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False start with Solaris 10 and ZFS

February 27th, 2007 Leave a comment Go to comments

I’m pretty stoked about ZFS. It’s got a lot of advantages over other filesystems. Frankly, any time you can get increased reliability with improved simplicity in the computer world, that’s a big win.

Since I’m switching to a MacBook for most of my daily computing, I really needed a file server to store all my big projects and media files. I’ve got 75GB in my iTunes library right now and it just won’t work to keep that on my laptop. I really wanted something with some redundancy (RAID5, Mirroring, etc.) so I could have a first line of defence in place in case backups are behind or unavailable.

Here are the options I’m considering…

  • Solaris 10 with ZFS
  • Linux w/ software RAID
  • Windows Home Server
  • Windows XP with JBOD

Solaris 10 has been my first choice because ZFS will be in Mac OS X 10.5 and I wanted to get an early look at it. I’m considering Linux so I can have a box to play around with Ubuntu on it. It’s also got a lot more hardware drivers than Solaris (more about that in a minute). Linux would also be interesting to run the SageTV or Myth backend server for recording TV. Windows Home Server looks interesting, but it relies on mirroring which is less efficient than RAIDZ or RAID5. And if all of that doesn’t work, I can always just share out a bunch of disks with Windows XP.

I decided to see how cheaply I could build a Solaris server, so I headed over to NewEgg.com to start putting together a list of parts. I decided on a ASUS P5GZ-MX motherboard with a Celeron D processor (~$110). I coupled that with 1GB of DDR2 PC4200 RAM and an Antec PSU for about $220 total (after a $30 MIR).

The micro ATX motherboard installed quickly in a spare tower case I had lying around. The LGA775 CPU mount was a little tight with the Intel retail cooler, but it snapped in just fine. The board has 4 SATA ports and 1 IDE port which worked out just great for the 4 250GB SATA drives and the one 120GB IDE drive I was going to use for this project. The SATA drives cost $260 total. So I’m at $480 for 750GB of redundant storage. Pretty nice.

But then I started running into problems. Solaris didn’t recognize the Intel GMA950 integrated graphics or the ethernet port on this board. I had an Intel Pro gigabit card available (awesome card, btw) and that was recognized immediately. But because Solaris installed without a NIC, I had to reinstall to get all the networking services running (easier than turning them back on by hand). Of course, then I couldn’t boot into Java Desktop or CDE. I tried configuring Xorg 7.2 to use the updated drivers, but with no luck. No big deal, I’ll just use the command line, right?

Fortunately, it did recognize the SATA ports, so I did get ZFS up and running with very little effort. ZFS is the bomb. I love it.

In the end, the incompatability with the graphics chip and the LAN chip convinced me that this wasn’t working and I needed to rethink the project. I’ve decided to start over with a motherboard that has better Solaris support. I’m returning the Intel parts and buying an ASUS M2NPV-VM board (love ASUS) coupled with an AMD Athlon 64 X2 3600+. I’m also getting DDR2 PC26400 RAM (always Corsair for me) which is faster, but more expensive. All in all, it’s going to cost about $100 more, but it should work much better. This board has a nVidia GeForce 6150 and I get a dual-core CPU. Overkill for a fileserver, but it could make the computer more useful if I decide to change its function later.

I’ll probably have the parts early next week, when I’ll post again about putting the box together and actually using ZFS with Mac and Windows clients.

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  1. scott
    March 3rd, 2007 at 23:21 | #1

    Found your site from the Macrumors Forums and your great write-up of ZFS. You seem confident that ZFS will be featured in 10.5… do we actually know this for sure?

    Also, please keep us updated on your solaris machine. I was trying to build one from spare parts earlier today but, for whatever reason, I couldn’t get it to recognize any hard drive other than the one the system was mounted on. I’m not familiar with *NIX outside of the Mac environment (i.e. the nitty gritty stuff that Mac OS doesn’t do for you) so I gave up, given the relativel) level…

    So yeah, please keep us updated… Tossing your blog in my RSS reader.

  2. March 4th, 2007 at 18:02 | #2

    ZFS is already in the developer builds of Leopard, so I expect to see it in the final release as well. It offers some real advantages over HFS+ that I’m pretty excited about. It’s not a bootable FS in Solaris or OS X yet, but the checksum features are great for storage.

    I’ll definitely post again about the Solaris box. I’m just waiting for newegg to process my returns on the Intel stuff before I order the AMD board with the nVidia GPU.

    Even though I decided to return the board for one that had better graphics support in Solaris, I was still able to mount all the drives and set up a ZFS pool using the onboard SATA ports. I’ll take the time to test it out a bit on the new hardware once that is in place.

  3. aboyko
    March 8th, 2007 at 20:31 | #3

    I’m planning to build a Solaris-based home media fileserver with the same Asus board and cheapo AMD X2 chip. Have you been looking at Solaris Express/OpenSolaris? In the next few weeks, ZFS on root filesystems (and Xorg 7.2, and maybe Xen) look like they’re going to pop out of the oven in SX:CR, which sounds like the right time for me to build. For home use, you can probably stand to be a little more bleeding edge than Solaris 10? (I say this with nearly no practical experience past one install each of S10 and SXCR.)

    The Asus board supports ECC RAM, too (unlike any graphics-integrated Intel boards I could find): did you consider using it for the fileserver? I obsess about data corruption maybe a little more than is healthy.

  4. March 8th, 2007 at 21:53 | #4

    @aboyko – I think you’re right to say that we can afford to be a little more adventurous with a home server. ZFS on root would be interesting, but I don’t plan to put anything on the boot drive except the OS. If it gets trashed, I can rebuild it quickly (I’m not going to mirror mine or anything).

    I didn’t know that the M2NPV-VM supports ECC – that’s pretty cool. I love Asus boards. I’m trying to go as cheap as possible here so I wouldn’t use it. I haven’t had problems with RAM in the past, so I’m hoping that ZFS itself and regular backups will help me avoid any serious problems with corrupted files.

    I hope you’ll come back and share what happens with your system as you build it.

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