Going selfhosting: Installing Debian Wheezy in my home server

It was in my mind to open a new series of articles with topic “selfhosting”, because I really believe in free software based network services and since long time I want to plug a machine 24×7 at home to host my blog, microblog, MediaGoblin, XMPP server, mail, and, in conclusion, all the services that now I trust to very kind third parties that run them with free software, but I know I could run myself (and offer them to my family and friends).

Last September I bought the domain larjona.net (curious, they say “buy” but it’s a rent, for 1,2,3 years… never yours.  Pending another post about my adventures with the domain name, dynamic DNS, and SSL certs!) and I bought an HP Microserver G7 N54L, with 2 GB RAM. It had a 250GB SATA harddisk and I bought 2 more SATA harddisks, 1 TB each, to setup a RAID 1 (mirror). Total cost (with keyboard and mouse), 300€. A friend gave me a TFT monitor that was too old for him (1024×768) but it serves me well, (it’s a server, no graphical interface, and I will connect remotely most of the times).

Installing Debian stable (wheezy)

I decided to install Debian stable. Jessie was not frozen yet, and since it was my first non-LAMP server install, I wanted to make sure that errors and problems would be my errors, not issues of the non-released-yet distro.

I thought to install YunoHost or some other distro “prepared” for selfhosting, but I’ve never tried them, and I have not much free time, so I decided to stick on Debian, my beloved distro, because it’s the one that I know best and I’m part of its awesome community. And maybe I could contribute back some bug reports or documentation.

I wanted to try a crypto setup (just for fun, just for learn, for its benefits, and to be one more freecrypto-tester in the world) so after reading a bit:

https://wiki.debian.org/DebianInstaller/SataRaid
https://wiki.archlinux.org/index.php/disk_encryption
http://madduck.net/docs/cryptdisk/
http://linuxgazette.net/140/kapil.html
http://smcv.pseudorandom.co.uk/2008/09/cryptroot/
http://www.linuxquestions.org/questions/linux-security-4/lvm-before-and-after-encryption-871379/

and some other pages, and try some different things, this is the setup that I managed to configure:

  • A “rescue” system with /boot and / partitions, both in the 250 GB disk.
  • A RAID 1 system of the two 1TB disks, setup in the BIOS of the machine (so the motherboard handles the RAID and the OS is focused in other things).
  • Inside the Debian installer, I went to manual partition, then I put my /boot in the 250GB disk (yes, a 2nd /boot there), and then selected the 1TB disk (since the RAID was already made, it appeared a single 1TB disk) as physical device to be encrypted.
  • After that, still in the Debian installer, I setup LVM there: configured a volume group, then, two volumes, one for / and the other one for swap.
  • Then I saved the changes and go on installing my system.

Everything went well. Yay!

Some doubts and one problem

Everything went quite well except some doubts:

  • I’m still not sure if this BIOS RAID (“Fake RAID”) is better than a software RAID or not. I suppose it’s better since I delegate in the motherboard to do it, and leave the OS to care about other things (transcode my videos yeah!). But I don’t know how to measure ‘performance’ and which metrics and results should I expect. The disks (cheap disks) are a bit noisy (just a bit! or maybe it’s the fan that it’s very quiet! poor Laura, never saw/had a ‘luxury’ machine like this one🙂
  • I had to install firmware-linux-nonfree in order to properly use the graphics card (Mobility Radeon HD 4225/4250). I have no graphical environment there, only a console, so I was not sure if installing the firmware or not (without the firmware, the letters of the console were bigger, but I just don’t mind since I most of the time I log in remotely from my laptop). Then, two questions arised to my ignorant mind:
    1. Do I need the driver for better performance (aka is the graphics card used for rendering/transcoding/showing images and videos in my MediaGoblin site or just when it’s needed to display them in local (and subsequently, never)?
    2. If I leave the system like that, and forget about the firmware warning at boot time, can the hardware be damaged by the default (free) driver? (for example, due to fan controlling malfunction or something like that).

After talking about this issues with friends (and in debian-women IRC channel), I decided to install the non-free driver, just in case, with the same reasoning as with the RAID: let the card do the job, so the CPU can care about other things. Again, I notice that learning a bit about benchmarking (and having some time to do some tests) would be nice…

And now, the problem:

  • I noticed something strange in my setup. Sometimes, after a system reboot, cryptsetup was not accepting the password to unlock the encrypted disk. And believe me, I was typing it carefully. But when I completely shutdown the computer, unplug the cable, replug the cable, and start again, the password was accepted. The keyboard is USB and this machine does not accept other connection for the keyboard. The keyboard configuration, language and so, was all correct. No Non-ASCII symbols in my password. My password would need to press the same keys in a Spanish and an English keyboard.
  • I thought that maybe something in my RAID was failing. I tried to disconnect one of the disks, and see if (1) the bug was solved (no) and (2) the RAID was working (yes). I made the same with the other disk. I was happy that I could reconstruct my RAID when plugging the disk again. But still I had the problem of the password.

I left this problem apart and go on installing the software. I would think later what to do.

Installing MediaGoblin

The most urgent selfhosting service, for me, was GNU MediaGoblin, because I wanted to show my server to my family in Christmas, and upload the pictures of the babies and kids of the family. And it’s a project where I contribute translations and I am a big fan, so I would be very proud of hosting my own instance.

I followed the documentation to setup 2 instances of GNU MediaGoblin 0.7 (the stable release in the moment), with their corresponding PostgreSQL databases. Why two instances? Well, I want an instance to host and show my videos, images, and replicate videos that I like, and a private one for sharing photos and videos with my family. MediaGoblin has no privacy settings yet, so I installed separate instances, and the private one I put it in a different port, with a self-signed SSL cert, and enabled http-authorization in Nginx, so only authorized Linux users of my machine can accesss the website.

Installing MediaGoblin was easier than what I thought. I only had some small doubts about the documentation, and they were solved in the IRC channel. You can access, for example, my user profile in my public instance, and see some different files that I already uploaded. I’m very happy!!

Face to face with the bug, again

I had to solve the problem of the password not accepted in reboots. I began to think that it could be a bug in cryptsetup. Should I upgrade the package to the version in wheezy-backports? Jessie was almost frozen, maybe it was time to upgrade the whole system, to see if the problem was solved (and to see how my MediaGoblin was working or not in Jessie. It should work, it’s almost packaged! But who knows). And if it didn’t work, maybe it was time to file a bug…

So I upgraded my system to Debian Jessie. And after upgrade, the system didn’t boot. But that’s the story of another blog post (that I still need to finish to write… don’t worry, it has happy end, as you could see accessing my Mediagoblin site!).

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About larjona

My name is Laura Arjona, I am a libre software user and fan of the free culture. If you want to contact me you can write an email to larjona [at] larjona [dot] net I am @larjona at identi.ca in the Pump.io social network. --- Me llamo Laura Arjona, soy usuaria de software libre y fan de la cultura libre. Si quieres contactar conmigo puedes escribir a larjona [en] larjona [punto] net Soy @larjona en el servidor identi.ca, de la red social Pump.io.
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