I got the PowerEdge booted up and working yesterday, with only a few hiccups here and there. The biggest problem I had was getting into the PERC2/SC’s configuration menu from the BIOS; you have to press the right key at exactly the right time, or it won’t work. (Also, it turns out the ‘2300 has three SCSI controllers in it; two on the motherboard, and then the PERC2/SC on PCI. The internals are both Adaptec non-RAID.)

Once into the PERC’s configuration, setting up the 4 drives I had installed into a RAID-5 was trivial and took only a few moments to format. The software also makes it look like it’ll be easy to add more drives and expand the size of the RAID volume later, or even add a separate striped set using the remaining two slots in the backplane. (I doubt I’ll have much use for the latter but it’s good to have the option.)

Ubuntu 6.10.02 LTS installed without any significant trouble onto the RAID volume; I chose a LVM install in order to give me some more flexibility later when I expand the array. The ~220GB RAID volume, which Linux sees as /dev/sda, is partitioned into a small /boot (250MB) with the remainder given over to LVM as a ‘physical volume.’

LVM is a pretty slick system all by itself and deserving of a separate article, just for the basics, but I’ll hold myself to saying that it gives you a ton of options. Basically, LVM introduces an additional layer of abstraction between filesystem devices as they’re seen by the OS (/dev/sda1, sda2, etc.) and the actual disks or on-disk partitions. When you use LVM, the actual disks or partitions become “physical volumes” (PVs), which you pool into “storage groups,” and then assemble together in various ways to create “logical volumes” (LVs). In my very simple setup, I just let the Ubuntu installer create one 200GB PV, put it into one storage group, and make one LV, the root partition, out of it.

In retrospect, I should have spent some more time in the installer and made some more LVM LVs; separate ones for the traditional Linux partition scheme. This is because while LVM makes it easy to resize LVs after the fact, most filesystems don’t support shrinking, only growing. It’s easy to make a 5GB partition bigger if you run out of room, but it’s much harder to take a 200GB one down to 5GB. So I’m basically stuck with everything in the big / partition, at least until I add more disks and have some more space to work with.

With the system now running and a minimalist ‘server’ installation of Ubuntu installed, the next step was to install software. The only hitch here was noticing that, for some reason, the SMP kernel hadn’t been installed. I know this was originally by design, but I thought it had been fixed in 6.10. No matter: a quick sudo apt-get install linux-686-smp followed by a reboot, and everything was good.

All in all, not bad for a (nearly) free box. It’s not the fastest thing in the world, but it has the right features, and I think it’s solid enough to serve me for a good long time.