Apr 282018

So, a few weeks ago I installed a new battery charger, and tweaked it so that the solar did most of the leg work during the day, and the charger kept the batteries topped up at night.

I also discussed the addition of a new industrial PC to perform routing and system monitoring functions… which was to run Gentoo Linux/musl. For now, that little PC is still running Debian Stretch, but for 45 days, it was rock solid. The addition of this box, and taking on the role of router to the management network meant I could finally achieve one of my long-term goals for the project: decommissioning the old server.

The old server is still set up with all my data and software… but now the back-up cron job calls /sbin/poweroff when it’s done, and the BIOS is set to wake the machine up in the evening ready to receive a back-up late at night.

In its place, a virtual machine clone of the box, handles my email and all the old functions of that server. This was all done just prior to my father and I leaving for a 3 week holiday in the Snowy Mountains.

I did have a couple of hiccups with Ceph OSDs crashing … but basically re-starting the daemons (done remotely whilst travelling through Cowra) got everything back up. A bit of placement group cleaning, and everything was back online again. I had another similar hiccup coming out of Maitland, but once again, re-starting the daemons fixed it. No idea why it crashed, that’s something I’ll have to investigate.

Other than that, the cluster itself has run well.

One thing that did momentarily kill the industrial PC though: I wandered down to the rack with a small bus-powered 2.5″ HDD with the intent of re-starting my Gentoo builds. This HDD had the same content as the 3.5″ HDD I had plugged in before. I figured being bus powered, I would not be dependent on mains, and it could just chug away to its heart’s content.

No such luck, the moment I plugged that drive in, the little machine took great umbrage to the spinning rust now vacuuming the electrons away from its core functions, and shut down abruptly. I’ve now brought my 3.5″ drive and dock down, plugged that into the wall, and have my builds resuming. If power goes off, hopefully the machine either handles the loss of swap gracefully. If it does crash, the watchdog will take care of it.

Thus, I have the little TS-7670 first attempting a build of gcc, to see how we go. Finger’s crossed our power should remain up. There was at least one outage in the time we were away, but hopefully we should get though this next build!

The next step I think should be to add some control of the mains charger to allow the batteries to be boosted to full charge overnight. The thinking is a simple diode-OR arrangement. Many comparators such as the LM393 have an open-collector output, which gives us this for free.

The theory is this.

The battery bank powers a simple circuit which runs of a 5V regulator. That regulator powers a dual comparator IC and provides a reference voltage. The comparator draws bugger all power, so I’m happy to use a linear PSU here. It’s mainly there as a voltage reference.

Precision isn’t really the aim here, so adjustable pots will make life easier.

The voltages from the battery bank and the solar panel are fed through voltage dividers to bring the voltages down to below 5V, then those voltages are individually fed into separate pots that control the hysteresis. I can adjust all points of the system.

The idea is that should the batteries get too low, or the sun go down, one or the other (or both) comparators will go low and pull down on R2. If the batteries are high and the sun is up, nothing pulls on R2 so the REMOTE+ pin on the HEP-600C-12 is allowed to float to +5V, turning off the mains charger.

The advantage of this is there’s no programming of a microcontroller, it’s just analogue electronics. The LM393s are pretty hardy things, the datasheet says they’ll run at 36V and can accept a maximum voltage of VCC-1.5V; so if I run at 5V, 3.5V is my recommended maximum. The adjustment pots should let me set a threshold voltage that avoids going above this.

I mainly need 5V for the HEP-600C-12, and for providing that stable known voltage reference. The LM78C05 should be fine for this.

Once I’ve done that, I should be able to wind that charger back up to its factory setting of 14.4V, which will mean that overnight the batteries will be charged back to full charge.

Mar 312018

So last post, I mentioned about the installation of the new battery charger, which is fed from 240V mains. Over the last few days this charger has held the batteries at a rock-solid 14.4V. Not once did the batteries drop below that voltage setpoint.

So good in fact, the solar charger does no work at all.

By the way, this is what the install looks like. I promised pictures last post.

That’s the DC end … and the nasty AC end is all sealed up…

I will eventually move this to a spot on the back of the rack, but it can sit here for now.

Ultimately, the proper fix to this will be to have the mains-powered charger power off when the sun is up. On the DC output connector, the two rightmost screw terminals go to an opto-isolator that, when powered, shuts off the charger, putting it into stand-by mode. This was one of the reasons I bought this particular unit. The other was the wide range of voltage adjustment.

The question is when to turn on, and when to go to stand-by. Basically if the following expression is true, then turn off the mains:

(V_{batt} > 12.8) \\wedge (V_{solar} > 15)

We do not want solar if the battery is very low, as there’s a possibility that the solar output will not be sufficient.  Likewise, if the sun’s out, we need the mains to keep the battery topped up.

The solar output is nearly always above 15V when the sun is up, so there’s our first clue.  We can safely get to 12.8V before things start going pear shaped on the cluster, so we can use that as our low-voltage safety net.  If both of these conditions are met, then it’s safe to turn off the mains power and rely on solar only.

We need a +5V signal when both these conditions are met.  This very much sounds like the job of a dual-comparator with diode-OR outputs pulling on a 5V pull-up.  Maybe a wee bit of hysteresis on those to prevent flapping, and we should be good.

Unfortunately, to do that, I need to unscrew terminals to feed some wires in.  I don’t feel like doing that just now… we’re packing up to go away for a while, and I think this sort of job can wait until we return.

In the meantime, I’ve done something of a hack.  I mentioned the PSU is adjustable.  I wound Vfloat back to 12V… thus Vboost has gone to 12.8V.  Right now, the mains PSU is showing a green LED, meaning it is in floating mode.

We have good sun right now, and the solar controller is currently boosting the battery.  When the battery gets low, the charging circuitry of the mains PSU should kick in, and bring the battery voltage up, holding it at 12.8V until the sun comes up.  I’ll leave it for now and see how this hack goes.

On other news… I might need to re-consider my NTP server arrangements.  I’m not sure if it’s a quirk of OpenBSD, or of the network here, but it seems OpenNTPD struggles to keep good time.  Never tried using the Advantech PC as a NTP server until now, and I’m also experimenting with using my VPS at Vultr as a NTP server.


Both are drifting like crazy.  I have a GPS module lying around that I might consider hooking up to the TS-7670… perhaps make it a Stratum 1 NTP server on the NTP server pool, then the Advantech can sync to that.

This won’t help the VPS though, and I’m at a loss to explain why a Geode LX800 running on an ADSL link in my laundry, outperforms a VPS in a nicely climate-controlled data centre with gigabit Internet.

But at least now that’s one less job for my aging server.  I’ve also moved mail server duties off the old box onto a VM, so I’ll be looking at the BIOS settings there to see if I can get the box to wake up some time in the evening, let cron run the back-up jobs, then power the whole lot back down again, save some juice.