NAS upgrade on the way

It’s time to rebuild my server. Currently supporting two smartphones, a pair of high-powered desktops, two laptops and a variety of other devices scattered around the house, the lifespan of the Ubuntu server-powered machine in the basement has just about run out.

Not only is it running out of disk space, the space it does have badly needs re-organising. Now I know that it’s quite easy to upgrade the five-spindle EXT4-formatted RAID5 disk system in the self-built server but to be honest it’s more time and trouble than I have available to give. Also, the Ubuntu update system seems to have broken. Maybe they’ve moved where they put all the updates since I installed Ubuntu 8.10 but it no longer works and I can’t be bothered spending ages figuring out how to fix it.

Guess I’m not a pure hobbyist any more if I value my time so much that I don’t want to spend it in a dark basement tending an Ubuntu server as it rebuilds its RAID stripes.

When I first set up the server, it was designed to provide more than just storage. It would be the digital hub, functioning as as server for DHCP (IP address serving) NTP (time), VPN termination (using OpenVPN so I could log in from anywhere), and a half-dozen other things that I thought we’d need. Actually we don’t need most of that stuff. Turns out we really just need some central storage, properly managed.

Trouble is it’s not very well managed, in that it consists of five 500GB drives in one case providing about 2TB and an Iomega RAID (kindly donated) box with 1.4TB. They’re connected over the network using NFS to tie the Iomega into the main server’s directory hierarchy. All that’s shared using CIFS for the Windows boxes and AFP for the Apple machines.

The folder structure’s a mess though and the disks need upgrading both because they’ve been sitting there spinning away for over two years in an increasingly dense cloud of cobwebs — can’t keep the bugs out of the server as it’s the warmest thing down there in the winter — and because the volumes of data that video can gobble never ceases to amaze.

So it’s time to upgrade and rebuild it using bigger disks (4 x 2TB I think) and an off-the-shelf storage appliance such as FreeNAS. That way I don’t have too much support to do, costs are contained, and the functions it doesn’t have I don’t really need. I’m also going to build it on top of VMware’s ESX hypervisor (I’ll use my old PC’s motherboard and Intel Core Due CPU as the hardware for this) so if it needs more functionality (which I doubt) then I can just create and fire up a virtual machine.

So far, I’ve acquired an ESX-compliant network card (Intel PRO/1000 CT) and a low-end graphics card (with VGA out for my Adderlink IP remote KVM device that allows me to log in directly to the server from the office), and a 2TB drive that will act as a sink for the data before I move it all over to FreeNAS.

Watch this space for more – and maybe even a review or two.

Guidance for upgrading to Windows 7 RTM

The purpose of this post is to help you start with a copy of the Windows 7 RTM code and upgrade an existing installation, especially if you installed the Windows 7 release candidate.

Note that this is not a detailed how to – there’s plenty of those on the Web already, and anyway it’s really not that difficult. Instead, this is a list of some of the gotchas that could put a spoke in the smooth ride that Microsoft promises but so often fails to deliver. Rule one: be patient…

1. Copy the installation files onto your hard disk. It’s faster than installing from a DVD and allows you to make a small tweak that you’ll need if you’re upgrading from the Windows 7 RC (release candidate) as I did. Even better, install from a second hard disk or a USB stick, as this will speed things further.

2. Get a proper copy of the OS and check the files are all valid. If you don’t do this, you could get a third of the way through the process only for the installation process to throw up an error because it couldn’t read a file. That’s annoying.

3. If you’re upgrading from the release candidate of Windows 7, then you need to make a small alteration to \Sources\cversion.ini, as an in-place upgrade, as opposed to a fresh installation, is not officially supported. However, it does work without problems if you do the following:
i) Open cversion.ini with Notepad. This is what you’ll see:

ii) Alter the first line so it reads:

iii) Save the file. That’s it.

4. Start the installation and load up your patience.

5. After a few prompts, the system will tell you that it doesn’t need your attention: effectively, it’s telling you to go away and come back in a while. If you’re upgrading an existing installation, that timescale is longer than you think. I left it running overnight and it took over six hours to copy across an installation of several hundred gigabytes. Don’t be tempted to reboot if it seems to be doing nothing at the start of the ‘Transferring settings’ section.

6. If you do reboot before the process completes, check the logs in the c:\$WINDOWS.~BT\Sources\Panther folder, especially setupact.log, to find out why it failed. There’s a workaround available here for an installation that gets stuck around 61%-62%. The system should then roll back to your original OS – it worked three times for me after rebooting at different points in the installation process, despite the dire warnings about doing so.

7. Why might you want to do this?
i) Your Win7 RC licence key runs out in June 2010
ii) The release candidate manifested a few glitches
iii) The release candidate certainly included some debug code, slowing things down.

Each of these three reasons is a good one to get onto the RTM code asap – together they’re compelling. Unless of course you decide that Windows 7 is not for you and you want to go run Ubuntu…