setting up a home file server : the saga

DISCLAIMER: The following saga is a recollection of events from 2/26/11 to 3/2/11.  There are no specific time codes, and each moment felt like an eternity.

Almost immediately getting started into the software part, I find out that I need to adjust my goals.  Instead of having a (simple?) single RAID5 array that everything lives on – since the hardware RAID card was over my budget, I will need to partition my HDDs like the following;

  • RAID1 over 3 HDDs for /boot
  • RAID1 over 3 HDDs for /
  • RAID5 over 3 HDDs for media storage(no mount point)
  • 8GB swap partition in each of the HDDs(more on this later)

My reasoning for a RAID1 partition for /boot and / (root) is because

  • if any of the HDDs fail, I want to guarantee that there is a /boot and / present on every HDD
  • I wanted to make this very simple(my first RAID array!) by placing one RAID array component per HDD.  I see no point in having 2 components of a RAID array reside on the same HDD – if the HDD goes, then it takes out both partitions.

The latest linux installation has been Ubuntu, so I figure I’ll give that a shot.  In the past, I was able to successfully install Fedora/Ubuntu/DSL via USB thumbdrive, so this time should be no different.  should be.

It seems like the 64 bit Ubuntu 10.10 sever iso has some issue where it can’t find files when it’s burned/loaded from a thumbdrive.  Strange.  I’ll fall back to using Ubuntu 64 bit Desktop.  The desktop version also has a live version that offers a “try-before-you-buy” type deal.  With the use of persistent storage, I also installed mdadm onto this live desktop version.

Set up the RAID array via the Disk Utility and then double clicked the “install to HD” link.  After an hour and a half, I rebooted the system to find… nothing.  The system won’t boot.

Writing this off as a one-time odd occurrence, I tried re-installing.  It failed.  Another couple of hours down the drain.

Tried a different distro – Damn Small Linux.  Did not boot.

Tried Fedora – installation went smooth(the wizard RAID option whereas I could not do that from the live Desktop version).  Rebooted the system.  GRUB error.  Turns out Fedora that I used uses GRUB whereas Ubuntu has GRUB2.  During install, I would have 2 errors;

  • Ubuntu server could not find the kernel to install (?!?!?!)
  • GRUB could not be installed onto my devices(???)

The first one was more shocking, the second one was… curious.

The girlfriend comes to the rescue with a Ubuntu server 10.10 DVD – it has RAID modules already included.  I’m re-interested in Ubuntu again(close to Debian, largest repo, similar to n900 development environment, etc.).

Managed to score a SATA to IDE cable (I’ve relied solely on USB thumbdrives to work as reusable DVDs for years) and popped it in.

Recreated the RAID arrays, re-installed Ubuntu server.  This time feels lucky(the RAID partition wasn’t screwy like when it was between Ubuntu Desktop/Fedora.  I can see the /dev/md* devices whereas I could not in Ubuntu Desktop/Fedora(what was going on during those installs??)

Did some reading up – the RAID is no longer suspect, but I have errors with GRUB2+booting.

Finally figured out the culprit: enabled Expert Mode via F6 in Ubuntu server install screen.  By going through “regular” mode, it seems that Ubuntu was defaulting to GPT parition tables for my 2TB HDDs on my Gigabyte ga E-350n motherboard(has BIOS).

By enabling Expert Mode, I’m given the option of selecting partition table scheme when repartitioning my disks.  selected msdos.  Partitioned and set up my RAID arrays again(identical as the last 10-20 times I re-installed it).

Ubuntu server install states that it could NOT find the kernel to install.  GULP.

Ubuntu was able to install GRUB correctly.  YES!  One problem gone.

A quick check on the ‘net gets me the necessary command to install a kernel.  Booted from Ubuntu server installation disk -> Recover Broken System->got the system to mount /dev/md1(RAID 1 OS) as root.

ran the following command to download and install a kernel;

apt-get install linux-image-$(uname -r)

rebooted the system and it BOOTED!!  SUCCESS!!

… after the moment of elation, I entered

apt-get install ubuntu-desktop

…~450MB to download.  But at least it boots!

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