Another weekend hacking away

13/02/11 | by admin [mail] | Categories: Hardware

So, I found a nice book called Linux Sysadmin Recipes which covers a range of practical solutions and tools for administering Linux (and *nix) servers. It's the kind of good practical hints and tips that are really needed.

Anyway, one of the things Juliet Kemp suggests is to set up a wiki for managing documentation. A wiki has a number of strengths that make it quite useful for this. It is web accessible, meaning you can access it from any web browsers (more or less), and perhaps more usefully, make it accessible (in full or part) to other IT staff and end users. So, you can do something useful like document how to set up an email client, or VPN service, and your junior IT staffers and end users can read the info from their web browser. And by putting the info in one place, you can update it in one place, and everyone has access to the current version. And you can keep the more complex internal documents restricted to the appropriate staff.

The wiki can act as documentation, and knowledge base, and different users can be given different access. You can integrate authentication into your existing LDAP (or other directory service) and make it internal and/or internet facing. If you have multiple IT staff, they can update the documentation as needed, and since a history is kept, you can see the changes and who made them.

All in all, a very useful tool.

So, Juliet suggest mediawiki, which is very similar to the old wikipedia layout. Mediawiki requires a database backend (the usual suspects) PHP5, and a webserver (supported is IIS, Apache). I decided to try an install on 10.4.11 server, as I'd recently acquired a couple of cheap 10.4 licences, and 10.5/10.6 Server have their own wiki services built in.

First up was setting up a virtualised Mac OS X Server. More challenging than it appears. First attempt was with VMware Fusion 3. I used the 10.5 profile, and installed from a 10.4.7 iso. Install went ok, config went ok, update to 10.4.11 et al went ok. Open a terminal and type mysql -V and the VM hang. Interesting, reboot and try again. Same thing. Re-install to 10.4.7 and same thing, update to 10.4.11 et al and same thing.

So, no luck with vmware. I decided to cut my losses and try VirtualBox.

VirtualBox is maybe not as nice, but is a little more 'flexible'. So, go through the install routine under VirtualBox, and config, and update, and test and it works.

Now, 10.4.11 comes with PHP 4.4.9, so to run the current release of MediaWiki, I will need to update to PHP5, with the appropriate mods for Apache 1.3 (or else also update Apache to Apache2 on Tiger). Luckily, the guys at have already built PHP 5 for Mac OS X. But on 10.4.11, only version 5.2. But it will work, so I download, and install, and follow the instructions to disable the php4 module for Apache in Server Admin Web service.

Restart the web service, make a test page index.php with a print statement and the phpinfo() function and confirm that PHP5 is installed and working.

The next step is MySQL. The tools for starting/configuring MySQL are in /Applications/Server in 10.4. It's nice that they decided to integrate it into Server Admin in 10.5. I start the service, and set a mysql root password.

Good to go? Not quite. The PHP5 module references the default socket for mysql, which is /tmp/mysql.sock, rather than /var/mysql/mysql.sock. This need to be changed in the php.ini file, which is in a different location since PHP5 has installed into /usr/bin/local rather than overwrite PHP4. Which is a good thing, just takes a little hunting around to find it.

I updated the php.ini file, restarted apache, and checked my test php page to see if it the updated mysql socket details have come across.

Everything is ok, so I download and extract the mediawiki tarball, and set up a website to point at it, and create and chmod a config folder. And run through the install. No issues. Copy the created conf file to the web root, and we're up and running.

It works.

Is it worth it? Or is 10.5/10.6 wiki easier to deal with? It's a little bit of work, and I'd only recommend it if you needed to run it on 10.4. If you have 10.5/10.6, then it is far less effort to install (enable php5 module, start mysql, set up a website to point at the extracted mediawiki folder), although still a little more effort than setting up the wiki service. The 10.5/10.6 wiki is better looking by default.

Assuming you were installing this on a hosted service, with only FTP and phpMyAdmin (and php5/apache etc), then it is very doable. All files can be uploaded, moved, created, manipulated with any decent ftp client, and phpMyAdmin will allow you to manually create the databases if you don't have the mysql root password.

One of the things this experience does underline, though, is some of OS X's weakness compared to Linux. Installing an updated version of PHP on any major distro of Linux, is near trivial. Indeed, updating Apache and MySQL is fairly trivial, too. If I had wanted or needed the current version of PHP (5.3.5), then I would have had to build from source, which would mean digging around for the source and instructions. Macports does have 5.3.5, although it is not clear if it apache2 only.


Another RAID failure

03/02/11 | by admin [mail] | Categories: Hardware

Actually, this is two stories. A client had a mirror RAID die on them about 4 months ago, but could not be convinced to spend the money on a second drive (about $100) to replace the failed drive and rebuild the mirror. So, 4 months later the other drive failed. And they had to pay for 2 hours labour to recover the data, luckily they had a relatively current Time Machine backup. And they were down for days.

This underlines the earlier point that similar drives have similar failure rates. If you build a RAID with identical drives, expect the 2nd drive to failure not long after the first, and if you build a RAID-5 with identical drives, you are asking for trouble.

The second story is about an external RAID-5 box. A couple of clients have had these. They are a nice idea. An external device that does RAID 5, and connects to the host with eSATA, USB, Firewire etc, and does all the building itself. What they offer is a self contained and reliable storage. However, my experience with these devices is that they aren't quite reliable enough. In one instance there was a brief power outage causing the RAID box to report itself as failed (the server etc came back up without issue). It necessitated an onsite, and re-reading the config from the drives. In the second case, the RAID box was powered down over the christmas break, and on restart reported itself as faulty, necessitating an onsite and same procedure of re-reading the config from the drive.

This RAID box failed at the core task of a RAID, reliability and continuity. In both cases, no data was lost, but time was lost. If the device fails at one of its core duties, it fails as a product.


Xserve discontinued.

20/01/11 | by admin [mail] | Categories: Hardware, Mac

Apple has decided to discontinue the Xserve. They say because it was a money losing product. They are offering Mac Pros with OS X Server and Mac Minis with OS X Server as alternatives.

I'm not sure what to make of the decision to discontinue the Xserve. The Xserve was a real server product, with a 1U form factor and redundant components, built for the enterprise and datacentre. If you are looking for a Mac Server for uptime critical applications, there is no alternative. If you need 1U formfactor computers for collocation, then you can try the Mac Mini and hope they don't fail too often.

Certainly, for smaller workgroups (design departments within enterprises, or small to medium business), the Mac Mini or Mac Pro are real alternatives.

The Mac Pro is more expandable, and can be connected to a Promise RAID, SAN or other Fibre Channel or eSATA devices, but it is a whopping 7U of space. If you are paying by RU (as is usual in most collocations) then this will cost considerably more. If you are interested in HPC or clusters, then you might need a little more room (although the Mac Pro does have superior cooling, so you might save some space there).

The Mac Mini Server is good for smaller tasks, we have installed them in offices of 10 users, and as single service devices (mail services). However, with their lack of expansion and Core 2 Duo processors, they aren't much use where you need lots of storage or lots of power. They aren't too good for running virtual machines, for instance.

Neither the Mac Mini nor the Mac Pro offer redundant power supplies. You can use a UPS, but the power supply in the computer will still be a single point of failure. This means downtime.

Neither the Mac Mini nor the Mac Pro offer hot swappable storage. This means downtime.

Apart from the technical, the other thing dropping the Xserve does is send a message that Apple is no longer interested in the enterprise, indeed is not interested in the clusters used for video production and CGI. The question remains whether Apple will continue to ship its server software and XSAN. If Apple is moving away from the enterprise, should the enterprise be moving away from Apple?


Mac OS X 10.6.6

10/01/11 | by admin [mail] | Categories: Hardware, Software, Mac, OSX

So Apple decided to release 10.6.6 the day after I installed my CalDigit USB 3 card. This is an issue because USB 3 is very new, and the drivers (kexts) are still not completely solid. CalDigit released an updated version of their driver for 10.6.5 (and make you jump through some hoops to get it), since the driver broke with the 10.6.5 update. Their current (10 Jan) recommendation is not to update to 10.6.6 until they have done their tests (and probably released a new driver). Update: a new driver is available.

So, the Mac Pro is on 10.6.5 for the meantime, but the Mac Mini is on 10.6.6. I've tried out the app store on the Mac Mini and downloaded an app. The nice thing is it is a little easier to search and find stuff than The downside is that it requires 10.6.6, many of the apps cost money (interestingly the AUD prices are STILL much higher than the USD equivalents despite the exchange rates). And the fact that Apple can now easily track what you download and where you install based on your AppStore account.

The good news is that you can copy some apps from the Mac where they were downloaded to another Mac without issues. So, set up a Mac with the account, and then copy the apps (many ways to do this) to however many other Macs you like.


Debian on a Via Epia

10/01/11 | by admin [mail] | Categories: Hardware, Software, Linux

I mentioned that I also installed Debian on a Mini-ITX box, specifically it is a VIA Epia with a 533MHz Eden CPU, and nearly all you need integrated (as mini-itx boards normally are). I bought it a little while ago from someone who had assembled 95% of the parts to make an ADSL/WiFi router, but gave up on it. All it needed was a case/psu, which cost about as much as the board and bits I had already purchased. The other small problem was that it only had 256MB RAM. Not really enough. But since I had just upgraded the Cube, I took the two spare 256MB chips and bumped the RAM up in the MiniITX to 512MB.

I had previously attempted to install 3 or 4 distros (Fedora, SUSE, Mandriva etc) on this box, but had a variety of issues, ranging from the installer not running (or halting part way through), installing but then going into a restart loop, or installing and then not doing anything. This is probably due to the fact I was using current distros on a rather old board. So, back to old faithful Debian, which goes out of its way to support obsolete hardware like this.

I used a 5.0.4 DVD to install and only two little snags during the install: the Intel wireless card needed nonfree firmware (very simple to do), and half way through the pre-install config, the font died and turned to the default square boxes for all chars. Fortunately, I found screen shots of the install online and could work my way through the rest of the config. Installed ok.

At some point I will need to configure the WiFi on the MiniITX box, and put it in an appropriate location. I'm thinking to play around with kismet.


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