Experiences with Debian on PE2650

John Goerzen jgoerzen at complete.org
Fri Jan 31 13:57:01 CST 2003


I figured I'd write in and let people know how Debian is working on
our new Dell PowerEdge 2650.  I am using it with the Linux vservers, and it
is working very nicely.  Here are some hints for other Debian users:


The Debian 3.0 (woody) standard install set contains drivers for the
aacraid that is in this machine, so no other actions are needed for
the disk storage.  Make sure you use the bf2.4 installation.  You can
do this by typing bf2.4 at the initial install prompt from the CD.

I ran into trouble because neither the tg3 nor the bcm5700 drivers
were there, so I couldn't do a network install.  I solved this by
building a kernel with networking support (first tg3; later, bcm5700)
on another machine and copied it over by floppy.  Others may want to
just install a dev environment from CD and build it that way.


I built a stock 2.4.20 kernel with the vserver patches.  I added on
the bcm5700 module (Debian package bcm5700-source will get this for
you; do a make-kpkg modules_image after your regular build).


I installed three partitions onto our system: an ext3 "boot/root"
partition, a swap partition, and a 120-GB "vserver" partition where
all our virtual machines live.

I had some trouble at first when I had a minimal install and was
copying over gigabytes of data.  Every so often, the system would
appear to hang while it flushed out its buffers.  This addition to
/etc/init.d/bootmisc.sh solved that:

echo 40 0 0 0 60 300 60 0 0 > /proc/sys/vm/bdflush

(This was suggested at

The defaults are tuned such that if you have 1.8 GB available for the
cache, it will periodically try to flush out several hundred megabytes
in one fell swoop, resulting in these delays.


I'm a big fan of the vserver project
(http://www.solucorp.qc.ca/miscprj/s_context.hc).  It is similar in
concept to a FreeBSD jail, and basically lets you carve up your nice
big Dell server into a number of smaller isolated servers without
taking the performance hit of an emulation or translation layer like
user-mode Linux or vmware.  You can start up, reboot, etc. your
servers very easily.

Because of the debootstrap program for Debian, it is very easy to set
up new vservers -- you don't need to image a live system or use nasty
kludges like you do with other distributions.

I am running Debian's unstable (sid) distribution on the master server
to get the latest vserver code, and then in each vserver, run one of
stable, testing, or unstable.  One of the vservers is running SuSE
Linux OpenExchange Server for our internal groupware solution.

If you want to run vservers on Debian, you'll want to install
kernel-patch-ctx and vserver packages.

Tape backup

We ordered an external 40/80GB DLT drive with our system.  Dell
included an Adaptec aic7899 SCSI card for me to install to use with
that.  The Linux driver for that is aic7xxx, and it is working fine.

We use amanda, and its tapetype program generated this for me:

define tapetype PowerVault110T {
    comment "just produced by tapetype program"
    length 38602 mbytes
    filemark 0 kbytes
    speed 2801 kps


There has been a lot of tg3 vs. bcm5700 discussion going on here and
elsewhere.  Initially, I used the tg3 driver, and it gave me no
problems, but I switched to the bcm5700 after the early server
"pauses" -- trying to eliminate things.  Both seem to be fine.
In particular, the tg3 driver in the stock "official" kernel that
Debian people are prone to use does not seem to have the bugs
associated with the RedHat version.

Debian provides several nice firewall systems or you can roll your own
with iptables.  I am fond of Shorewall myself, because it is both easy
to set up and versatile.  But if there's something you want to do that
it can't, you can just plug in some shell scripting and accomplish
it that way.


Have not tried it.

-- John

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