Cool stuff to do with bunch of unused computers?
March 19, 2007 2:09 AM   Subscribe

I've got a bunch of HP DC7100 SFF Pentium 4 computers sitting on a table at work, left over from people who have migrated to using laptops as their primary workstations. Any ideas for cool stuff I could do with them?

I'm going to a 4-day VMware Infrastructure training later next month, so at that point I'll probably use some of them for experimenting with the capabilities of VMware ESX Server. Another thing I've thought of is experimenting with imaging servers like the ones by Acronis. Both are things that might actually even end up being useful to the employer.

But there's got to be some cool, not necessarily work-related stuff to do out there. I enjoy learning things just for their own sake, so no suggestion, however small the reward may be for the trouble, is automatically out of the question.

I'm a Mac user, though Windows is inevitable at work. I've got an interest in Linux in various server functions (I've got a multi-purpose Linux server in a closet at home), so all suggestions involving Linux (or Linux-to Win/Mac interaction) are welcome. Things like distributed filesystems or clustering come to mind, but I don't really know where to start or where to go with them.
posted by lifeless to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Perhaps a beowulf cluster?
posted by Mijo Bijo at 2:15 AM on March 19, 2007

Perhaps you could create a Folding@Home cluster? Large numbers of machines which are mostly idle are ideal fodder for distributed computing projects.

Wikipedia has a fairly large list of ongoing distributed computing projects - You could pick any one (or more than one) and let 'em rip!
posted by your mildly obsessive average geek at 2:33 AM on March 19, 2007

Best answer: I don't know what your level of IT education is, and maybe you already know about stuff like this, but I'd spend time putting various server software on each. Not necessarily public servers but just for fun. Maybe a mailman server, or maybe messing around with VPN/tunneling (FreeS/WAN?). With Linux/Unix in particular I've found it's surprising how much you learn from this kind of hands-on messing around.
posted by humblepigeon at 3:33 AM on March 19, 2007

Response by poster: Humblepigeon hits the nail on the head. Funny how I didn't think of that, especially since the various server software can be load-balanced or otherwise distributed over several machines too. This exact type of messing around is something I've enjoyed in the past.

Anyway, keep 'em coming! I'll have to check out the distributed side of things too - the main problem is the huge amount of choices available.
posted by lifeless at 4:53 AM on March 19, 2007

Put an Asterisk server on one of them?

As humblepigeon says - a VPN server. I use one like this when I'm out and about, and tunnel my laptops connection (through public wifi access points) through my home LAN.
posted by TheAspiringCatapult at 5:55 AM on March 19, 2007

Get out of the Linux rut for a bit and try Solaris and a BSD or four. Play with ZFS, GEOM, pkgsrc, ports, pf, CARP/VRRP, rcNG, jail, zones, DTrace, custom kernels, tracking release/stable/current branches, building with distcc, netbooting, jumpstart...

Try setting up a benchmarking suite and compare your nice selection of OS's on identical hardware against a wide range of metrics. Compare different versions of the same OS, make pretty graphs. Make them public and invite comments.
posted by Freaky at 6:05 AM on March 19, 2007

Maybe review some distros for sites like I like to try-out distros but they're usually run on VMware. To run them on an actual machine, with actual hardware, will give a much better idea of real-world performance and also real-world glitches (such as hardware incompatibilities). Or, rather than writing articles, you could just file bug reports.

Personally I'd start with Nexenta (Ubuntu with a Solaris kernel). Then I'd move onto one of the desktop BSDs... So much fun to be had!
posted by humblepigeon at 7:22 AM on March 19, 2007

Maybe after you play around with them picking up new skills, you could suggest your company do something good with them. There's plenty of non-profits out there that can help you keep them out of the landfill.
posted by voxpop at 7:32 AM on March 19, 2007

I have an extra Linux desktop, which I have placed underneath my primary desktop and use to drive a second monitor, which I control using x2x. It's like having a dual-head system, except different.
posted by grouse at 8:05 AM on March 19, 2007
posted by jmnugent at 8:17 AM on March 19, 2007

make a computerhenge out of them.
posted by frieze at 8:33 AM on March 19, 2007

I just had (in my mind) three uses for three separate computers. If I recall, they were....

Box 1: Build a DVR [lifehacker]
I think that on a MythTV box you could install TorrentFlux, too. Then you could use a laptop from the couch (or work, or France...) to start recording TV and downloading from bittorrent.

Box 2: Web Server [ubuntu]
Got a website? Want a website? If not a website, you could just use freedns and make it a media server that you can access from anywhere. But then again, you may be able to make a LAMP [wikipedia] server out of the DVR box. Hm, down to one box now... (PS--share music on a linux box with a computer running iTunes [macosxhints])

Box 3: Rainbow Table Generator
You could set it to just generate rainbow tables....

Box 3, 4: Craigslist [craigslist]
posted by cellojoe at 6:27 PM on March 20, 2007

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