Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Another Day Another DL

I finally pulled the trigger and purchased my 4th HP DL360 Proliant Server for my brother-in-laws growing IT system. This new sever will be used as an email server running SME Server 7.4. I guess it is the nerd in me but I am always amazed at how much technology you can purchase for so little if you are willing to shop around.

The latest server specs are:

HP DL360 G3
Dual Xeon 2.8 GHz processors
Dual 36GB Ultra 320 SCSI Drives
Dual Power Supplies
Dual 1 GB Ethernet
HP 5i on board RAID Controller
HP iLo management
2 GB of RAM
CD-ROM and Floppy Drive
On board Video and Legacy Ports

And how much for all of this technology? A hefty $99 USD on eBay. The last DL360 I pickup I was able to purchase for $51 USD!

What is truly funny is replacement rack rails end up cosing 40% of the total cost of the server!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Vector Linux

I have spent the last few weeks evaluating different distros I can use as an OS on my brother-in-law's administration terminal server. I tried a net install of Debian 5.0 but in the end it required way too much tweaking to get what I was after. Debian with LXDE was very speedy and would have done the job but for some reason I was really having difficulties making OpenSSH and VNC work in harmony. VNC is must because I must administer several applications that use a web interfaces.

I did a search on DistroWatch under the category of old computers and it come up with about 20 recommendations. The usual suspects came up; Puppy, DSL, Slitaz, Tiny-Core. The rest fell into two broad categories, the first being Ubuntu based distros using lightweight window managers. The second group were based on Slackware. I have a soft spot in my heart for Slackware. Wolvix was the first distro I could get my wireless card at the time (three years ago) working properly. Because of this Wolvix paved the way towards full time Linux usage breaking my Windows fix. I haven't looked back. 

Absolute, AUSTRUMI, SaxenOS and Vector were the Slackware based distros that caught my eye. A quick review narrowed my interest to Absolute or Vector. I decided to install Vector on a 700mhz test machine with 512meg of RAM because they had just released their 6.0 Lite Version. 

I remember trying Vector early on in my Linux trials and thinking how intimated I was by the installer. I definitely did not get that warm comfy feeling I got when I installed Ubuntu! This time was totally different. I guess after a few Arch Installs my confidence level has raised a few notches (LFS users I bow - I am still intimidated!)

After the install I was greeted with a very usable system even on the 700mhz test rig. I was able to configure OpenSSH and VNC without any major issues. At boot, running JWM as the window managers, I was using only 50meg of RAM and CPU utilization was in single digits. I am very impressed with Vector so far!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

I Like My Time

I got my Webmin books and I started to review them. It dawned on me after a few days I was going to have to speed a lot of time setting up the various services in S*M*S. I think this would be a great learning experience but I just do not have the time so I am going with SME Server as my solution. I hope version 8 comes out soon but I have a feeling I will have to install the current stable version which is 7.4.

I have also started to looking for a distro that I can use on an administration server at my brother-in-laws practice. This a very old Penguin Computing server that has a 700MhZ processor with 512Mb of ram. I have been using Puppy Linux for a few months but I am looking for a lightweight distro that has a little better out of the box support for OpenSSH. I favor rolling release distros so it will be interesting if I can find something light enough to server my purpose. I could always and should install Arch Linux but I want to see if anything different is out there.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Learning Curve

I finally found time to install S*M*S on the OptiPlex at work yesterday. It turned out to be a a relatively painless install. I fired up Firefox on another computer on the network and was able to pull the Webmin interface up. A quick test drive revealed a pretty zippy system even on this ancient OptiPlex that could serve as a boat anchor. It also revealed I am pretty rusty when it comes to Webmin. I have not used it actively for over 5 years so I started looking for some good books on using Webmin but it appears the most recent ones are around five years old. The good thing about five year old books is you can pick them up dirt cheap on Amazon. Two of the the best user rated Webmin books were only a few clicks and $18 bucks away. I should get them some time next week. If the books turn out to be too out of date I guess I can resort to printing out the 800+ page pdf webmin book or sections out of the offical Webmin Wiki.

The big question now is do I go with S*M*S and deal with the steep learning curve of relearning Webmin or should I just use SME Server to save time knowing it will do most of what my brother-in-law wants.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Nothing But Trouble

I took my ebox 1.2 disk to work today and I wanted to see if I could load it on an old Dell OptiPlex I use for testing during lunch but I still got the same errors about the CD-ROM. I even went so far as to burn another copy of ebox at an excruciatingly slow 4x speed just to make sure it was not a bad CD but in the end it still came up with the same error. I guess this rules out ebox, Ebox has had nothing but problems with the various pieces of hardware I have laying around. I guess it is time to move on. I am going to play with S*M*S next.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Ebox chokes on install

I downloaded ebox over the weekend and wanted to give it a try. The MD5 sums matched and I used the check media option on the ISO image and the CD checked out fine. The system reboots and it appears if it is going to boot without a hitch and then it hangs. I get an error about the CD-ROM Drive and maybe the disk is not Debian based, I installed it twice for good measure and it still hangs at the same spot with the same error. I have installed about two dozen different operating systems on the old 1 gig machine I have laying around for test purposes. I have installed Ubuntu on it before so I have no clue why ebox which is based on Ubuntu 8.04 chokes on this box.

Monday, August 24, 2009

FreeNAS to CF to PCI = Cool

I picked up a very nice Supermicro 5014C-MT server for my brother-in-law since he is in the market for a storage server. The big selling point was the four hot swappable SATA hard drive backplane in a 1U form factor. I picked it up for $80 on ebay. I added a couple of Western Digital RE3 1TB hard drives so I could create a simple RAID 1 array. The RE3 drives are designed to be put into a RAID array and have a ridiculous 1.2 million hour MTBF rating. This turn out to be something like 137 years!

Finding drive tray hardware and a suitable rack rails has been a minor nightmare. I ended up ordering the wrong rails only to find out the right rails are not listed on the Supermicro website! Supermicro tech support finally help get me straight with the proper part number.

The interesting part of the project was installing FreeNAS onto a 1 gig compact flash (CF) card which was pluged into a PCI card, a poor man's solid state dive (SSD). I found the CF card and PCI adapter card on Newegg for around $35 USD. The PCI card supports up to four CF cards. I guess you could create a small SSD raid 1+0 array if you ever wanted to.

The install went with out a hitch. I really like the CF solution since it allow you to dedicate the hard drives strictly to storage.

Friday, August 21, 2009

What comes around goes around

In previous posts I indicated I was leaning away from an all-in-one server solutions like e-box, ClarkConnect or SME Server. My rational at the time was they were too big and inflexible for home use. Having set-up a phone system for my brother-in-law and now looking at the prospect of setting up an email, print and file server for his growing practice I want something that I can easily manage remotely. The web-based interface of these solutions make that pretty easy over a VPN connection but what happens if the VPN goes down? I am going to have to talk someone who is 1100 miles away though diagnosing a problem and getting the system back up and running. The last thing I want to do during this call is to have to talk someone through a bunch of command line kung-fu.

I burned images of ClarkConnect 5.0 and SME Server 7.4 and have been evaluating them. For some reason I cannot get comfortable with the ClarkConnect 5 web interface. I guess it really does not matter because the 10 free user account cap is a deal killer. Per the Clark Connect website:

"By default, the Community and Enterprise Editions include 10 accounts that have groupware/mailbox functionality. The Enterprise Edition is upgradeable to 250 users (in units of 5) by purchasing additional mailbox licenses from Point Clark Networks."

I have SME Server 7.4 loaded on an old Dell OptiPlex GX110 and it is running fine. The interface has a dated feel to it. It seems to have all the feature that my brother-in-law is immediately looking for and has additional features he can grow into.

e-box looks like it has been under heavy development since the last time I looked at it. I plan on downloading it soon. The interface looks great and it may give SME Server a run for its money.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Wow! Where the hell was this during my searches?

I was serching around again and found this jewel at softpedia:

"The Slack Mini Server (SMS) Project team announced yesterday, August 10th, the release of Slack Mini Server 1.4.5, which celebrates 2 full years of activity. The new release is based on Slackware Linux 13.0 RC2 and it brings Asterisk PBX, Samba 3.4.0, PHP 5.3.0 and many updated packages (see below for details)."

"It's been 2 years already, and this project I believe matures quite fast. In those two years SMS make a lot of good friends. I want to thank all of you, who are contributing – visibly or not – in any way you can to this project, and for all your kind words. A big THANK YOU to all of you." was stated in the official release announcement.

Highlights of Slack Mini Server 1.4.5:

  • Linux kernels
  • Dovecot 1.2.3
  • Dovecot-sieve 0.1.11
  • Apache 2.2.12
  • Apr 1.3.8
  • Apr-util 1.3.9
  • Fetchmail 6.3.11
  • MySQL 5.0.84
  • LibX11 1.2.2
  • Pixman 0.15.18
  • Samba 3.3.7
  • Bind 9.4.3_P3
  • Phpldapadmin 1.2.0
  • Cxxlibs 6.0.10
  • e2fsprogs 1.41.8
  • Nmap 5.00
  • getmail 4.9.2
  • iwlifi-4965 228.61.2
  • Gnupg2 2.0.12
  • dirmngr 1.0.3
  • libksba 1.0.6
  • DHCP 3.1.2p1
  • libXt 1.0.6
  • Subversion 1.6.4
  • GIT 1.6.4
  • Testdisk 6.11.3
  • Linux kernel headers
  • Linux kernel source
  • hal-info 20090716

Light and fast - I cannot wait to play with it as a virtual machine.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Acer Aspire easyStore H340

I came across the Acer Aspire easyStore H340 while surfing the Internet today. On the surface it looked like a pretty nice little atom based home server for about $400. 

Acer states: "Put your photos, music, video and important documents all in one place. The Aspire easyStore H340 Home Server holds up to 500,000 digital photos, 300,000 MP3 files and 4,285 hours of movies (based on 3MB per photo, 5MB per MP3 file and 350MB per hour playing time)."

"Protect you vital documents and precious family photos from PC or hard drive failure. The easyStore automatically saves a copy of important files from every computer connected to it."

Digging deeper into the specifications revealed this unit has a personality crisis, It is running Windows Home Server but as its name implies it is being sold as a simple NAS with a 1TB hard drive and backup capabilities vs. a full blown home server.

A review of the specifications also revealed its running on a Atom 230 single core processor, will only support Microsoft clients and can only accept a maximum of four 1TB drives. 4TB should be more than enough for home users but why put a limitation on drive size when 2TB drives are shipping?

The The new HP MediaSmart Server also has some of the same problems as the Acer easyStore. The LX195 has a $399 suggested retail price, runs Windows Home Server, and uses the Atom 230 processor, 1GB of RAM, 640GB 7,200-RPM hard drive, one Gigabit Ethernet port, and four USB ports. You can substitute the 640GB hard drive for a higher-capacity option, but the only way to add more storage is by adding USB external drives. No Serial ATA RAID in other words.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

More & More RAID

One of the things that sold me on using DL360 servers was the fact they already had hardware RAID and hot swappable SCSI drives. The HP hardware RAID is very easy to set-up via a bios utility. I made a simple RAID 1 array for the phone systems and I will probably do the same when I roll out an email server for him later on this year. This set-up makes it dead simple for anyone to rebuild the array by simply replacing the hard drive which only takes a minutes if you have spare drives already in caddies.

All my research on RAID was interesting but in reality a RAID 1 array is all I will probably need for a home server. RAID 5 and 1+0 would be an interesting mental exercise but is overkill for home purposes. This is additionally true since 1TB drives can be purchased for under $80 and 2TB drives for $200 USD now. The side benefit of only using two drives is a smaller case can used and electrical consumption will be reduced.

I still plan on using software RAID in my home server due to the cost factor.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Not Dead Yet

Wow, I was totally off the radar for a year. During that time I have learned a lot about Linux, RAID, backups, virtulization and servers in general.

The Intel Atom processor has really created numerous low power, small form factor server possibilities. Building a small home server using the dual processor Atom 330 makes a relatively high performance sub $300 home server a reality.

My brother-in-law asked me to put a phone system together for his small physical therapy practice. I once again evaluated the numerous asterisked based pbx solutions to see if any changes had occured and I still ended up selecting PBX In A Flash (PIAF) primarily due to its focus on security. It is also nice knowing I can post a message on the forums and get a very quick answer to my questions and in some cases directly from the creator himself! More on storage and email servers later....