Goodbye to a 15-year-old Debian server

By John Goerzen

It was October of 2003 that the server I’ve called “glockenspiel” was born. It was the early days of Linux-based VM hosting, using a VPS provider called memset, running under, of all things, User Mode Linux. Over the years, it has been migrated around, sometimes running on the metal and sometimes in a VM. The operating system has been upgraded in-place using standard Debian upgrades over the years, and is now happily current on stretch (albeit with a 32-bit userland). But it has never been reinstalled. When I’d migrate hosting providers, I’d use tar or rsync to stream glockenspiel across the Internet to its new home.

A lot of people reinstall an OS when a new version comes out. I’ve been doing Debian upgrades with apt for ages, and this one is a case in point. It lingers.

Root’s .profile was last modified in November 2004, and its .bashrc was last modified in December 2004. My own home directory still has a .pinerc, .gopherrc, and .arch-params file. I last edited my .vimrc in 2003 and my .emacs dates back to 2002 (having been copied over from a pre-glockenspiel FreeBSD server).

drwxr-xr-x 3 jgoerzen jgoerzen 4096 Dec 3 2003 irclogs
-rw-r--r-- 1 jgoerzen jgoerzen 373 Dec 3 2003 .vimrc
-rw-r--r-- 1 jgoerzen jgoerzen 651 Nov 27 2003 .reportbugrc
drwx------ 3 jgoerzen jgoerzen 4096 Sep 2 2003 .arch-params
-rw-r--r-- 1 jgoerzen jgoerzen 1115 Aug 23 2003 .gopherrc
drwxr-xr-x 3 jgoerzen jgoerzen 4096 Jul 18 2003 .subversion
-rw-r--r-- 1 jgoerzen jgoerzen 15317 Jun 21 2003 .pinerc

Poking around /etc on glockenspiel is like a trip back in time. Various apache sites still have configuration files around, but have long since been disabled. Over the years, glockenspiel has hosted source code repositories using Subversion, arch, tla, darcs, mercurial and git. It’s hosted websites using Drupal, WordPress, Serendipity, and so forth. It’s hosted gopher sites, websites or mailing lists for various Free Software projects (such as Freeciv), and any number of local charitable organizations. Remnants of an FTP configuration still exist, when people used web design software to build websites for those organizations on their PCs and then upload them to glockenspiel.

-rw-r--r-- 1 root root 268 Dec 25 2005 libnet.cfg
-rw-r----- 1 root root 1305 Nov 11 2004 mrtg.cfg
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root 552 Jul 31 2004 pam.conf

All this has been replaced by a set of Docker containers running my docker-debian-base software. They’re all in git, I can rebuild one of the containers in a few seconds or a few minutes by typing “make”, and there is no cruft from 2002. There are a lot of benefits to this.

And yet, there is a part of me that feels it’s all so… cold. Servers having “personalities” was always a distinctly dubious thing, but these days as we work through more and more layers of virtualization and indirection and become more distant from the hardware, we lose an appreciation for what we have and the many shoulders of giants upon which we stand.

And, so with that, the final farewell to this server that’s been running since 2003:

glockenspiel:/etc# shutdown -P now
Shared connection to closed.