OS Quest Trail Log #58: Snow Edition

Snowy Trees

The first two months of the year are just about history and there hasn’t been much activity on the Quest. I can’t blame the record snowfalls for that. And the good news is the ground is again visible in places. There haven’t been any changes to my Ubuntu Home Server, but it has gotten some heavy use and I’m reaching an inflection point where I’ll have to make a decision. Then there was the recent replacement of my Motorola Droid with the Verizon iPhone. As if the iPhone didn’t give me enough Apple products, I also just added a 13″ Macbook Air to my collection.

Ubuntu Home Server

My Ubuntu server has been rock solid, even after having a bookcase fall on it. Yea, that’s right, it was next to a wire rack that was a overloaded with books and stuff. I recognized the potential problem and had just pull the first books off when it collapsed and knocked the running server over. The server kept right on running, although I did shut it down for the cleanup. It seemed no worse off after the near disaster.

The only other minor problem had came a couple days ago when I noticed file copies from the server were extremely slow. Everything seemed OK but I went ahead and rebooted it. After the reboot I did noticed that both the OS mirror and the data drive RAID array where doing a rebuild. In both cases it looked like they had temporarily lost a drive as the status indicated a faulty drive was being rebuilt. Performance was good during the rebuild process, file copies were back to normal. The re-sync happened quicker than I expected and even the large data array finished the re-sync by the next morning. This wasn’t caused immediately by the collapsing bookcase as they were a couple weeks apart and all was fine during that time, but I did find one drive’s power cable became loose. This happened to be an extension cable I had questions about since it’s connect was heavy and wasn’t a tight fit, so I a added buying a replacement to my shopping list.

I’ve also pretty much filled the home server to capacity, using 85% of my 13 TB of available space. Added to this is I’m pretty well maxed out my available space for backups. So it time to make some decisions. I do have the hardware necessary to add storage to the server, but it would be in the external cage that had originally been with my WHS v1 box, I’d prefer to avoid needing a external box for storage, although it remains an option. So that leaves reducing my drive usage which is seeming like a better idea the more I consider it. Currently my video library is on the server in uncompressed form, while nice an convenient it’s overkill for most videos. But encoding them in a new format will take time. Currently the backup is split between my old Windows Home Server box and my Drobo, both of which are at capacity. I do have spare drives I could use but that would require me to do and manage the backups manually, which means I might as well not do them.

The recent release of the Windows Home Server 2011 Release Candidate solidifies things for that option, and it doesn’t seem so bad. Drive management will still be more complicated but performance over WHS v1 should be better. My existing hardware RAID controller provides the redundancy for the data I need to be reliably available, while my video library and other non-essential files can be on non-redundant drives. If the drives fail I can wait to recover the files from the backup. The Windows Home Server backup, while it seems lame (2TB limit on drives to be backed up) on the surface may actually work for my video library which doesn’t change much. Worst case is my video library gets manually backed up to bare drives like it did in the past. So high on my to do list is to install the Windows Home Server 2011 Release Candidate on my test machine so I can take it for a spin.

Despite a couple hiccups Ubuntu has been reliable but WHS may be better suited to my needs and my existing hardware can handle it. Ubuntu’s requirements are considerably less than WHS, but I sized the server in preparation for WHS so there won’t be any need to add horsepower. While Ubuntu appeals to the geek in me, Window Home Server will win in the ease of use category which is the primary concern for my daily data server. I still have virtual and test machines for running Ubuntu.

I downloaded the release candidate last night and hope to install it on a test server within the next few days.

Macbook Air

I gave into my impulses and bought a Macbook Air a couple weeks ago. It’s the 13″ model, with the base 2GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD drive. It’s a strange machine, the specs are low-end but it performs better than any other laptop I’ve used, even those with new processors. The SSD drive makes all the difference. I found myself running a Windows 7 Virtual machines, a couple different browsers (with multiple tabs each) and a half dozen other apps, all without a problem or delay switching between them and using the foreground app. In this case none of the apps where running background processes (except maybe an occasional sync to another PC). The Air easily switched between the apps and had the horsepower for the app I was using. Switching between Spaces is also nice and brisk.

The Macbook Air quickly became my “couch PC” due to it’s light weight. (I’m using it now.) I haven’t done any traveling in the short time I had it but with it’s long battery life and light weight I suspect I’ll be likely to carry it more than more previous laptops and will be more likely to use it. The nearly instant on also makes it feasible to use when I only have a couple minutes.

On the Agenda

I’m looking for a simple and low cost backup solution for my parent’s PC. Currently they back up to Mozy for offsite backup and data is copied to a second local drive. After a recent PC problem it became apparent that I needed an image type backup. Recently they had a PC problem and when restoring from Mozy the files were duplicated (due to the default to rename existing files on a restore). Cleaning this up was a hassle, especially since I couldn’t just delete the directories and replace them. It would have been nice to have a Home Server type backup where I could grab the entire directory tree and be sure to get every file that was there at the time of the backup.

I may just give them a small Windows Home Server that just does backups but that another computer that they need to keep running. When I built the PC I included an internal hard drive to use for backups so I may try to find some software that can use that. But I need more than a simple image, I need it to have some history as a problem may not be noticed before the backup image is overwritten. What I need is Time Machine for Windows. Any suggestions?

Between looking for the backup alternative and testing out Windows Home Server 2011 I should have most of my free time occupied. I’ve also been playing around with Mac software again. I’m writing this with Mars Edit (I typically use Windows Lie Writer) but so far this is the only new piece of software I’ve come across that I might want to keep using.

Hopefully things will be picking up on the Quest and things will be more active here over the next two months than they were for the last two.

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