Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Foray into ZFS

So, as I was saying, I've installed OpenSolaris onto the old rig, which probably can't be called 'old' anymore because it's got a new motherboard, new RAM and a new CPU. I've discovered some things about OpenSolaris. It's a lot like Linux. It uses the Gnome GUI. Getting ZFS to work requires use of Terminal which is like a DOS box, only more useful, but is easy enough after a few online tutorials.

The PC has four hard drives all of different sizes. The first one accommodates the OpenSolaris install. The other three are all grouped together into a single partition that is both striped and mirrored and is also expandable! In layman's terms, it means this - those of you with large video/music/photo collections will be able to appreciate this: You have a folder shared across your network that any computer can access. It contains all your media. These are quite common now and are usually referred to as a Media Server or Home File Server. Normally when you run out of space on your hard drive you have a couple of options - delete something to make room or add another hard drive, the latter option being the one we're interested in. When you add another hard drive, you format it and share it as another folder on the network meaning you'll end up with folders like MOVIES1, MOVIES2, MUSIC.A-J, MUSIC.K-Z, etc... and that's just annoying. The ZFS feature in OpenSolaris allows you to "join" your hard drives together so that when you add another hard drive it simply creates more space on the partition. The hard drives don't even need to be the same size! On top of that, ZFS can sustain a hard drive failure, so if you have one of your hard disks crash, OpenSolaris will be able to rebuild the data that was stored on that crashed disk when you replace it with a new one!

This is very impressive technology, which is why I used so many exclamation marks. However, while there is a lot of documentation online on how to set up OpenSolaris and ZFS, getting it to play nice with my Macs over the network is insanely difficult and complicated.

OpenSolaris comes from a *nix background so it shares certain traits with UNIX, Linux and even OS X in some ways, but this very same *nix background brings with it a veritable Fort Knox of security features with dozens of User levels and Groups, and the vast majority of configuration options can only be accessed through a Terminal window using long and complicated commands. Needless to say, it's a steep learning curve for someone who hasn't had experience with Linux style operating systems and Joe Average can just forget about it.

It's a shame that getting network shares working on OpenSolaris isn't easier. Everything else was pretty much configured automatically. The network is there and configured, I can access the Internet with Firefox and can ping the other computers on the network. It came bundled with a few applications like Firefox and Thunderbird for e-mail, a package installer to get more software, a media player and everything on OpenSolaris works quite well... until you want to configure something on the system. Then it's that damn Terminal window again...

Although I've had it installed and running with ZFS for three days now, I've still yet to browse a single network share on the new OpenSolaris box, from either Windows or Mac.

Back to the forums I guess...

1 comment:

Mick Thackray said...

If OpenSolaris is anything like Ubuntu (community-wise), then you might find that they have a dedicated irc channel..where lots of knowledgable folks gather waiting for noobs to ask questions, so they can impress them with their 1337 skillz. It's definitely worth looking up..i went to the ubuntu channel when i was having some trouble and found some very helpful ppl