Tuesday, 8 October 2013

WYCRMS Part 2. Windows Just Isn't That Stable

In 1997, a HP 9000 engineer wouldn't blink telling about a server that had been running continuously for over five years.I found this remarkable at the time, and couldn't imagine a Windows server lasting that long. I have moved on, and frankly expect my Windows servers to survive that long today. Very few share this position, and I'm trying to find out why it's so lonely on this side of the fence.

2. Windows Just Isn't That Stable

Ah BlueScreen of Death, how I've missed you. Actually, I haven't, since finding out what caused them was a nightmare, and recovering without a remote console solution is not conducive to a predictable social life (or sleep schedule). That said, they were so common we even had joke screen savers mimicking them for our own geekish amusement. Since Microsoft acquired Sysinternals they're even available to download directly from Microsoft. Imagine your in-car entertainment system being configured to show you fake warnings of a failed brake line, or a cracked cylinder head. "Would you like the free video package of Ford vehicles endangering passengers' lives with your new Focus sir?". IT people are weird.

I've analysed my Windows 7 x64 installation, and in the last three years I've had six bluescreens. Once was my graphics card (pretty unique), all the others were my Bluetooth headphones putting my cheapo-Bluetooth dongle in a spin. I blame the dongle, not Windows.

OK, that's not fair to the dongle maker: I blame Windows, but only the Bluetooth stack since it's never been something I expect Windows to do well - multiple dongle-headphone combinations have yet to produce a pleasant experience (three dongles, two headphone models). The network card, storage stack, print drivers, memory management, process scheduler (NUMA-aware these days apparently): These all work so well I haven't notice them doing their job, and I am very familiar with what a complex job they have.

I expect roughly once a month to see a BSoD on public transport, or at stations, or many airports, or billboards. The layout of the BSoD has changed over the years, with each version of Windows getting a little tweak so that you can spot the version even if the error itself is gibberish, and I conclude from viewing these blue non-advertisements: These systems tend to be A) old, B) written in languages and coding styles that aren't that good, and C) interface with devices with terrible drivers.

This is not typical of modern Windows servers.

I would never dream of subjecting a server to the amount of change my hard-working personal workstation endures. AMD updates my video drivers multiple times a year, I attach and detach USB/phone/iSCSI devices more often than I refill my car's tank, and run code from pretty much anywhere as long as it promises me utility or entertainment. A server is different, running things I trust to go on processing without attendance, cleaning up after itself, and basically staying up. If I do make changes, it's controlled, tested and left the hell alone.

Windows Server is solid, and every iteration gets more solid. It's expanding to 64-bit spaces, handling multipath-iSCSI with ease, more cores than I have fingers in byzantine NUMA layouts, hosting server instances in their own right with Hyper-V and pushing gigabytes around through network cards and storage interfaces, crunching data and most importantly providing services.

Yet the very people who spend time and money proving they are skilled in designing and administering these systems so that they can adorn their signatures and office receptions with impressive Microsoft-approved decals are the first to tell you not to trust a given server (without even knowing the workload or configuration) to remain available. They express surprise and concern on viewing a server continuously running for over a year.

I'm surprised and, yes, concerned that they react this way. Isn't this what your sales folks promised me in the first place?

Previous: Part 1: But I Have to Reboot My Own Windows System All the Time!

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