Saturday, October 14, 2006

From servers to sushi

Today started out very frustrating but it got better.

This morning I was down in Wynnewood, PA at a client's office to install a new UPS and fix a misbehaving backup job. His "server" is a PC running Windows XP Pro (plenty for the 3 or 4 people in his office) and we'd been using SyncBack to backup his data partition to a Maxtor USB drive. The problem was that apparently SyncBack would to start recreating ghosts of directories that had been moved. I was baffled by this behavior, so I decided to just zap SyncBack and install Dantz Retrospect Express, which came with the Maxtor drive.
I was able to set it up to do a backup each night at 10:00 PM.

I was planning to get to a second client's office today to add a disk to their RAID 5 storage array, but didn't want to get started in the afternoon. I think I'll need to break and rebuild the array, then restore from backup, so that's something I'd like to start early on a Saturday.

Another project I'm working on for this client is a new mail server. Naturally, I wanted to build it using FreeBSD as described in my TechBuilder article. Unfortunately, trying to install FreeBSD 6.1 on a Dell SC430 is a good way to give yourself an ulcer.

Dell eliminated the PS/2 ports on the SC430, so you must use a USB keyboard. (It would've been nice of them to specify that on their website.) I tried using a PS/2 to USB adapter with my keyboard but the Dell only recognized it intermittently, even when poking around in the BIOS. And unfortunately, while FreeBSD supports USB keyboards, it only does so after you've installed it and made the appropriate entry in rc.conf. Grrrr.

So, I tried adding an Adaptec SATA card to Bagend -- which has PS/2 ports -- so that I could temporarily put the Dell's SATA drive in it, install FreeBSD, then move it back. Windows barfs when you try something like this but BSD and Linux can often handle it.

However, when I tried doing this the FreeBSD install kept hanging, repeatedly.

F*ck it, I give up. I did some googling and it looked like the SC430 is compatible with CentOS Linux, so I downloaded the Server Install CD for CentOS 4.4, burned it to disc in Nero, and installed it on the Dell without any difficulties. Yay. I'd stopped at MicroCenter on the way home from my first client to pick up the SATA controller card, and while there also grabbed a cheap Micro Innovations USB keyboard, which appears to work fine.

I have to say that while I remain a fan of FreeBSD for use on supported hardware, so far I'm quite impressed with CentOS. It's been several years since I last used a Red Hat-derivative and it doesn't seem as crufty as I'd remembered. I'm setting the box up in a manner similar to my FreeBSD article, using Johnny Hughes' guides. I'll still be using Postfix, Dovecot, and Squirrelmail, but may use Mailscanner in lieu of amavisd-new. I haven't decided yet.

A major reason I'm a fan of FreeBSD is the ports/packages system, which allows you to install and update software with a few commands in the shell. Created by Yellow Dog, yum serves an equivalent purpose on the modern Red Hat derivative Linux distros (e.g., Fedora and CentOS). It does a lot to keep you out of dependency hell, assuming that the app you need is in the yum repositories.

I want to get the box finished tomorrow since Monday I'll be flying to Chicago for the SCTE Business Services Symposium, and returning Wednesday evening. My current plan is to install it on site next Saturday.

Finally, I packed it in little after 1700 and went to dinner with Judith, the girls, and my MIL. We went to Minado, a Japanese buffet nearby. Holy moly that place is good. Excellent sushi and udon, along with a good selection of Japanese salads. We'll be back.

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