Checkpoint: FreeNAS Edition

Checkpoint: FreeNAS Edition

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I still need to purchase a storage drive for my new PC — specifically a 500 GB SSD for $140 or so — but I’m effectively done tinkering with it. Focus was shifted to the home server which has been running on a Core 2 Quad system running Windows Server 2012 R2 and FlexRAID. It always felt like a hack job to me.

In order to facilitate Apple Time Machine needs, I installed NAS4Free in Hyper-V. It works but not without toggling the save states in order to get it to boot properly. FlexRAID became a bit of a pain to manage as cleanup tasks were failing to complete requiring me to suspend the Hyper-V VM. There’s also the reality of it being old tech and consuming so much power during idle.

It was time to move on and I was itching to attempt my home server setup.

The Dream

I was hoping to install VMWare ESXi 6 hypervisor with a FreeNAS VM accessing the physical disks and another VM running Windows Server 2012. Ideally, this would be accomplished with Intel’s VT-d Technology but I was hoping VMWare figured out a way to allow access to the physical disks by “passing the entire storage controller“. Turns out that wasn’t the case and I wasn’t able to figure out how to just pass the SATA controller to the VM. I was considering Raw Device Mapping hack but it’s not recommended by the community or FreeNAS themselves.

I had to check it out for myself though and it wasn’t easy. The Gigabyte GA-H55M-USB3’s onboard NIC and secondary storage controller were’t recognized by default and required a custom ISO. Once everything was in place, I was able to confirm that my dream was dead.

Plan B

FreeNAS gained the ability to host virtual machines through phpVirtualBox. It’s not a type 1 hypervisor but it’s better than nothing. Like with VMWare ESXi, the plan was to install FreeNAS on a USB stick so I could maximize the storage controllers on my motherboard. Installation was easy but my PC stopped POSTing with the power LED blinking.

That was strange. I’ve never seen this kind of behavior before. Thinking it was a PSU problem, I spent an hour or so swapping power supplies with my old server and rewired everything. Same behavior. Was it memory? I tried removing all but one DIMM. Was it the motherboard or the CPU? Then I started unplugging hard drives and eventually the USB with FreeNAS installed. A successful boot.

There’s an incompatibility between Gigabyte’s EFI and FreeBSD installed on a USB that prevents the motherboard from booting. After a half hour or so of unsuccessful tinkering with GDisk, I installed GParted and simply turned on the boot flag on the second partition. (Pro-tip: GParted doesn’t boot with ATI Mach64 or RAGE 3D cards)

An Impressive Start

FreeNAS is impressive once you read the documentation. It could be more streamlined and user friendly but the bottom line is that FreeNAS works. I’m still tweaking things but being able to manage so much with just a web interface is admirable. I haven’t installed a VirtualBox VM yet but I’m willing to bet it’s easy as pie (after I read some documentation).

Checkpoint: Not According to Plan Edition

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Don’t you hate it when things don’t fall into place?

With the new PC wrapped up (post about it tomorrow) and all the hard drives in, I decided to work on the home server. My plan to use NAS4Free running in a Hyper-V VM didn’t pan out. I didn’t realize that NAS4Free/FreeBSD didn’t have the necessary SCSI drivers for Hyper-V.

My fall back plan was to use VMWare Player or Oracle VirtualBox. The former worked but I couldn’t map to physical disks. Oracle VirtualBox allows all five physical disks to be mapped but it seems to crash often. I performed a factory reset and will perform the ZFS pool creation one more time. If it causes me grief I may have to resort to using virtual disks on individual drives.

This sucks.

I am tempted to scrap the whole NAS4Free/FreeNAS idea and look into unRAID, FlexRAID or something along those lines.

I was hoping to either wrap up Persona 4: Arena or Fire Emblem: Awakening this weekend but made little progress towards that goal as well. There’s a lot more grinding involved in Fire Emblem than I originally anticipated.

Checkpoint: VMWare ESXi Out. Hyper-V In? Edition

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I had an Evernote page filled with links of possible solutions to my VMWare ESXi hardware compatibility problems. I found posts detailing how ICH8 and Marvell onboard NIC compatibility issues were addressed with custom oem.tgz files for ESXi 4. I was hoping to adapt them for ESXi 5 but unfortunately that didn’t pan out at all.

I discovered ESXi 5 introduced a new driver format; drivers now need to come in a VIB format. Unfortunately due to the age of the hardware, no one has bothered to provide VIB support for ICH8 or older Marvell chipsets.

So where does this leave me? I could get everything working with VMWare ESXi 5 if I bought a new compatible PCI-E storage controller and a new gigabit card. The downside is that I have to spend over $125 to get compatible hardware and I’m not willing to spend more money on this server. I already gave it more RAM and a Core 2 Quad Q9300.

From a software standpoint I could install Windows Server 2012 and just use Storage Spaces or FlexRaid. However, I’m weary about using Storage Spaces and FlexRaid costs $60 for a complete license.

I could also go down the Type 2 hypervisor path and use VMWare Player/Workstation or Oracle VirtualBox on top of Windows Server 2012. Then as I was reviewing virtualization solutions, I recalled Microsoft had its own: Hyper V which is apparently a Type 1 hypervisor like ESXi.

Windows Server 2012 supports Hyper V so there’s no additional cost on that front. It also supports UNIX guest operating systems running FreeBSD 9 or above which means NAS4Free should work just fine. I wish I could test it on my current homeserver but I cannot even install the role due to the lack of VT-d support. I will need to wait for the Q9300 processor and new home server before I could proceed.

There will be more waiting before this home server solution is realized.

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Checkpoint: Certified Linux Admin Edition

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I’m now a Red Hat Certified System Administrator. It wasn’t something I sought out; I was offered the opportunity and said: why not? Even after this first certification (going to take the RHCSE in a week) I’m still not a big fan of Linux in a role other than server.

User friendliness and compatibility with games I care about is a big road block for me. Red Hat, Fedora and CentOS distributions are just not very user friendly. Ubuntu is superior in the friendliness department but it too doesn’t supplant Windows or Mac OS X in my books. As for game compatibility? That’s a huge issue at the moment — even id Software who were big supporters of Linux in the past didn’t release a version of RAGE on Linux. If I were to pick a Unix based OS to switchover to, I would choose Mac OS X. At least Apple’s operating system is actually on the radar of high profile game developers.

I haven’t incorporated a Linux distribution into my home network and I don’t have any plans to do so. If/when I go through with my VMWare project, I’m planning to run it with FreeNAS, Mac OS X and Windows Server 2012 but since Plex Media Server is working so well with Windows Server 2012, I don’t know if that’s going to happen any time soon.

I just finished the last level of Rayman: Origins but I’m not 100% done with the game. It’s one of those titles that I’m going to 100%. I have Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, God of War: Ascension, Tomb Raider and a copy of BioShock: Infinite coming but I’m still playing Rayman.

Oh and Mechwarrior: Online. I can’t put that down either.

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