Saturday, August 13, 2011

Computer Expertise

Recently, I had my 1TB Fantom external drive go belly up. It was my old storage drive, so it was mostly filled with media and installation files, not critical stuff I need every day.

Nevertheless, I figured that it was long past time to set up the barest of redundant systems so that I would stop losing great swathes of stuff every time a drive died (because DRIVES DIE).

I elected to go with a RaidZ system using a tower I picked up from the local recycle shop. I bought the memory and three 2TB hard drives (4 would have been better, but I'm poor). In a RaidZ this will give me 4TB of storage, and there's enough room in the case for another 4 or so IDE drives, of which I have plenty laying around. I have a stack of 300GB drives, but they're full, so FIRST I need to set up the RaidZ, then move the existing contents to it, then set up another with the spare drives. With me so far?

To use ZFS (and RaidZ), BSD is the way to go. You get the latest and greatest ZFS with all the bells and whistles. I considered going with FreeNAS, but it's not as feature-rich as full BSD distributions, and I have the hardware to support more. I ended up selecting OpenIndiana, which is the most direct off-shoot of the now retired OpenSolaris.

One problem I encountered was that my motherboard isn't detecting all 4GB of RAM. This is a problem with the older BIOS that has since been fixed, but MSI currently only distributes BIOS via their Windows-only custom software. I don't have Windows on this box, I don't WANT Windows on this box, but to even *download* the latest BIOS, that's what everyone is forced to use. But this is no problem; once I have OI (OpenIndiana) up and running, I can throw XP into a virtual machine, run MSI's crazy unnecessary software, download the latest BIOS, grab the file and update the motherboard myself through DOS (booted from USB). Easy peasy.

The next problem I ran into was with installing OI. The LiveCD for the latest version doesn't even boot all the way before it starts throwing all kinds of errors and the crashes. Odd. But that's no problem, because I know there is an even more up-to-date development version in beta.

The beta version didn't throw any kinds of errors before crashing, but it was clear that it was the same problem (it was just being quiet about it). So, that didn't work, and I'm burning up DVDs for nothing. BUT, that's NO PROBLEM, because I can always install OpenSolaris and then =upgrade= to OI after everything is working. Right? Yeah! I've heard of this working.

OpenSolaris exhibited the same problem. Further investigation lead me to believe that the source of the problem with with my DVD drive (what?) or at least the way it interacts with the motherboard. Other people had the same symptoms, but could install from USB. Aha!

I happen to have a spare USB stick RIGHT HERE! So, NO PROBLEM! I download the USB image, and the program to load it on to the stick and... the program crashes. Not compatible with the latest .NET (it was built for 2.0). But that's NO PROBLEM either because the source code is available! So I download the source and go to compile it in Visual Studio and...

My Visual Studio install is borked. When did this happen? A while ago, apparently. BUT THAT'S NO PROBLEM! I got VS through Microsoft's Dreamspark program, which means that it's distributed via ISO. I can just mount that ISO, re-install Visual Studio, recompile the USB Image Writer, boot from the LiveUSB thus created, and install OpenIndia! I'll be back in business in no time! Haha! All my computer expertise at work...

Wait, where did I save that disk image again? Oh right.... my 1TB Fantom external drive.