sysadmin

Netgear ReadyNAS Duo 2000 Setup and Review

I have previously written about my backup strategy. I've never really worried about backups too much. In the 30 years I've been using computers, I've never lost a hard drive.

...until last weekend. My wife's MacBook Air was displaying some funny behavior, so I ran Disk Utility on it. Disk Utility said the drive had problems, so I clicked Repair Disk, and it would not boot thereafter. I called Apple, and their expert told me I'd have to erase the drive and reinstall the operating system. We had no backups for that machine. My wife was not happy to lose everything. And of course, it is my fault she had no backups. (I've told her about Time Machine, but she didn't believe it could really be that easy to set up, so she never did.)

So, better late than never, I decided to get some network storage and start backing up everything to it. A friend was happy with his Netgear ReadyNAS, so I ordered a Netgear ReadyNAS Duo 2000 from Amazon, along with two 1-TB Western Digital Caviar Green hard drives. Total price came out to about $400.

The ReadyNAS has two drive bays. Most models come with a drive included, but I bought the "bare" one that has no preinstalled drives, assuming that it would be cheaper to buy my own drives. Upon reading the manuals, I immediately hit a problem: the manuals explain how to add a second hard drive to a ReadyNAS that comes with a single drive, but nothing about what to do if you have an empty ReadyNAS.

Hoping for the best, I installed the two Caviar drives in the NAS, plugged it into the network, plugged it into power, and hit the power button. It turned on, but the slowly blinking LED didn't give me a warm fuzzy feeling.

I installed the RAIDar software, which one uses to manage the device, and it told me I had bad disks.

After about half an hour of Googling, registering the product, registering for the Netgear forums, and registering for the ReadyNAS forums (each of which required separate sign-up forms and e-mail confirmations), I finally found a current ReadyNAS FAQ (after hitting a few old FAQs that were created before my model existed). There was nothing specific about my situation, but I decided I would try the "factory reset". That worked: RAIDar enabled its Setup button, and I was able to initialize everything.

I was initially worried about the fan noise. When the ReadyNAS boots up, the fans are incredibly loud for something that small. After 30 seconds or so, the noise drops a little, but it was still really loud. A Google search for "readynas loud fan" indicated that lots of users have replaced their ReadyNAS fans, due to the noise. But after the drives got formatted, the fan noise dropped to a barely detectable level. It's not as quiet as my Macs, but it's not loud enough to be annoying.

It was very easy to set up Time Machine with the ReadyNAS. (First thing I did was back up my wife's Air, of course.)

The ReadyNAS has a lot of other features that I am not yet using. $400 for a backup solution seems a little pricey, when one can buy a 1-TB drive and enclosure for about $100, but having storage available on the network means we're more likely to actually do backups. We'll see how things go.

A complete description of all the features can be found here: http://www.readynas.com/?p=177

The Undefined Value To-Do List

I'm happy with how the new Undefined Value site compares with the old Blogger-based site. However, I still have some things to do. I'm a compulsive list-maker, so I'll put my list here.

  • Update Drupal
  • Add syntax coloring for code examples
  • Fix the <pre> style so that scrollbars are present when needed
  • Move old blog content to new blog
  • Move Undefined Value to VPS

Enabling FastCGI for PHP on Ubuntu

I'm setting up a virtual private server. If all goes well, I'll be moving all my websites from their current shared-hosting arrangements to this VPS.

I started with a minimal Ubuntu 8.10 image and installed all the LAMP stuff. Things went smoothly until I decided to try to enable FastCGI for Drupal. Googling for things like "ubuntu apache php fastcgi" results in zillions of links to suggested methods, all of which were very complicated and required digging through docs. I figured there had to be a simple way to do it.

After a few hours of research, I finally did stumble upon what I wanted. My problem was that I was googling for "ubuntu", when I should have been googling for "debian".

The info I needed was here: http://michiel.vanbaak.info/docsphp5fcgi.htm. Thank you, Michiel van Baak!

(To those of you saying "But you should really be using nginx instead of Apache," my response is "Yes, I know. Leave me alone.")

Server Fault Private Beta Begins

Server Fault is a new Q&A website for system administrators and IT professionals, brought to us by the folks who brought us Stack Overflow.

It just started its private beta, which is open to any Stack Overflow user with a reputation score of 100 or higher, or anyone with an OpenID who submits a request. See the Stack Overflow blog entry for details.

I'm in the process of setting up an Ubuntu web server on a Xen VPS, so I expect to have a lot of questions to post on Server Fault. It arrived at the perfect time.

Backups

I've never been good at keeping backups. Back in the good old days, when all my data fit on one floppy disk, I made copies of those, but the first time I had to back up a 20-MB (yes, megabyte) hard drive onto a stack of floppies, I gave up on backups. As my hard drives have grown, the thought of spending time making huge backups have become more daunting.

I've been lucky. I've never had a hard drive crash, or lost a laptop, or otherwise been unpleasantly surprised. I've never been taught a harsh lesson about the importance of backups. For important files, I've e-mailed copies to myself, taking advantage of the practically unlimited free storage space provided by Yahoo! Mail and GMail. However, if one of my hard drives ever died, it would take a very long time to re-install an OS and all my applications and settings.

I've always felt that I should be keeping backups, and with the upcoming Mac OS X Leopard upgrade, I figured I should keep a backup of my Tiger installation in case Leopard turned out to be a lemon. A recent post by jwz about backups prompted me to get serious. His suggestion is basically to buy some extra hard drives and an external enclosure, make copies of your hard drives, and use rsync to periodically copy changes from your main drives to the backup copies. This gives you a bootable backup drive, so if your real drive ever dies, you just pop the backup drive into your computer, and you're back in business. jwz's advice is sound, and is easy to follow if you have a Mac or a Linux box. It's a little expensive to buy so many spare drives, but the convenience of having bootable backups is worth it to me.

Unfortunately, it is not as easy to back up a Windows machine. You can use rsync if you have Cygwin installed, but I wasn't sure that I would trust that to give me a bootable backup. So, my strategy for now is to use Acronis True Image to make a backup copy of my drive, and then use Microsoft's SyncToy to periodically copy new files from the laptop to the backup drive.

One benefit of this strategy is that it has been easy to upgrade my hard drives. My MacBook only had a 60-GB drive, which got full pretty quick; now it has a 160-GB drive with plenty of extra space. I also grew my Windows laptop drive from 120 GB to 160 GB.

I'll play around with the "Time Machine" feature of Leopard, but I'll probably keep relying on the simpler backup strategy instead of Apple's slick magic stuff.

Screwed E-Mail

I have my own domain that I've been using for e-mail for the past few years. Most of my e-mail goes there, and then gets forwarded to a Yahoo! mail account, which in turn gets downloaded to my Macbook. This gives me a couple of nice features: I can read everything in the nice Mac Mail app when I'm at home, but I can also access everything via the web when I'm elsewhere.

Another nice feature was that I had the mail server configured such that anything@mydomain.com would get to me. This made it easy to essentially create new e-mail accounts whenever I needed a new one. For example, if Microsoft wants me to register for something, I'd give them "microsoft@mydomain.com" as my e-mail address. Since every website in the world wants my e-mail address, I figured that doing this would give me a way to create a different e-mail address for everybody who needs to contact me, making it easy to filter out stuff that I didn't want.

This worked great, until today. Today, my hosting provider, A2 Hosting, decided to disable the feature that automatically forwards everything to one place. Now, I need to create accounts or forwarders for every single address that I'd like to handle.

The problem is that I've been doing this for a long time, and I don't have a list of all the addresses I've used. Every business and every website I've interacted with in the past couple of years will no longer be able to contact me, unless I can remember them. So, now I'm not going to be getting a lot of e-mails that are important to me. I'm screwed.

The provider disabled this feature due to spam. It is too easy for spammers to just randomly generate e-mail addresses for every domain, and there is a cost to the provider for every e-mail they forward. I do sympathize, but it doesn't change the fact that I am now screwed by their policy change.

So, I think I need to find another hosting provider, so I can start getting e-mail again. Anybody out there happy with theirs?

Alternatively, I suppose I could write a script to find all the e-mail addresses for which I've received mail for the past couple of years. Switching providers sounds a lot simpler.

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