For the past week I have been fighting with my server to behave itself properly.  I have an old Pentium III machine running Suse Linux, which I actually like for a desktop OS.  It is very polished and user friendly.  The problem is YaST (Yet another Setup Tool), which makes it extremely easy to install and configure a Suse machine, arguably easier than setting up a Windows machine.  I kind of like having that ease of use, with the stability and security of Linux.  However, it turns out that YaST has oversimplified everything to the point, where doing neato server configuration is difficult to impossible.  One can still manually configure everything on the command line, but YaST likes to have control of everything.  So my particular server, which used to run Windows Server 2003 (evil, evil), was actually quite easy to set up to be a firewall, router, ethernet switch (with a 4-port Network Interface Card), file server, etc.  Everything was up and running in no time, and actually easier to configure than the Windows OS (which actually took 10 times longer to boot up).  Everything worked except the ethernet switch portion, which is ideally achieved by setting up a network bridge across the four ports of the 4-port NIC.  Using bridge-utils, everything came up as expected, and running a dhcp server on the bridge wasn’t much of a problem.  All the client machines could easily access the server and the internet.  BUT THEY COULDN’T TALK TO EACH OTHER!  Why not?  Well I spent about three afternoons trying to find the answer.  Fred spent an additional 4 hours looking for the answer.  Finally, last night after troubleshooting everything possible, we were about to chalk it up to incompatible hardware, until we decided to look at the firewall.  I had assumed that since Suse’s Firewall was configured to only block traffic on the external interface, and to leave all internal ports open, it wouldn’t be an issue.  But lo and behold, add three iptable entries to the firewall rules and everything works.  THREE LINES!! Countless hours and all it took was THREE LINES!  And it’s all YaST’s fault.  I’m sure of it.  You would think that a computer with an advanced operating system and decent hardware could do the same thing as a $30 router…
So today I decided that Suse probably wasn’t the best distro for my server, since I don’t want/need fancy GUIs and easy setup tools.  I want everything to just work.  My dad is all about FreeBSD, and after researching different distros and such, I would have to agree that FreeBSD or OpenBSD would be a good solid platform for a server.  But one problem:  FreeBSD doesn’t appear to be able to handle the file server role, since I am running partitions using LVM2.  FreeBSD can do the same thing, but all clues point to the fact that it won’t work with the existing Linux implementation.  Soooo…. since FreeBSD will be yet another pain I think I will give the ol’ Ubuntu Server a whirl (Sorry, Dad, you almost had me talked into it).  I’ve played with Ubuntu a little in the past, and it seems pretty easily configurable.  It has also been #1 on distrowatch.com for quite a while.  So why not?  That will be one of my many projects this weekend.


RandJune 30th, 2006 at 20:54

Well, you can’t rile me up that easily. But just for the record, fbsd has GEOM which does most, if not all, of the functionality of LVM2. But you would have to repartition your disks and start completely over with the disks – if that is what you mean by “work[ing] with the existing Linux implementation”. And fbsd is used by a large percentage of the world in the file server role, as it is one of the most stables OSes for that role.
However, this development of events is great – I will be able to get a super reliable first hand report on how Suse and Ubuntu compare, especially on the point that drove me away from Suse: system administration (just like you!). Have a great weekend!

FredJune 30th, 2006 at 23:38

Hm. I think his problem with LVM is that he does not have the means to copy his data off the LVM, reformat, and copy stuff back. Therefore, his new system has to understand the existing LVM out of the box and not touch it.

JabbaJuly 1st, 2006 at 00:43

Yeah, that’s exactly it. I actually almost downloaded FreeBSD today, but after doing a little research, it doesn’t look like I can keep my existing LVM, and I don’t feel like backing up my backups, if that makes any sense. So we’ll see how this goes. Someday soon, though, I think I will tackle BSD again.

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