The latest in my attempts to stop bitrot and the loss of data that’s important to me is this purchase:

It’s an Eaton 5S1600AU Uninterruptible Power Supply, which is able to provide smooth, clean power to my two HP servrs and PC during normal operation and battery-sourced power for a few minutes when the power supply goes off for any reason (which it has quite a lot of late). A few minutes isn’t much, of course… but it’s time enough for the servers to automatically shut themselves down, cleanly.

I read after I’d bought it that someone had found it to be noisy and underpowered. Had I read that review beforehand, I probably would have thought twice about making the purchase. As it is, I’ve found the UPS to be utterly silent in normal operation (as I’d expect from something which is, basically, just a battery). It is also not warm at all -maybe just a little warm spot in the middle of the top edge, but certainly nothing untoward. Of course, during power failures, the battery kicks in and starts supplying about 1 kilowatt of power to the various devices that need it: at that point, it’s essentially doing what a 1-bar electric fire does, and accordingly cooling fans kick in to dramatic effect. I certainly wouldn’t want to have to sit next to it for any length of time in that mode of operation -but then, I wouldn’t expect to do that either. The UPS’s job is, after all, simply to handle clean server shutdowns two minutes after the power goes off. If it can do that (and it can!), then it’s done what was asked of it.

I chose this particular Eaton model because it’s on the hardware compatibility list for FreeBSD (the O/S underlying FreeNAS). Setup was satisfyingly simple as a consequence:

There are a few Eaton drivers listed when you select that driver drop-down and none of them are labelled ‘5S1600AU’, which was a bit of shame. But picking anything named ‘Eaton’ that’s listed as using the usbhid-ups driver worked fine. I settled for the 5 Evolution S 1250/1750/2500/3000 VA USB port (usbhid-ups) in the end, and that’s doing all I need it to do, anyway.

UPSes are nothing new in the commercial Data Center of course, but they don’t yet seem to be a household item. But at AU$320 for this one, I’m wondering why not: it cleans a power supply of spikes and variation, even when there’s no actual power failure; it means you consume only one wall power socket for 6 devices, instead of several; it protects your servers from power surges and failures. It is to desktops what a battery is to a laptop, basically… and I think these should probably be seen as ‘consumer essential’ rather than ‘geek toy’.

Anyway: I recommend having one of some sort, and -so far at least- I have no problems recommending this specific model.

Stop the Rot

I was reading this article towards the end of the week: interesting, I thought. Then I got home to discover that a batch convert-FLAC-to-MP3 job that had been running all week had finally finshed… and was reporting that 16 files couldn’t be converted because they contained internal errors. Knowing that the files were fine about three months ago, suddenly the idea of bitrot didn’t seem of quite such academic interest. I suspect a couple of power outages just before Christmas might have been to blame: one was planned and we were able to shut things down cleanly ahead of time, but the second came out of the blue and meant servers in full flight were suddenly crashed.

Fortunately, I have two servers that sync with each other, and I was able to fetch good copies of the affected files from the other server. That in itself is interesting: had the file’s date stamps been altered, the sync job would have copied the bad files over on top of the spare server’s good copies. That the bad versions hadn’t been copied over to the second server was itself proof that the problem had occured on the first server’s file system, silently enough to not arouse the attention of the synchronisation software (thankfully!)

These servers have both been running Windows 2012 and a software RAID5 with NTFS for quite a while now -and this isn’t the first time I’ve noticed FLAC files which I know to have been good at some point become bad by some other point. The files are still playable, generally -but not convertible, because internal corruption confuses the converter.

Since that’s not acceptable, it’s time to do something about it.

This weekend, Windows 2012 bit the dust and was replaced with FreeNAS 9.2. It’s incredibly easy to install and set up, and within 20 minutes, I’d installed the OS, created a RAIDZ ZFS volume, shared it as a CIFS (Samba) share and started copying known good copies of everything onto it. By Sunday morning, the entire 5TB of data was across, and I had a shiny new NAS with the ZFS file system protecting me from further, future silent corruptions.

I’d used FreeNAS before, when I first got the servers, but I’d ditched it for the more familiar realms of CentOS and mdadm (and subsequently for Windows 2012 by way of ‘testing it out’). I’m not sure what version of FreeNAS that was, but since it was mid-2012, it was probably version 8.something -and I had “issues” with it (stuttering streaming audio and video files, for example, indicating I/O woes). It put me off at the time, but -although it’s early days- I have no such qualms with this latest version. The web interface is self-explanatory, slick and fast; there have been no audio or video performance issues; the system status reports are nicely done and give me assurance that my modest server is coping well with what’s being asked of it:

This afternoon, it’s time for the other server to be similarly wiped and for the file copying to proceed in the reverse direction. Sometime in the middle of the week, I hope to work out how to get the two servers to sync with each other.

One unintended side-effect has been the loss of Windows-based Internet Connection Sharing (the now-freeNAS’d server was doing duty as the ICS server, too). Where I live, there’s no wired broadband, so we have to use our mobile phones as Internet wifi hotspots …and the Windows server has been using an ancient Realtek-based wireless USB stick to connect to that before sharing it out via the wired network. Worked quite well, all things considered… but without Windows, it was always going to be a struggle getting the same USB stick working on either the same server in its new BSD guise, or on my Linux desktop.

I spent a few hours fiddling with it and at one point, Linux did happily connect to the Internet with it… but it would randomly disconnect after just a minute or two, so that was not something I was going to be able to rely on.

In the end, I just cut out the middleman: my phone now connects directly to my desktop via USB tethering and gives my laptop all the Internet it wants. A quick iptables -t nat -A POSTROUTING -o usb0 -j MASQUERADE then meant my desktop was doing Internet Connection Sharing duty to the rest of the house without further fuss.

The picture speaks volumes: today was a tad warm! Note that the thermometer is in the shade, yet still displaying 41…

I dislike this sort of weather. Thank heavens for air conditioning is all I can say!

I took the opportunity to install Linux Mint 16 (64-bit) on my getting-a-bit-long-in-the-tooth HP Folio 13 ultrabook. It’s not used much these days, thanks to the existence of my Toshiba P870, but it’s handy to take on holidays: it’s portable in a way the Toshiba very much isn’t!

Anyway, nearly everything works out of the box; for those handful of glitches I encountered (video and wireless, basically) , I pulled together a short article describing the workarounds.

So today is my 50th birthday… and I find myself in the office, about to do an all-nighter application software update. :-(

It’s one way to spend it, I guess. I had hoped for champagne and curry, but freebie cheese snacks and cups of tea will have to do instead.

The good news: ToH splashed out and bought me an 1848 first edition of Charles Dickens’ Dombey and Son. Photos when tonight’s over, I guess!