On November 3, 2019, at about 11:34PM, I did something difficult that by all accounts should have been easy. I shut down a server one last time. It's uptime was over 2 years strong, and had been in service for over 4. It didn't have a name.
It's tradition with ships to give them a name. Usually it's something poetic or meaningful. The Nora II was the name of a childhood friend's dad's boat. When I asked him about it, he just shrugged and said that he had named her after his wife. Something poetic, so that he could be with his wife even when he was out at sea. I imagine with servers, though not exactly seafaring, there is a similar sentiment.
My friend Eric named his server NACL, to go with his elements naming scheme. He hosts projects and gaming servers on there. Something poetic, where the server is the salt it provides.
My current server hosting this document is named Driftmetal, after Astral Driftmetal from Dungeons and Dragons lore. Astral Driftmetal is said to be completely effective against incorporeal attacks. Something poetic, to represent its hardened nature.
This server did not have a name. It's hostname was the site it was serving at the time, and I always referred to it as just "my server". Because that's what it was. My server.
It was the first time that I had set one up myself. Initially I was using some random free web hosting. You would connect via ftp and upload your document, after a five minute delay your site was live. Eric found out about this and let me borrow some space on his server. He did it as payment for a joke article about why cake is better than pie, but I'm pretty sure the real reason was that he felt sorry for me.
It wasn't long until I was hosting my content on a Shared Hosting plan from Cloud9. It was something simple, and exactly what I needed at the time to start my journey proper into web development. They were great to host with, as long as I only needed cPanel and phpMyAdmin. The customer service was always quick and friendly, and they gave me access to set up my own MySQL databases. I later found out that this was a paid feature that they had just tacked onto my account for free, because I had asked nicely.
But I wanted more.
I thought it would be impressive if I set up my own server from the ground up, and that it would be an excellent learning opportunity. So I did.
It started its service without fanfare. I signed up for a VPS with a whopping 25gb storage and 1gb ram, sporting 1 virtual core cpu in some random datacenter in New York. I didn't christen it with a name; after all it was my server. I set up nginx (at the time, not realizing the benefits over Apache, I just didn't want to use Apache again...) and moved all my content over. And so began its work.
It hosted my website through several iterations, my stupid projects like tracking where I was at any given point in time on a map (yeah, who thought this was a good idea? Oh...) or an icecast for hosting D&D, hosting files I wanted to send to friends, compiling C++ code for school projects and assignments, chat servers, my mail and my calendars... Hell, it even hosted a self encrypting diary at one point. There was no sense of segregation. There was no sense of set purpose. After all, it was my server.
Time progressed and I started needing more than that 1GB/1 core beast. I moved across the country, and location started impacting latency. Not by much, mind you, but having a server that's 3,000 miles away won't do. The song and dance started again, and a fancy new server named Driftmetal in San Francisco would be my workhorse. Services were slowly moved from NY to SF, until eventually only one remained. Yesterday that service was transferred away from me, and the NY server sat, for the first time in four years, idle.
It was finally time to take a rest.
I poked around the contents of the filesystem one last time. I found old projects, emails, notes to myself about how to update certificates and what commands to use to start what services. There was a program to find the greatest common denominator in a file "assignment3.cpp" in a random directory where it most certainly shouldn't have been. I found the first iteration of my website, where I introduced myself and was still a bright-eyed not-yet-clinically-depressed high schooler who was ready to compose video game music and work for a game company, or make websites for people. Projects I made in classes when I should have been paying attention. Files I remember writing in Latin class, outside the band room, and in English class... My server was a time capsule, containing memories of slacking off and doing the things I loved doing in places I shouldn't have been doing them.
It's kind of spooky looking into your past. A lot changes in ten years. I had wondered what I was going to do, what kind of jobs I would have – I had no idea then that I would write contracts and develop websites for other businesses on freelance, or that I would be hired somewhere far away for my programming skills, or that I would become an experienced service technician, or that I could even sustain myself financially by making websites. Little Colin, trying to make some text scroll in an element it shouldn't while not listening about Robert Frost, had no idea.
I got a lot from that low-powered virtual machine. Depending on your worldview, it's either comforting or concerning that somewhere, deep in a world of server racks, sits who we were and who we dreamed we'd be.
I never gave it a name, and it may seem silly to write an retrospective for a QEMU instance, but it was important to me and I'm glad that it gave me the opportunities that it did.
Wherever those 1's and 0's are now... Thank you, take a rest – You've more than earned it.