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Part II: Rebuilding ZEUS – The Operating System, FileSystem & Virtualisation

October 18th, 2009 No comments

Now that I’ve decided what I want out of the server (and the hardware I’ve got), its time to workout what operating system to run the system on. Currently, ZEUS is running on Ubuntu Gutsy (7.10) which is running LVM with an XFS volume holding approximately 2.5Tb worth of data. There’s a cron job that defrags the XFS volume to keep things in order.

The Operating System

As the operating system is no longer maintained (my oversight into how long it would survive) I have to find an OS that supports the hardware platform without hacky hacky bits (and by this I mean avoiding buggy ACPI and issues with the NForce4 chipset and IRQ problems) and has a file system that will benefit long term.

There were a few considerations:

  • Ubuntu 8.04.x LTS
    I like Ubuntu, I’m comfortable with the user land and find the Debian package system (in particular the dependency resolving) most impressive. Hardware is well supported and 8.04.3 (at the time of writing) boots on the hardware I originally selected (Intel) and the new configuration I recently selected (AMD). I could most definitely use Ext4 but the problems with data-loss (which I’ve reproduced on several occasions on desktop machines) scare me.FileSystem: I’d have to adopt either XFS or Ext4 on an LVM to factor in future-proofing, maybe get some fakeRAID happening for redundancy.
    Installation
    : comes with a Server edition that’s bare bones allowing it to be a minimalistic installation which is always nice!
  • Ubuntu 9.04
    Initially when I started to rebuild Zeus back in April I wanted to use Ubuntu 9.04, I was really excited about Ext4 and the promise of a brand-spanking new file-system and what it would bring to the table. Unfortunately after using Ext4 with 9.04 I’ve come to realise its probably not the wisest to trust your data with it just yet – unless you get yourself a UPS! Laptop seems to be chugging nicely though.Installation: Like LTS, comes with a Server edition that’s bare bones allowing it to be a minimalistic installation which is always nice! (copy/paste!) Unfortunately picking 9.04 when 9.10 is just around the corner is not going to be ideal, I’ll be stuck with where I am right now in a year or so.

So in case the sudden influx of OpenSolaris posts didnt give you the hint, I decided on OpenSolaris to power the new iZeus 2.0, actually no that sounds lame, zeusy will be the new ZEUS until ZEUS is retired in which case zeusy becomes zeus (confused?).

Why ZFS?

ZFS is one of those file-systems you look at and think, wow! Why didn’t anyone else think of that before?

  • Very simple administration – you only use two commands, zpool and zfs.
  • Highly scalable – 128-bit means we can hold 16 exabytes or 18 Million terabytes worth of data! More porn for you! XFS can no doubt handle the TBs we use for our home boxes now, but no-chance you can get the performance or benefits of ZFS in Ext3/Ext4 or XFS.
  • Data integrity to heal a filesystem (no fsck’ing around!) – 256bit checksuming to protect data, if ZFS detects a problem it will attempt to reconstruct the bad block and continue on its merry way (utilising available redundancy)
  • Compression – you can elect to compress a particular file-system or a hierarchy just by setting one command! I’m thinking things like logs here.
  • No hardware dependency – JBOD on a controller, let ZFS maintain the RAID volumes in software. Checkout Michael Pryc’s crazy adventure with ZFS using USB thumb drives and Constantin’s original voyage with USB drives! RAID-Z is essentially RAID-5 without the write-hole problems has plagued it if power is lost during a write, it can also survive a loss of a drive (with RAIDZ-2 you can loose two drives).
  • Happy snaps for free! Snapshot (a live) file-system as many times as you like, again one easy command. Its like that tendency to hit {CTRL+S} when your working in Windows from back in the days of Windows 9x, snapshot regularly!

So ZFS sounds much like marketing spiel right now, best thing since sliced bread, cooler than a cucumber, and you’d be right it is cool and the best thing since filesystems came to being. Over the coming days I’ll post some more on my musings with ZFS – keeping in mind that I’m still learning these things. It helps to have lots of hardware to play with, but even if you don’t, you can knock up a virtual version of OpenSolaris in VirtualBox, create some virtual disks and try it out.

There are a few caveats that I’ve come across though using ZFS, one is memory! ZFS will try and cache as much data as it can in RAM, so if you have 8Gb of RAM (as I have in this box) it will happily use as much of it as it can afford. Rightfully so, I was getting ~96MB/s transfering a 16Gb MPEG from one box to the other over our Gig link (thats from one end of the house to the other!) mind you this was just a test configuration using 2x 74Gb Western Digital Raptors (WD740ADFD) in a RAID-0 style hitting a single 150Gb Western Digital Raptor (WD1500ADFD). They could have gone much higher, but I was happy with that.

There are also (as of writing) no recovery tools for ZFS, but these are slated to arrive soon (Q4 2009) which is quite scary after you read this post about a guy loosing 10Tb worth of data, however a possible revert to an older uberblock may fix some problems.

Virtualisation

Initially I wanted to concentrate quite a bit on Virtualisation, I tried Xen on OpenSolaris. It was quite easy to setup a Xen Dom0 in OpenSolaris but with the 2009.06 release you had to tweak the Xen setup a bit. I wasn’t too enthusiastic about using Xen after seeing the performance lag in Windows in my musings. Instead I’m opting for my crush, VirtualBox.

So why use VirtualBox when you can get a bare-metal hypervisor? Firstly, performance seems to be sluggish with Xen for me (I didn’t investigate this too much), secondly I want to be able to run the latest and greatest OS’s out without worrying about upgrading Xen (I’m a sucker for OS’s!). VirtualBox development has accelerated at a feverish pace, I started with VirtualBox 1.3 in 2007 and its come an insanely long way since then. When a new release comes along, its as easy as updating VirtualBox and getting all the benefits. Plus with SunOracle‘s backing of VirtualBox you know things are going to work well on OpenSolaris, the Extras repository of VirtualBox makes it as easy as doing a pkg update.

I’m still quite intrigued by the way KVM is heading and how it will pan out, but for the future zeus, it will be VirtualBox.

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Rebuilding Zeus – Part I.5: Change of heart, change of hardware.

October 14th, 2009 No comments

After a bit of digging around, my original spec’d hardware I’ve decided is too much for a boxen that will be on 24×7, especially with the rates for electricity going up next year – every little Watt counts. The existing 65W CPU isn’t ideal, instead I’m opting for a 45W CPU instead and this means – looking at the lineup, its going to be a walk down AMD way. Less watts, less heat and less noise, noice! See AMD’s product roadmap for 2010-2011.

The original specifications I mentioned were:

I’ve decided to change the CPU and Motherboard but keep the other bits and bobs – I could loose the graphics card and go onboard but I felt like leaving it there for now. The target budget is $250 maximum for both CPU+Mobo, so this means I’m sticking with DDR2 which implies AM2+ but it must also satisfy:

  • CPU has to be 45W and be atleast 1.6Ghz, dual core no more, has to support Virtualization.
  • Motherboard has to Support 8Gb (most boards doo!),  have atleast 2x  PCIe and a PCI slot, it would be nice if the network cards work (gigabit) but no fuss if it doesnt. No crazy shebangabang Wifi, remotes etc bling and if it has onboard Video great, otherwise its OK to use a crappy card.

I picked the AMD Athlon X2 5050e CPU because it was cheap (~$80), supports a 45W, has virtualisation and is an AM2. Next was the motherboard, looking at the ASUS, Gigabyte & XFX models as my target.

Chipset wise only the following fit the criteria for a possible match because others just don’t have the number of SATA ports available onboard. Primarily AMD boards are supplied by NVIDIA or AMD themselves.

Initially I looked at the ASUS  boards (they’ve been nothing but rock solid for me in the past) but after a lot of research scouring through the manufacturer sites I ended up picking out the Gigabyte GA-MA790X-UD4P which is based on the AMD 790X Chipset. The board came with 8x SATA Ports, 3x PCIe and 2x PCI and a  Gigabit NIC all for a $137 from PCCaseGear. Not only was the power consumption lowered but the noise and heat generated was substantially lower too!

Coming in close was the ASUS M4N78 PRO or the ASUS M4A78 PRO, each of those unfortunately didn’t have as many SATA ports (2-less) nor the PCIe ports (1-less).

GA-MA790X-UD4P
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COOL TOOL: Throwaway the CDs & DVDs, use your Flash Drive + UNetbootin to install Linux!

October 11th, 2008 No comments

I’ll admit it, I still have a floppy-drive attached to my maturing beast, which is primarily used as my day-to-day development box. Floppies come in handy for that odd install of XP or below that require RAID drivers (though you can just use nLite and bundle it by default).

But what about the CD-R’s and DVD-R’s in the days of Cloud Browser based Operating Systems (funny)? I recall burning ISOs like no tomorrow when new versions of Ubuntu were released – and I’m sure everyone else who has gone down the Linux or BSD route has had similar experiences.

But before you go burning that ISO at the next install (maybe Ubuntu Intrepid Ibex at the end of the month) you might want to consider an alternate route – and whats more, I’ll bet you it will install faster on newer systems.

I bought a Corsair Voyager GT 16Gb (pdf info-sheet) flash drive a few months back, whilst I’ve been fairly disappointed that its advertised speed fell short of expectations due to the Samsung manufactering process changes, I still kept it dear to myself having paid about AUD$109 for it. (I name things, the drive was dubbed DrSporky). Even though its rated at about 34MB/S read (so realistically it should do about 25-30MB/s) I’ve managed to clock about 19-21MB/s copying a 500Mb file using Teracopy – a real benchmark not a synthetic test and 8Mbp copying it back to the drive (see below). Nothing to sneeze at, but the difference between the GT and the non-GT was the 30MB/s+ read-speed I figured.

I use it almost daily and it carries around a bootable version of Ubuntu 8.04 (Hardy Heron) thanks to the multi-platform utility UNetbootin.

UNetbootin is written in C++ using the Qt4 Toolkit engine (full information is available on the Universal Netboot Installer page on Launchpad) so its compatible on Windows and Linux. Simply download the latest version, insert your USB drive and either let UNetBootbin download the distro you’d like to try _or_ browse to the Disk image to one you’ve already grabbed.

Give it a go and see what you think, installing Ubuntu 8.04.1 on a mates system (ASUS P5KPL-CM & Core E2180) took less than 10minutes (at most 20 if you inlude boot and configuration)!!! The best part is that you can easily reuse it easily formatting etc *AND* store your own things ready to utilise whenever you need it.

So the next time you got install _anything_ give UNetbootin ago and make use of that fast USB Drive instead of wasting CD/DVD writables that you usually endup throwing away.

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