among them is the x64.

The problem with x64 processors is the same problem all new computing technology has, it's not compatible with many things. At least not yet.

Thus begins my journey into ever descending levels of sysadmin hell.

New server is a Dell machine. I don't think we should immediately hold that against it. The machine can't help who builds it, nor can it make any reparations. It comes with Windows Server 2008. That's all well and good, but we don't want that. It's unproven in our environment and we have other users that will be connecting to this server, so we want to reinstall with 2003.

Being that the machine is x64, I have to hunt down the exact installation disk from Microsoft. It has to be Server 2003 R2 x64 Enterprise Edition. I have it, but there's a problem. Microsoft doesn't like sending things in order or with any meaning. We also have two different licensing contracts so we end up with duplicate disks, or half of a two disk set. I have three disks I can pick from, one is newer but has no "disk 2" the other is older but both disks are included. Let's go with two disks.

Installation goes ok, but the server is also RAID (it's actually SAS but that's technical) which means it has several drives in it and data is split across them. If you lose one drive, you don't lose all your data. The drives are controlled by a RAID controller, this version is a SAS, PERC 6/i integrated. I have to get that into the OS installation. There's a catch, the machine has no floppy. I can't get the controller software on there. I have to "trick" the machine into thinking that its USB port is in fact its A: drive (traditionally a floppy disk drive.) There used to be a way to do this from the BIOS, but apparently the BIOS is now smart enough to see the USB/Floppy drive I stuck on so I don't have to do anything. However I did waste a good couple hours trying to find that command. On top of that, the USB Floppy kept shutting off. It would detect it long enough to know it was there, but when the software was needed, the drive was off. After many attempts, I did it FAST ENOUGH for the stupid thing's attention span.


Operating system installed (yes two disks.) Now comes the parts where I join the machine to the domain, give it all the updates it needs, make sure I can remote into it and-

Well wait a minute, the NICs aren't working. There's a conflict in the Device Manager. (BTW, "NIC" = network interface card. People do say NIC Card all the time. It's like ATM Machine or PIN Number or SCUBA Apparatus. It makes no sense to say it like that. If you are one of those who do, stop it now.) Ah yes, the NIC drivers need to be updated. No sweat. It's kind of hard to get drivers from the internet when your machine has no internet connection but luckily I have my trusty USB stick.

Dell's site shows no less than 20 entries for drivers for my machine. You would think the asset tag would be tied to that exact machine and the network devices on that machine would only need one driver. Oh heck no, silly pleb. My tag pulls up drivers, firmware updates, and integration packages from three different brands. I'll just try all of them. They don't work. I don't get it. I get the files, point the update wizard to the .inf file and nothing. So online to Dell Chat we go. Nope, you didn't get the right one, here's the right one. Ok thanks Dell Dude. Download to USB stick, hustle into server room, plug in, run wizard, point to inf file. Nope, still a conflict. Dell dude, are you running an x64 machine? Yes I am, can't you see that from the information I gave you? You need a different driver, try this one. Ugh, I tried that one already. All I get is the the driver is installed, but the device won't start.

Oh you know what, this machine has TOE on it. (No kidding, TOE = TCP/IP Offload Engine. It lets traffic flow processing go through it rather than the main processor. Faster machine and faster traffic.) It needs its own software package, not just a driver. Ah, gotcha, I say. Ok thanks. I get the right one, back on the USB stick, back into the server room. Run installer.

Now comes the second part of my journey.

This installation package needs the .Net Framework to run. I don't know much about .Net or its work with frames. I know it's a development tool and more than a few programs won't run without it, expecially programs written to run on x64 machines. Hmm, I think, that's usually included when you install Windows, or at the very least you get it from Windows Updates. Seeing as I have no network connection, I wouldn't get an update. So I go looking for .Net Framework 2.0.

Hey, I found it. That was easy. Hey, not so fast, Showboat. Just because you have the right installation package for the right machine, doesn't mean it'll work.

The installer gives me an error. You can't write or access these files. Most sysadmins love this. I may make a shirt out of it. It's one of those wonderfully cryptic errors that doesn't tell you what file or directory it's trying to access, it just gives you the error. It's like getting a moving violation ticket while you're sitting at home and there's no description as to what you did wrong. Included in the message is the penultimate helpful suggestion, "Please contact your administrator." Well, bugger. So I ask myself what the problem is and I don't like the answer.

"I have no fucking idea," I say to myself.

I check all the directories I think it needs. I'm logged in locally as the administrator, I can't imagine there's a place I can't go on this machine. Back to Dell Support. Yes I know it's a windows problem now, but you know what, they put the freaking TOE on the NIC of an x64 machine. They should support it when it doesn't work. Third guy I work with, now. "What version of windows installer do you have?" "I don't know, let me check." Hey, would you look at that, there's nothing listed. I guess I don't have one. Ok here, put this on there. Um, does it work with x64. Oh, no it doesn't. You need a hotfix for it instead. A hotfix for software I don't have on there yet? Too late, he's logged off. Thanks helpful Dell dude. I put the hotfix on the server anyway, and it's sort of like walk up to a gas station, paying for $20 in gas, and then pumping it directly onto the concrete.

Ok, no worries. The Windows Installer must be available somewhere. Well it is, but 3.0 came out before x64. 3.1 came out because of x64. So wait, to get the version of the installing component I need, I have to have the one built before that doesn't work on the machine I have. But there's a hotfix for it when I get it installed, which I can't. Right? Yes that's right.

So that's where I am now. My current thinking is I need to get the Service Pack 1 on the machine as all the articles I've read lead me to believe that the right installer is on that. Hopefully .Net Framework will also be included.

I'd keep you posted, but frankly I just don't care. I want to throw this stupid machine out the window. But HEY, at least I'm learning.

Carry on.

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