A New Server For St. John’s

As I noted in a recent post, the server for St. John’s developed an odd problem resulting in the essential loss of outside network connectivity. Since it wasn’t the cable modem, the network cable, the NIC, the PCI slot, or the mobo, it pretty much left the disk. Since that would have been a complete rebuild, I thought I would go ahead and make the leap from Fedora 2 to the latest version, Fedora 22.

By luck, the previous week a church member (thanks, Bob!) had donated a Dell XPS 400. Now, that’s not the newest computer around, but it was the newest one *I* had around. I pulled the Windows Media Center 160GB disk out (it was SATA at least), bought a new 1TB SATA drive, and while doing that download Fedora Server 22. I used the Fedora USB tool to build a bootable USB, and started the install.

I had a bug here, and it was repeatable. Fedora got to the point of asking where the packages would come from. Choices were from the boot media, or from the network. I had just downloaded 2GB of Fedora, so I selected the boot media USB boot media. Then I answered a couple others questions, and at that point the boot media selection had disappeared. This odd, but when I selected next or whatever, it started the install, and then proceeded to download all of the install packages over the network. This was a bit annoying, as it took over an hour, and wasted my time.

The rest of the process was pretty smooth, although it did take a while due to the installer downloading all of the packages a second time. After it was complete, the system ejected the USB flash drive and rebooted. So far, so good. Then the reboot, and… there was a system crash, “unable to handle kernel paging request”, followed by a second crash report of something like “watchdog detected CPU stop”. This error repeated through about five restarts. Off to research. I looked for fixes to these, starting with the paging problem. There were dozens of potential solutions, mostly relating to hardware memory problems. I ran the Fedora memtest, and the memtest from System Rescue CD and Trinity Rescue Kit, not a single problem. The disk was OK. I spent about four continuous hours working on this problem, and never got a solution. After about three hours of looking, I started downloading Ubuntu Server. I ran the computer with the Live CD version of Fedora 22, and the live CD for System Rescue CD, and had no issues.

So the installation of Fedora 22 server was a failure, and wasted about six hours of my time. I was highly disappointed by this, I’ve been using various flavors of Fedora since Core 2 with no issues. I expected the installation to be smooth, and I had two major issues.

I mentioned I started downloading Ubuntu Server in the midst of this troubleshooting. After I reached my frustration point, I took a break to get dinner, then started installing Ubuntu. First, I moved it to my USB device. It booted, and got all the way to the second boot screen, and then it failed – Ubuntu was looking for the install packages on a DVD – only. By this time, I was not really confident. I burned the image to a DVD and started again. This time, it loaded and started up just fine after installation. I immediately downloaded a lot of tools that I regularly use using apt-get.

Now, the server has a couple of major functions:

  • NAT routing for the building computers to the Internet.
  • Content filter (Dansguardian) to keep our students out of unsavory sites.
  • Inbound IMAP/POP3 email and outbound SMTP email.
  • Webserver for both external and internal use.
  • Shared drive using SMB.
  • I was doing this work in the computer lab, since it was a lot more comfortable than the computer closet. I had snaked a couple long Ethernet cables from the closet for this. The system was in the process of downloading the tools I mentioned when the student computer next to me popped up a note saying a Java update was available. Just for the heck of it, I clicked OK, and it downloaded! The NAT routing had been automagically set up by the computer. Very cool. I ran a speed test, and got 16Mbps from the server, and 16Mbps from the student computer. So the building Internet service was up and running. I noticed a lot of activity from faculty machines downloading eamil from our .com email service provider.

    Next I got the internal email set up. I had put in a lot of work with our Fedora 2 server to keep our computer from being used as a spam relay or a proxy. The anti-relay adjustments for Fedora 2 involved a lot of whitelisting and conf file tweaks. The new Postfix implements anti-relay out of the box, and further enhances anti-relay and spoofing by requiring authentication for transmits as well as receives; I like that. Postfix also integrates anti-virus/malware and anti-spam as well.

    The rest of the configuration was pretty straightforward. I have not installed the new OwnCloud capability yet, and I have one issue with how the Squid proxy server is configured, but it should be fixed in the next day or so.

    I had been planning on replacing our Fedora 2 server for a long time, but having to do it under the pressure of a failure was not how I wanted to get it done :). And the Fedora 22 problem was very disappointing. Regardless, it’s working now, and that’s the bottom line.

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