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Aug 022014
 

One of the questions I always ask myself when setting up a resilient server, is just how well will it cope with a disk failure? Ultimately you cannot answer that without trying it out.

But as practice (and to determine whether it mostly works), it’s perfectly sensible to try it out on a virtual machine.

Debian Installation

If you are looking for full instructions on installing Debian, this is not the place to look. I configured the virtual machine with 2GBytes of memory, an LsiLogic SAS controller with two attached disks each of 64GBytes.

The installation process was much as per normal (I unselected “Desktop” to save time), but the storage was somewhat different :-

  • Manual partitioning method
  • Create an empty partition on both disks
  • Select Software RAID
  • Create an MD device
  • RAID1
  • And put both disks into the RAID
  • Configure LVM
  • Create a Volume Group (“sys”)
  • Select md0 for the volume group device
  • Create logical volumes (boot: 512MB, root: 16GB, var: 8GB, home: 512M (it’s a server))
  • In the partitioning manager select each Logical Volume in turn and specify the file system parameters.

You will notice that no swap was created – this was a mistake that I’m in the unfortunate habit of making! However for a test, it wasn’t a problem and with LVM it is possible to create swap after the installation.

Post Installation

After the server has booted, it is possible to check the second hard disk for the presence of grub in the MBR (dd if=/dev/sdb of=/var/tmp/sdb.boot bs=1M count=1, and then run strings on the result). It turns out that nothing is installed in the MBR of the second disk by default. Which would make booting in a degraded environment an interesting challenge (i.e. you’ll have to find a rescue CD and boot off the relevant hard disk).

However this can be fixed by installing grub onto the second hard disk: grub-install /dev/sdb

Testing Resilience

But what happens when you lose a disk? Now is the time to test. Shut down the virtual machine and remove the second hard disk – leaving the first hard disk in place does not provide a full test.

If your first attempt at booting afterwards results in a failure to acquire a grub menu, then either you have failed to run grub-install as detailed above (guess what mistake I made?), or your BIOS settings don’t permit the computer to boot off anything other than the first hard disk.

However, in my second attempt, the server booted normally with the addition of a few messages that indicate that there is just one disk making up the mirrored pair.

Summary

  1. Yes, you can put /boot onto an LVM file system that sits on mirrored disks. That hasn’t always been the case.
  2. It is still necessary to run grub-install to put Grub onto the MBR of the second hard disk.
  3. It works.
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