End of an Era: Part 1

Sometime in the late 90s I decided to learn enough about Linux to wire my house to the internet and run my own email server. It was a frustrating process at first because linux is radically different from the various Microsoft and Amiga OSs I’d been using for many years. I can still recall the feeling of my head exploding as I tried to wrap it around all the moving parts — linux itself, DNS, IP routing, sendmail, firewalls, NAT, etc. — that were necessary to “just run my own email server”.

But I got there. And I stayed there, despite being hacked — I never did find out who the bastard was, but he was immortalized in my linux login prompt: “If you are a hacker…pray to your gods that I never find you. You have been warned.” — and despite the inevitable frustrations of forgetting big parts of what I learned each time I solved a problem because, hey, configuring linux can feel arcane, but once running properly it generally doesn’t break down. In fact, just today I rebooted my linux server for the first time in 339 days. Not because it needed to be rebooted, but because I had tweaked something and wanted to see if the system would come back after a reboot (it did, just fine).

Over the years, to support my avocation of building websites, I installed a second server running Windows. That being the only way, back in the Early Naughts, of testing websites. Which in turn prompted me to run Microsoft Exchange as my email server so that I could have the kind of system I was used to having before I retired. Juggling the growing number of parts caused problems on occasion. Not to mention the spontaneous Window server shutdowns that happened, pretty much like clockwork, between 7:58 and 8:02 AM every Wednesday (I kid you not). Never did figure out that one, even with several months of Microsoft tech support. But I worked around it by having the linux server query the Windows server every five minutes and activate a relay to trip the Windows power switch if it went offline. A kludge of the first order! But it was cheap and robust. Despite the frustrations, it was all a lot of fun, and quite rewarding.

All good things come to an end, though. Ford Motor Company once ran a factory where iron ore, coal, etc., went in one end and finished cars came out the other. A marvelous feat of integration…and doomed to obsolescence once the auto manufacturing ecosystem took off. The same thing has happened to my setup, now that you can rent Exchange in the cloud and software development tools simulate server environments on a desktop system without breaking a sweat.

So earlier today I shut down my Exchange server for (hopefully) the last time, and turned off the mail routing features of my linux server. As soon as I have the time — or more likely when we move out of this house — I’ll replace the linux box with a cable modem/router and close the door on a remarkable journey of more than a decade’s duration.

I can hardly wait to see what the next decade brings :).

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