“Tonight in your dreams you must look at your hands.”
Carlos Castaneda

Journey to Ixtlan

Homemade RAID (Part 3) – Ubuntu Server Installation

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After all the searching and reading I ended up choosing Ubuntu Server as the operating system for my RAID server. I am not technically savvy enough to compare the nuances of the different Linux distributions (I can’t even name them all – there are quite a few). The runner up was a solution called FreeNAS. This is a distribution that includes a minimal operating system which includes the software components required to setting up a NAS (Network Attached Storage) device on a minimal PC. FreeNAS is probably an overall simpler solution but I decided to go with Ubuntu because:

  1. It was bundled with everything I needed in one installation package.
  2. I wanted an operational machine that I could use as a Server for a LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) development environment.
  3. I wanted to experience the Ubuntu office-user desktop.
  4. I really liked the spirit behind the Ubuntu organization. I have made numerous technological choices over the years that in the end were  decided by the personal qualities of the people behind the technologies. I have yet to regret such a decision. As of this writing, Ubuntu seems to be delivering a similar experience.

Installing Ubuntu

General Notes

  1. I installed Ubuntu 8.04 LTS Server Edition and everything written her pertains to it.
  2. I am not an expert with Linux or with Ubuntu (this is my first encounter with them). Some of my choices and tips may be disputable by professionals who know better. These are simply the actions I took that seemed to work for me. I cannot vouch for them being the correct/best/optimal solution.
  3. Search the internet. There are vast sources of information on almost every problem I encountered. Be patient and be playful. I am not setting up a critical server and I have faith in Ubuntu. I was willing to try things out and see what happens without researching everything to the root causes.

Everything you need to get started with Ubuntu can be found on their www.ubuntu.com.  On the download page make sure to select the server edition. You will download an ‘.iso’ file which is an image file that needs to be burned onto a CD. f you don’t know what this is you will find instructions on at the download page. Follow them and you are set to go.

You should end up with a bootable Ubuntu Server CD. Make sure that your server is configured to boot from the CD and that the boot priority is set to CD first (so if you have an OS installed on your hard drive you don’t boot from it). I did not document all the steps of the installation because it is very straightforward. Simply follow the directions on screen. Some points you might want to look out for:

  1. Have your server connected to your internet connection (router/switch) – you will probably need to download additional software from the internet during installation. The network is automatically identified and configured by the Ubuntu installation.
  2. You will be prompted for a ROOT password. Remember that password.
  3. You will be asked if you want to install the LAMP (Apache, MySQL, PHP) application into the server. If you do not need these you can skip their installation. You can always add them at a later time. I did expect to experiment with them so I decided to include them in the installation.
  4. I am not sure if I was asked if I want to install SAMBA. SAMBA is an application that enables Windows users to access the files stored on the LINUX file-system. If you are have Windows machines that are going to access the server, and if you are asked about this than include it in the installation.
  5. The first installation I did seemed to get stuck at one point. It was trying to connect to some internet resource (I think it was a ‘catalog’ servers that as I understand it lists compatible packages that can be installed) seemed to be unresponsive. When I did a search on this (I was using my laptop to do this since my main screen was now connected to the server instead of the desktop) I found one suggestion that this may take 15-20 minutes to resolve. I did not wait – I restarted the installation and the second time around it went smoothly.

Now What?

Welcome to the core of an operating system. If this is your first time encountering a command prompt – then welcome to the real thing. This is what an operating system looks like. All the comfortable graphic windows are actually an application that runs on top of the operating system. Your Ubuntu Server installation does not have fancy graphics because it is intended to be a server. It is considered good practice to keep servers with a minimal installation for both security and performance purposes. But my server is not that kind of server and I really want to get more comfortable.So the first thing is to install a graphic desktop.

Type these two command at your command line prompt (wait for the first to finish before running the second):

sudo apt-get install ubuntu-desktop
sudo apt-get install gdm

Ubuntu desktop, as its name implies is the desktop environment. It will include everything you need (an x-windows desktop, Firefox web browser, Open Office) and then some. GDM is required so that your server boots directly into the x-windows environment. After installation restart your machine by typing:

sudo shutdown -r now

Feel Better?

I won’t go much into the desktop environment – but I would offer some tips on getting around:

  1. Root is an all powerful user that is built into the system. It can do things that other users cannot. Root cannot login to the x-Windows GUI.
  2. Accessing the shell (command prompt) now that we have ‘lost it’ to the GUI. To toggle to the command prompt press Ctrl+Shift+F1. To toggle back to the desktop GUI press Ctrl+Shift+F7. If you feel adventurous you will find that you can open additional shell windows by using Ctrl+Shift+F2 through to Ctrl+Shift+F6. You can access the Root user only through the shell command line.
  3. Another alternative for accessing the shell within the GUI is Applications -> Accessories -> Terminal. The shell will open with the same user with which you access the GUI.
  4. A simple tool for adding & removing software packages can be found in Applications -> Add/Remove.
  5. A more advanced tool for adding & removing software packages can be found in system -> Administration -> Synaptic Package Manager.
  6. Run Application – Alt+F2. Specifically get used to the application ‘gksudo nautilus’ (yes its two words). This is a file browser that you can use to access Root files from within the x-Windows GUI. It is able to go beyond the logged in user permissions with all the benefits of GUI.

Try your luck in adding an application you may need – GParted – Gnome Partition Manage. Find it (in either tool), select it and click OK. It’s that simple.

Final Preparations

Open up your Firefox browser and add http://linux-raid.osdl.org/index.php/RAID_setup to your favorites you will need it. I also suggest you start reading it. I did numerous times before actually setting up my RAID.

Install the software package needed for RAID setup. It is called MDADM. To install it either look it up in the Synaptic Package Manager and select it or switch to the shell and login as root and enter the following command line:

sudo apt-get install mdadm

Coming next – preparing your hard drives & partitions for RAID and understanding the basics of Linux devices

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