Modernizing

Last week I decided to start modernizing my computing environment here. I’ve been looking at the new Solaris ZFS and RAID-Z features and thinking of setting up a network fileserver using those technologies instead of the pile of drives in my Windows XP box as I currently have it.

However, since I do a lot of work with video, my current 100mbps network wouldn’t cut it. Fortunately gigabit ethernet hardware is quite affordable now. I picked up a D-Link DGS-1008D 8-Port Gigabit Ethernet swich, and two Corega CG-LAPCIGT2 gigabit ethernet cards. I had intended to put one card in my main Solaris box and the other in my Windows XP desktop, and leave my second Solaris box at 100mbps. The Corega card was chosen because it uses the Realtek chipset which is well supported on Solaris.

Installing the ethernet card in my main Solaris box was a breeze. It showed up as rge0 right away and I just had to move /etc/hostname.iprb0 to /etc/hostname.rge0 and it was all set. Installing on XP was a bit different. XP didn’t recognize the card, so I had to load the driver and reboot a couple of times to get it going. After getting it up, I tested a file copy and got about 6X speed increase.

Unfortunately the XP box ran into stability problems running the new ethernet card. It would occasionally lose connection to the switch, sometimes the sound card would make modem-like noises when the network was heavily used, and network performance would slow down dramatically until rebooted. I’m not sure what the problem is quite yet, but I took it out of the XP box and plopped it into my other Solaris server where it is humming along nicely.

Next up, if I want to set up a new fileserver, I’d like to use modern SATA drives. Up untill now I’ve used the older ATA drives on PCs. These days there’s no longer much of a price penalty for going with SATA, and performance is now significantly better than ATA. It’s probably not going to be long before ATA starts getting phased out.

Solaris has traditionally been quite picky about support of add in disk controllers. Currently though, Solaris offers good support for SATA boards using the Silicon Image chipsets. When I went out to look what’s available here in Taiwan I found most boards were based on Initio or Silicon Image chipsets, so availability wasn’t a problem. I picked up a cheap Upmost Uptech SR150-2 board which is a 2 port SATA board based on the Sil3112 chipset. I had trouble finding a SATA-II PCI board, as the Silicon Image SATA-II boards were all PCI-Express, but I’ve since spotted a vendor with a Silicon Image SATA-II PCI board. I also picked up a Seagate 320gb SATA-II drive.

Installing the SATA board in my second Solaris server, I rebooted and found that the board was not recognized by the OS. After some poking around I found that Solaris supports SATA boards only using the non-RAID version of the board BIOS while most boards are sold with the RAID BIOS installed. No problem, I’ll just download the non-RAID BIOS and flash utility from Silicon Image’s web site.

After downloading the files, making a boot floppy and then rebooting the server with it, I find out that the flash utility doesn’t support the flash chip on my board. My board uses a PMC Pm39LV010-70JCE flash chip, which wasn’t one of the chips recognized. Fortunately the flash utility will ask you which chip yours is compatible with, but of course I had no idea. After some googling, I found a page in Japanese of someone encoutering the same problem. Extrapolating from the English words in that page I figured he was saying the the PMC chip is the same as an SST 39VF010. I tried that and sure enough the BIOS flashed OK, and Solaris immediately recognized the controller.

Now I get to play around a bit with ZFS and see if it is feasible. I also need to find a gigabit card that’ll work reliably in my XP box. For now I’ll use my laptop for testing as it has a built-in gigabit interface. If things look good, I’ll get that SATA-II 4-port board I saw and some more drives and set up a nice fileserver.

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