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The Vanishing Act of VA Linux Hardware Docs? 57

Posted by Cliff
from the look-ma-no-instructions dept.
Joshua Johnston asks: "Yesterday, my roommate and I picked up a used (and slightly abused) VA Linux 2231 2U server system at a computer show here in New Hampshire. Given the manufacturer, I had expected that support documentation would be a piece of cake to locate. Unfortunately, I couldn't have been any further away from the truth. Only the Internet Archive copies of the VA Linux/VA Software website had any information whatsoever on the system, with even Google striking out badly on almost any reference material. This comes as a complete surprise, as I had expected much more to be available in regards to a system once touted as a success for the Open Source movement. The current VA Software site has nothing even mentioning the fact they once made some solid server-class hardware, let alone a buried archive of the PDF manuals. What kind of options still remain for reviving some kind of community archive of these files? In the span of three years, are we left with nearly no trace of information on these machines?"
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The Vanishing Act of VA Linux Hardware Docs?

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  • Where there's a need, there will arise a community to fill it... or there should!
  • by shoppa (464619) on Tuesday August 31, 2004 @10:13AM (#10117795)
    Weren't the VA boxes just made out of commodity parts? For example, Brand X power supply, Brand Y motherboard, Brand Z disk drives? I'm sure all the docs in the individual parts are findable.

    It's vaguely possible that they have some really funky firmware RAID controller, I've seen Dell server machines require a special microcode load into the RAID controller to work with Linux. That's a pain in the butt, and when the only thing is available is the binary and only from the vendor I just think the offending device is evil and punt it. (Lotsa RAID stuff is still this way, and sometimes it's even on the motherboard, which means you toss the motherboard).

  • by Mordant (138460) on Tuesday August 31, 2004 @10:14AM (#10117812)
    We're potentially just a few EMPs [fas.org] away from losing a lot of information that's increasingly being stored on the Web in lieue of hardcopy.

    Not being able to find server documentation is one thing; not being able to find, say, Planck's Constant [wikipedia.org] is quite another.
    • If, after a nuclear war, you spend your time hunting for Planck's Constant (or server documentation) instead of food or other means of survival, you deserve to be eaten by the Morlocks or the aliens or terrorists or George Bush or whoever started it.

      • If, after a nuclear war, you spend your time hunting for Planck's Constant (or server documentation) instead of food

        There are non-nuclear EMP devices, you know. Also, to quote from the link the grandparent provided:

        "A large device detonated at 400-500 km over Kansas would affect all of CONUS. The signal from such an event extends to the visual horizon as seen from the burst point."

        Usual airburst detoniation for an ICBM (at least from what I found on Google) is in the 4-20 km range. That is to say, once
        • haven't you seen ocean's 11? they seem to fail to mention the fact that all of those computers wouldn't have come back up after getting hit with an EMP pulse like the one in the movie...

          if they seriously hit the city with a massive EMP burst it would have been downtime for alot longer than a few seconds...
      • I plan on being a morlock. I will at least need some kick ass mechanical engineering [mit.edu] sources if I am going to automate the slaughter process, so I will not be haunted by their screams.
      • Political cuteness (Score:2, Insightful)

        by nurb432 (527695)
        How nice, just had to toss in a ant-bush comment where has nothing to do with anything that is being discussed

        How sad to have such a small mind filled with such misguided hatred..

        You people are ill and need serious mental help.

        Ah.. mod me into oblivion, I don't care..

        • ant-bush? I thought they came out of eggs, now you're telling me they grow on trees?
        • by Eideewt (603267)
          You sound almost like you want to get eaten by George Bush.
        • Bush is the most dangerous man on earth. He has destroyed the US, destroyed Afghanistan and destroyed Iraq. What's going to be next?

          Why not use your right to keep and bear arms? The whole point of that was to overthrow an oppressive government. Now, the US looks very much to me like people told me the USSR was like 20 years ago. Department of Justice ordering library copies of statute books destroyed? People being dragged off the streets and held without charge, or access to legal advice, and without

    • uh, what exactly isn't just va software problem? that there's lots of information available through the web that an individual doesn't have hardcopy access to?

      the thing is, even if the thing shipped with hardcopy docs(probably did) the asker wouldn't have had access to them. though, probably the thing never had a proper manual(in good length) of it's own if it was just slapped together from common parts..

      or you suppose that there should be hardcopy manuals of every device ever made in the local library? a
    • Planck's constant is written down somewhere. Quit being so dramatic.
    • "Not being able to find server documentation is one thing; not being able to find, say, Planck's Constant [wikipedia.org] is quite another."

      The first one being important to me.
  • by Alrescha (50745) on Tuesday August 31, 2004 @10:18AM (#10117857)
    I use several of these machines at work. The ones here have standard Intel motherboards in a black case. The motherboard has Phoenix BIOS with EMP, 2xU160 SCSI, 2xP-III, etc.

    But seriously, what would you like to know that you can't find at Phoenix or Intel?

    A.
  • Tried calling? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by thelexx (237096) on Tuesday August 31, 2004 @10:19AM (#10117865)
    Have you actually called the company and spoken with a person there about this?
    • HOW is this insightful??? EVERY slashdotter ought to know that VA has been out of the hardware biz for YEARS now! I mean, they only run the site you're looking at now?? Stupid mods...
  • Bias? (Score:3, Funny)

    by Prien715 (251944) <agnosticpope@nOspAm.gmail.com> on Tuesday August 31, 2004 @10:20AM (#10117873) Homepage Journal
    Maybe I'm just being picky, but doesn't slashdot usually point out that it's owned by VA Linux whenever it runs a story about them? Just FYI.
  • Slightly OT (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jgaynor (205453) <jon AT gaynor DOT org> on Tuesday August 31, 2004 @10:26AM (#10117926) Homepage
    I had a similar problem with a set of ebay-ed VALinux chassis . . .

    I purchased a lot of 4 VALinux 2u rackmount chassis from ebay a few months ago for a good price (model "FullON 2130"). I knew they weren't going to be 'standard' atx but figured I could rewire things from documentation to get the power button and LEDs working. No dice. There is no documentation left at all. So im taking it upon myself to document/diagram what I did to make the power/reset headers ATX-usable and will post a procedure on my humble website. Hopefully google will pick it up and I can help the next guy that comes along wanting to do the same thing . . .

    • I thought about bidding on some VA units on Ebay [I'm sure the dude still has them up for sale].

      Again, no online documentation. Fortunately, the guy was kind enough to go open a case and give me the motherboard part number [kudos to him for doing that].

      Turns out VA just took a basic Intel boxed motherboard, with six PCI slots, slapped it into a two unit rackmount, and put in a riser card to give you [at least theoretical] access to two ["risen"] PCI slots.

      Anyway, to make a long story short, in my dec

    • Re:Slightly OT (Score:3, Informative)

      by adolf (21054)
      What a duplication of effort.

      VA never -made- computers - they just assembled them into boxes and loaded Linux.

      So just treat it like you would a Dell, or a Gateway, an E-Machine, or anything from any number of other assembly-line vendors - treat it like there's no name -at all- on front of the box.

      And then begin a bit of research.

      Look for a model number on the motherboard, and a manufacturer name. If you can't find a manufacturer, look up the FCC ID (it's always printed on there somewhere, if sold in th
      • The only problem with places like Dell and HP/Compaq, is that they DO make computers. That is to say, they have custom made motherboards that you are never going to find good documentation on. Several Compaqs here at my workplace say something along the lines of "designed by compaq egineering group X" silkscreened on the motherboards and they sure as hell don't look like any board I could purchase online.
        • Dare?

          Following my own instructions, I struck out on ASUS's web page and asked Google. I found that it's exactly the same board as the P3B-1394, but minus FSB dipswitches and with a different model number.

          Download the manual. [asus.com]

          My instructions are thus provably clear.

        • Compaq has always used their own hardware. So has HP. Dell, however, usually doesn't. I stand uncorrected.

          It doesn't matter, though. If the board has Compaq written all over it, head to Compaq for information. If it says HP, hit up HP.

          If the web pages don't include the data you're looking for, ask Google, or just pick up the fucking phone.

          Please use your brain. Thank you.

  • Japan (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Otter (3800) on Tuesday August 31, 2004 @10:37AM (#10118056) Journal
    Gee, shouldn't Bowie Poag be putting in an appearance around now...?

    Anyway, you may want to try VA Linux Japan [valinux.co.jp], who are still in the server business. ("UltraPossum 0.1beta is available now!") Like others have said, though -- I don't think there's anything especially unusual about those VA boxes, apart from blue LED's.

    • Re:Japan (Score:5, Informative)

      by jgaynor (205453) <jon AT gaynor DOT org> on Tuesday August 31, 2004 @10:46AM (#10118159) Homepage
      I don't think there's anything especially unusual about those VA boxes, apart from blue LED's

      Ehh they're fairly proprietary once you open the case. Here's what Ive found - I've only looked into their 2u and smaller cases so larger ones may be more brown-bag:

      -Case specific power supplies in some models (cant replace)
      -Model specific PCI risers
      -Short ATX mobo header cables (wont reach some boards)
      -Proprietary power/reset/LED headers (unusable unless cut and spliced - good luck tracing through multi-layered PCB)

      With a little work though they do make kick-ass cases and can usually be had on the cheap since no one wants to waste time modding them.
  • California Digital (Score:5, Informative)

    by blunte (183182) on Tuesday August 31, 2004 @10:39AM (#10118087)
    California Digital [californiadigital.com] bought VA's hardware line when VA got out of the hardware business.

    Did you try contacting them?

    The six servers (of three flavors) that I had were all Intel server motherboards, Intel CPUs, popular raid controllers (I forget brand/model), and VXA standard tape drives. What's confusing about that?
    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 31, 2004 @10:42AM (#10118123)

      VA Linux Legacy Parts

      California Digital acquired the Systems Division of VA Linux in November 2001. We continue to support VA's award winning line of Linux Server and Cluster products. If you are the owner of an existing VA Linux product, please contact us to determine if you can purchase extended warranty and support coverage.

      In addition to providing support for warranty holders, we stock almost all of the replacement components for VA Linux products. The items listed here are available for immediate delivery. If you have a need for an part not listed below, please contact us at sales@californiadigital.com.
  • by TellarHK (159748) <{tellarhk} {at} {hotmail.com}> on Tuesday August 31, 2004 @10:40AM (#10118097) Homepage Journal
    The weirdest part of all this, is that the board in the system seems to contradict some of the information available from archive.org. I determined it was an Intel STL2 board, where the archive page copy showed it to be an L440GX which has a lower set of features. I was even able to flash the motherboard with a newer BIOS for the STL2. So now, I'm not sure if the machine is actually a complete unit that was rehabbed with a hard drive (Minspec from VA was 9G, I got mine with a 4.3G) or if it was a unit that had a motherboard upgrade some time ago, which now seems likely.

    I suppose that with the motherboard information that I have, I can probably manage things just fnie, but there are still a few areas that make me wonder. My RAM seems to be the a slightly off speed, as I get an incorrect speed warning that requires an F1 to continue booting each time the system is turned on. That's going to make for an interesting day of eBay or Pricewatch next week.

    Primarily though, I have to say I'm bothered by such a dearth of information being available. Why on Earth would VA entirely remove -all- information on the products they sold, not even archiving a manual?
    • Since nobody else seems interested in actually helping the original poster...

      The RAM warning is just a BIOS switch set wrong. You've got your RAM set as X, while the BIOS code thinks it should be Y for whatever reason. So, it yells at you on bootup to fix your mistake.

      So change the RAM speed in BIOS to whatever it actually is. Turn ECC on or off, that sort of thing. The worst that can happen is that the machine turns unstable, or fails to boot - but since you've got a manual, defaulting the CMOS shoul
      • Sad but true. I sometimes tease my dad about all the stuff he prints out and saves in a hardcopy file, but someday he'll get to laugh at me when he's got some document I want that has disappeared off the web.

        I guess the lesson here is that if there's a site with some documentation that is really important to us, we should wget as much of it as we need (or all of it, if we have the space), and just archive it. Since a lot of CD media doesn't seem too good on longevity, in some cases having it printed and
      • Thanks for the help, unfortunately one of the big tricks with the RAM problem is that there is no visible setting in the BIOS for the RAM details. It seems like that's either locked down pretty tightly, or the board's designed to have a really specific tolerance level and no further. Bah.
  • by gabe (6734) on Tuesday August 31, 2004 @10:41AM (#10118109) Homepage Journal
    California Digital Corporation [californiadigital.com] bought VA's hardware business back in 2002 [linuxvoodoo.com]. Maybe they have information that'd help you.
  • by G4from128k (686170) on Tuesday August 31, 2004 @11:00AM (#10118306)
    Anytime I find a useful web page, I cache a copy on my local disk (strictly for personal/ time shifted use only). Personal sites have a way of disappearing when the owner loses interest and corporate sites have a tendency to flush old data when they reorg a site. Even with the cost of backups (I use 3 x 250 GB HDs for onsite/offsite backup), keeping a local copy costs a few tenths of a penny per MB.

    The loss of old content is sad, really. The web is sometimes more like the spoken word than the written word. It is ephemeral -- if you weren't there when the page was posted, you have a high chance of never getting it.
    • The loss of old content is sad, really. The web is sometimes more like the spoken word than the written word. It is ephemeral -- if you weren't there when the page was posted, you have a high chance of never getting it.

      It's always worth trying the Wayback Machine [archive.org]. I've found documentation for lots of old hardware from defunct companies there. Also Usenet, via Google Groups [google.com].

  • The hardware part of VA Linux was bought out by California Digital. They still sell those servers under their name. You can also order parts from the old VA linux from them as well.
  • Anyone know where to find anything on old systems from Network Engines? From what I understand some of them are substantially similar to VA Linux systems. I have a NEI Roadster LX that I would like to get more information about, and more importantly SOURCE CODE, so I can figure out how to talk to the front panel LCD.
  • We actually have run into the same problem here. I've discovered a lot of the hardware is actually off the shelf parts, Intel motherboards etc. So a lot of the information is out there. Now the only problem I have is finding aftermarket hardware such as drive trays.

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