Saturday, January 17, 2009

Installing Solaris Express Community Edition build 104

Introduction

After many time with / on the venerable UFS file system, I decided to spare a weekend and dedicate it to backing up my data and reinstalling Solaris from scratch and (finally!) having a ZFS root filesystem. My experience with ZFS is so good that I simply could bear no longer the clumsiness of partitioning and slicing. The available Solaris flavors were the following:
  • Solaris 10 10/08
  • Solaris Express Community Edition
  • OpenSolaris 2008.11
I keep on excluding OpenSolaris because of the reasons I detailed many times: I cannot renounce some of Sun's proprietary goodies which are not by default installed on OpenSolaris. I'm speaking about StarOffice and Sun developer tools bundled with Solaris. Being a workstation, I decided to go for Solaris Express.

Choosing a ZFS root pool

Both Solaris 10 and Solaris Express let you use ZFS on the root pool but only if installed with the text-based installer, which may be something not obvious for whoever doesn't read the installation documentation. The installer lets you choose the drives and build the ZFS pool for you. In this pool, other two ZFS volumes will be created: one for swapping and one for dumping. In the root pool, you can decide whether /var should reside on / filesystem or if it should be another one.

Zones on ZFS

This was an unexpected surprise. Before creating the zones I needed, I created a ZFS file system, named /zones, and was preparing another set of ZFS file systems below /zones, one for each zone I was going to create. When I installed the first zone, because of a typo on the path I configured for the zone, I realized on zoneadm console output that it was creating a ZFS file system for me! No need of further configuration to do that! Great.

Homes on ZFS

The installation creates a ZFS file system for locally hosted home directories, which is mounted as usually on /export/home. When I create a user, I create a ZFS file system for it and mount it on /export/home/username. This way, for example, I can control user quotas and snapshots.

ZFS is a great step forward even on desktop installations

I'm not going to blog here about ZFS advantages: it deserves much more space than this. Nevertheless it's worth mentioning that even in a simple desktop install, ZFS benefits are important:
  • user disk quotas: having a ZFS file system for every user is very easy for quota management.
  • backing up: having separate file systems for /export/home and for every user, snapshotting and backing up individual home directories is straight forward.
  • sharing: sharing a ZFS file system is straight forward too, just set ZFS property sharenfs to on.
  • time slider: I didn't try this feature (yet), but it seems great. That's what I had been doing with custom script for quite a while, but much cooler (at least because it's SMF managed and has a configuration GUI).
  • no partitions: a beginner is not going to plan its installation to determine the necessary partitions/slices and their sizes. A zpool on an entire device is a great advantage to take advantage of all of the available space on your disk(s) without concerns about file system layouts.

Just one installation glitch

SUNWiwh package does not properly install because something in the package seems to be malformed. I'm installing on a Sun Ultra 24 and WIFI is not an issue for me, but I think that's something to consider if you need such functionality.

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