technology, amateur radio, scouting and me

New ZFS based NAS and VM Host – part 1

For some time I’ve been using a re-purposed Acer desktop PC as a NAS. It runs OpenIndiana with 2 x 3TB disks in a ZFS mirror. It has Napp-IT installed for administration.

It’s been OK, but it’s not very powerful and only has limited throughout on its single 1000BaseT Ethernet connection. I’ve been considering an upgrade for ages, but finally bit the bullet this week. I’ll cover the requirements and spec in this post and then the build in a followup.

Requirements

The current server was just a file server. I did try to run another zone on it but it couldn’t hack it. I wanted to get back to a position where I could run Virtual Machines as well. The main driver was to be able to use the NAS as a Crashplan host. There is a version of Crashplan for Solaris, but at the last major upgrade they dropped support for being the destination of a Crashplan. I still had the cloud backup but it was nice to have a local replica as well. So, being able to have the Linux version running in a  VM would be good.

  • NFS access from a bunch of RaspberryPi devices in the house
  • CIFS access from PCs and the SONOS devices
  • NETATALK access from my Macbook Air and the Apple TV
  • Support for running multiple VMs: including
  • Windows Home Server V2 to back up the Windows PCs
  • Ubuntu to host Crashplan

Whilst noodling about these requirements I was also thinking about replacing the Thinkpad that runs my radio software in the shack. A lightbulb moment made me reconsider how the IT is structured here.

Currently, I have a CAT6 network throughout the house and down to the shack. The Acer sits in the garage attached to the house and there is a FreeNAS server in the shack who’s main purpose is to be a backup for the Acer. It also has a jail running some scripts to keep backups of the RaspberryPi devices. I then have a Thinkpad T60 as my shack computer.

The idea is to move the FreeNAS device to the garage and put the new server in the shack. If I ensured I could do IO virtualisation (so a VM could make best use of a video card and get isochronous access to USB devices) and ensured it had a good video card then I also use the new server as my shack computer.

Solution

Hardware

To get the virtualisation features means an Intel Xeon class processor or the AMD equivalent. I’ve been a fan of Supermicro for some time and saw that the X10SDV-TLN4F looked to be perfect. I did some research and came across this post by Benjamin Bryan on a Supermicro Datacentre in a box using a close relative of this board. Perfect.

In the end I opted to buy the SYS-5028D-TN4T barebones server which includes this motherboard in the stunning CSE-721TQ-250B case. This has four front access 3.5 drive slots and two internal positions for 2.5 drives. I also bought 32GB ECC memory from Crucial and four HGST 2TB drives from Hitachi.

This is an expensive build but I think it will be worth it. I haven’t bought the video card yet.

(Incidentally. Years ago (back in the 90’s), the rule of thumb was that the computer you really lusted after always cost £2000. For a while that hasn’t been true for desktops, but I reckon it’s still good for servers).

Software

In Ben’s build he opted for the Napp-IT in one approach of Illuminos/ESXi and then VMs. However, in the comments there were references to SmartOS. Having this would avoid the need for a PCI Host Bus Adapter and would be simpler.

SmartOS supports zones like Solaris and OpenIndiana but adds support for KVM virtual machines. SmartOS is run from a flash drive and builds ZFS zpools from the disks. Because you are starting from a flashdrive, SmartOS runs from a RAMDrive and isn’t persistent. This means the global zone should be kept simple: i.e. so you don’t install software in it. Instead, create another zone and install software in there.

The beauty of SmartOS zones is that they use the same kernel as the global zone: i.e. you only need space for new software and any data. What happens is that the new zone os created from a ZFS snapshot of the global zone. Elegant!

More on the build itself in part 2.

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