The FreeNAS experiment

Kalyway kernel panic

Kalyway kernel panic

I am still searching for that elusive ‘server’ that’s going to be a little more Apple-friendly than my Windows 2003 Server machine up in the loft. The Kalyway 10.5.2 exercise was interesting but seemed stricken with some fatal flaw. It stopped responding and when I went to investigate, I discovered the machine had suffered a kernel panic. Over the course of the next hour or so, every time I rebooted, the machine had a kernel panic within 5 to 10 minutes. I’m sure that with a bit more patience and effort I could have worked through this, but as a robust system for taking backups to it wasn’t looking good. Time to move on…

Enter FreeNAS.

What could be better? A free, Linux based OS that does nothing but share out disk space and that supports AFP. It’s a 22Mb download – that’s right, just twenty two meg. Burn the iso image to a CD, pop it in the drive and you’re away. I opted to install it on one of the hard disks in my ‘server’ rather than repeatedly boot off the Live CD, and installation took just a couple of minutes.

The server sets itself up with a default address of 192.168.1.250 and configuration is then done by browsing to that address from another machine and using the Web GUI. Everything you need is in a very good Setup and User Guide, and if you follow this you really can’t go wrong. All I had to do was provide a couple of settings, format and mount my 500Gb disk, then enable AFP and share it. This really is a clever piece of work – the Web GUI is pretty intuitive, and the OS itself has a tiny footprint, so you could run it on pretty much anything. My next job is to ‘soak test’ the setup by copying 400Gb or so of data to it and seeing how it performs over the next few days.

My only advice is to think carefully about what file system to use when formatting your data disks. FreeNAS defaults to it’s own ‘UFS’ scheme. That’s no problem in itself, except that should the worst ever happen and you need to transfer your disks to another machine, you might be stuck being able to read the disks unless you can install FreeNAS on the new host. FreeNAS does allow you to use FAT32, EXT2 or even SoftwareRAID, although a bit worryingly there’s a warning on the Disk Format screen that says:

UFS is the NATIVE file format for FreeBSD (the
underlying OS of FreeNAS). Attempting to use other file formats such as
FAT, FAT32, EXT2, EXT3, or NTFS can result in unpredictable results,
file corruption, and loss of data!

Possible file corruption is really something I’d rather avoid if it’s all the same to you.

The pseudoMac is alive….! Kalyway

I’ll try and keep it brief as there’s already a wealth of information out there about Kalyway, but my little experiment has worked as follows:

Hardware

  • Asus A7N8X Deluxe motherboard
  • AMD Athlon XP 4400
  • 2Gb RAM
  • 2 x Maxtor 320Gb IDE drives
  • 1 x Sony CD/DVD RW
  • nVIDIA 6600GT 256Mb PCI video card

Software

  • Kalyway 10.5.2

For the install settings I used the defaults with the following exceptions:

  • Added the Marvell and forcedeth drivers and used the first AMD patch.

My main aim for doing this was to see how another Mac would behave on the network alongside my Mac Pro. Once installed, I set the hybrid Mac up to allow file sharing and remote management and well… it just works! Next job will be to wipe the box and install OpenSUSE 11.1 (when it’s out) with Netatalk so I can create AFP shares. The advantage of this, aside from the murky area of legality with Kalyway, is that I’ll have a server that I can keep patched (I understand patching Kalyway above 10.5.2 is a good way to break it), but unlike my Windows Server I won’t need a suite of security add-ons to keep it safe.

Congratulations to the guys who produced Kalyway for a very clever piece of work.

Windows 2003 Server and my Mac

Windows 2003 Server

Windows 2003 Server

In my loft lurks a PC running Windows 2003 Server which I use for taking backups to. The license cost me enough so I’m determined to make use of it, and to be fair this has been one of my more reliable Windows machines (famous last words).

Backing up from PCs is a doddle, create a share on the server then simply ‘net use’ or map a drive to it and off you go with your chosen software. It would be just as easy on the Mac but for one annoying problem – the connection randomly drops for no apparent reason. I can mount the share quite happily and use it for days, then all of a sudden it’s disappeared and my backup software complains that it can’t access the relevant location. Reconnecting isn’t a problem, I just point the Mac at the server again and off it goes, so authentication isn’t the issue.

I wondered if installing AppleTalk on the server and connecting to shares using AFP rather than SMB might be better, but AFP is ‘crippled’ in Windows 2003 Server and so is of limited use. Sure it presents a nice little picklist of shares to the Mac user, but it doesn’t support long filenames nor does it support automatic reconnection which is what I really need. In fact if your a Mac user with a Windows 2000 or 2003 Server then you’re better off sticking with SMB from what I can see.

So I have three choices really.

  1. I splash out on something like a Mac Mini to replace the server and just hand the drives off it in external USB enclosures. Trouble I’m looking at spending at least £399 ($720) to get one and with the present credit crunch, that will have to wait. Besides, my first Mac Mini was destined to be a media player to replace my ageing PVR.
  2. I explore some way of detecting the disconnect on the Mac and then automatically reconnect. I’m sure I’ve seen a Mac utility that does this, it’s just a case of tracking it down. Or…
  3. I pursue finding a fix on the Windows side, although I don’t hold out much hope.

Incidentally, I got as far as Kalyway installing successfully on my spare PC, but it failed at the first reboot – something about failing to find some plist dependency on the drive I’d just installed to. I may revisit this when I get the chance as it was temptingly close.

The Amazing Kalyway Disk

What to do with my ‘old’ Windows PC? Asus M2N32-SLI Deluxe motherboard, AMD Athlon 64 X2 5600+, 2Gb

Where to install?

Where to install?

of RAM and a very respectable if a little dated 256Mb nVIDIA 7300GT graphics card. All in all not a bad piece of kit. However as an XP machine it had it’s quirks like every so often it would boot up into just a blank desktop, or the network drive connection to it from my Mac Pro would just disappear. I could rebuild it with a fresh install of XP or if I was really tired of living I could plump for XP’s younger fatter brother…. Vista! But where’s the fun in that?

Enter the amazing Kalyway – an ‘enhanced’ version of OS X Leopard designed to be installable on well lets just say hardware that might not bear that little fruity logo.

Having tweaked my BIOS settings so that they approximate what I found on Lifehacker, I popped in the DVD and rebooted. A stream of Linux-style messages filled the screen and the PC then sat motionless for about 10 minutes, appearing to do nothing. then I was greeted with the welcome screen! Accepting all the defaults I worked my way through to the point where Leopard starts installing and off it went.

26 mins to go

26 mins to go

The process appears to have frozen around the ’26 minutes remaining’ mark, so there’s probably some experimenting to do with the various install options, like specifically choosing to load the nVIDIA 256Mb desktop driver, but it’s a promising start.

I’ll let you know how I get on…

Note – the above does of course contravene Apple’s license agreement for Leopard, and I’m still planning to buy a Mac Mini to use as a ‘server’ tucked away in the loft to back up my data to from various places. So if I do succeed with this little exercise, it’ll just be to prove to myself that it can be done.

UPDATE – I restarted the whole process, this time choosing the standard nVIDIA driver on the ‘Customize’ screen, and removing a couple of the obvious drivers for devices I don’t have. The install has got as far as ‘About one minue remaining’ with the blue progress bar almost at the end. I’m tired so I’ll check in on it in the morning.