Another tip: Label your hard drives

November 1, 2005

We managed to waste a nice chunk of time today with a really simple mistake.

Our plan was to one of the two mirrored system drives in our Amanda backup server for a larger one, as part of the process of upgrading its operating system. What we accidentally did instead was to swap one of the extra spool space drives out. This did not work so well. (For a start, the system was a bit upset about not being able to mount the spool partition.)

You may remember that last week I said to always label (dying) hard drives you pull out of servers. Well, today I have a new lesson: always label hard drives, at least if a system has more than one. Having labels saying 'first system disk', 'sdc spool disk', and the like would have saved us some time and aggravation.

Unfortunately I don't know what the best way to do this is. Postit notes (what we used on the hard drive we pulled last week) seem a bit fragile. Clear scotch tape holding down very small pieces of paper?

(From this the clever reader will conclude that we didn't pause to label all of the hard drives in the server after we got the disks right. We were in a hurry to get it put back together and running. (This may turn out to be a serious mistake.))

Comments on this page:

From at 2005-11-01 10:32:17:

I've seen two systems for labeling the innards of machines.

One uses those label machines that let you type out something and then spit out a thin strip of sticky tape (like this) - you can find small, low-capacity ones pretty cheaply on ebay or in the backs of office supply catalogs.

The other system is lower-tech, but may end up being significantly more expensive per machine. It involves a polaroid camera and a sharpie. You take two pictures of the innards of the box, wait the five minutes while the picture develops (remember, unlike the song, Polaroid recommends against shaking the picture to speed development), and then with the sharpie label everything in the picture. One picture is then taped to the outside of the box and the other picture is placed in a hanging file in the sysadmin's office, along with any other necessary paperwork for that machine. In a pinch, you can substitute a quick sketch of the inside of the box for the polaroid - again, copies go both to the file cabinet and on the outside of the box.

With both methods, you need to be certain to keep the basic materials in the machine room so that they are there when you need them: have a designated spot in the machine where the label maker or polaroid camera (and possibly pad of blank paper and pen) belongs, and always return them there after use. (label makers are especially prone to wandering about and not being findable when needed if this is not enforced)

I suppose that masking tape and a sharpie would also be sufficient for some labeling purposes.

Written on 01 November 2005.
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Last modified: Tue Nov 1 00:21:20 2005
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