A wise server migration

Yesterday I migrated two servers at work to a new machine. The old machines were pretty underpowered: a Pentium III 1 Ghz system (with 384 MB RAM if I remember correctly) and a Pentium 4 system. The new machine is a Dell Poweredge R410 with a Xeon E5504 processor, 12 GB RAM and a PERC H700 RAID controller (which is actually a LSI MegaSAS 9260) with 3 750 GB SATA disks in RAID 5. The hardware is pretty nice (although I am not happy at all with the way Dell treats its customers, so I will rather prefer other vendors in the future, but maybe more about that in a later post).

The old servers were running Debian Lenny, while the new server runs Debian Squeeze, which is frozen since yesterday. That was a nice coincidence. The new server actually hosts three virtual machines using the Linux KVM virtualization system. One of them hosts the website http://wise.vub.ac.be, a second VM hosts a file server, and a third VM is the gateway for a small internal network.

The migration went pretty well, except for the smaller problems which you can always expect with such things, for example a Java web application which had hard-coded host names which had changed. The update to PHP 5.3 caused some compatibility problems which I already fixed before the migration itself: Dokuwiki had to be updated to a recent version in order to not show any warnings. There was also a website based on Joomla 1.0, which is actually not supported anymore. As updating it to a recent version was not really an option, I found some posts on the web on how to fix the errors I was seeing and cooked up a simple patch.

The new server is using 140 Watts most of the time. Keeping in mind that in the future it will also replace a third old server, that will probably be a nice reduction of power consumption compared to the old situation.

Fighting Dell’s customer support service…

For a few weeks already, I’m fighting with Dell’s customer support to get an Optiplex PC at work properly repaired. One of the USB ports from a system in our public computer rooms at the university, was broken. My colleague called Dell’s support service and they promised us to send a new front panel with USB port. A few days later, still nothing had arrived, so I called them again. This time they promised us to send a technician the next day in order to repair the machine.

The next day, a technician successfully repaired the machine, but then when he wanted to put the machine back, the key got stuck in the anti-theft lock of the machine. There was no way to remove the key anymore, so the lock was broken. I had to call customer support again, to ask to send us a new lock. And then things went completely wrong.

To summarize a long story, I called them already 4 times in order to get a new lock. They promised us once they would send a new lockĀ  and they promised us already twice to send a technician to replace the lock, but I still haven’t seen a new lock up to now. And once they could not help met at all on the phone, because “their system was down”. Last time the person I had on the phone told me he could not even find any trace of my previous calls in their logging system.

Is that what they call on site next business day warranty?

Mandriva Linux 2009.0 on a Dell Latitude E6400


A few weeks ago the hard drive in my Apple Powerbook G4 which I was using at work, had died. As this machine was already a few years old, it was already planned to be replaced soon. The hard drive crash only accelerated things a bit.

I wanted a not too heavy laptop with 14″ screen and a high resolution (1440×900) screen and an Intel CPU of the latest generation (style Core 2 Duo P8400/P8600/T9400). Lenovo’s Thinkpad T400 with such a high resolution screen seemed to be difficult (impossible?) to find here in Belgium currently and generally Thinkpads are rather costly here. HP’s Elitebook 6930p did not seem to be shipping in Belgium yet. So in the end, I chose a Dell Latitude E6400. Also a big advantage of Dell, is that I could easily choose in detail which features I preferred, while you are limited to standard models with most other brands.


So here are the specifications of the Dell E6400 machine I have now:

  • Intel Core 2 Duo P8400 (2,26 Ghz, 3MB cache)
  • 4 GB RAM
  • Intel G45 chipset graphics card
  • DVD+/-RW
  • 160 GB hard drive
  • Intel based 1Gbps Ethernet
  • Intel WiFI 5300 wireless card
  • Bluetooth
  • SD card reader
  • SmartCard reader
  • Firewire, eSATA, USB, VGA, DisplayPort outputs
  • Dell Simple E-Port docking station

Mandriva Linux 2009.0 on Dell Latitude E6400

On my Powerbook I used Debian Testing (Lenny), because it supports the PowerPC architecture very well and is very stable. I was very pleased with this distribution. Even as a desktop OS, I personally liked it much better than Ubuntu. On this new machine, I decided to install Mandriva because it permits me to follow Cooker if I want and also permits me to create and use custom packages more easily (I’m not too experienced in creating DEB packages).


I did a network installation of Mandriva 2009.0 x86_64 edition, which I started with a CD burnt from the boot.iso file which can be found on every Mandriva mirror in the install/images directory. I had some trouble in finding a reliable mirror at first, but once I found one, the installation itself went fine. If you are installing from a CD or DVD set, be sure to install all available updates at the end of the installation. By the time you are reading this, this might solve some of the problems I encountered with the just released Mandriva 2009.0 and which I will discuss here.

X lock ups

Once the installation had finished, I booted Mandriva for the first time. Unfortunately, every time as soon as the X server started up, the machine completely locked up though. In the end, this turned out to be a problem with the Intel X driver. A fixed version is currently available in the main/testing repository. If you are suffering from this problem, in the boot loader press F2 with the Mandriva line selected, and then add 3 at the end of the kernel line, in order to start the linux system in console mode. Log in as root, and run

# urpmi http://ftp.free.fr/mirrors/ftp.mandriva.com/MandrivaLinux/official/2009.0/x86_64/media/main/testing/x11-driver-video-intel-2.4.2-7mdv2009.0.x86_64.rpm

to install the fixed driver from testing. Then run

# init 5

to go to init lever 5 (graphical mode).

Speaker noise

Another problem was that as soon as the sound drivers were loaded, a loud noise came out of the speakers. To fix this, open the volume control in LInux, and deactivate the Analog Loopback 1 and 2 switches (in GNOME, you will need to click on the Preferences button first, and check the checkboxes next to Analog Loopback 1 and 2 to show these switches). I also completely muted PC Beep because even on the lowest level, the console beep was still extremely loud.

Kernel choice

Because my laptop has 4GB of RAM, the installer decided to install kernel-server instead of kernel-desktop. However this is not needed if you installed Mandriva’s x86_64 edition. To check whether you are suffering from this problem, run

$ uname -a

If it installed the server kernel, you can install the desktop kernel by running

# urpmi kernel-desktop-latest

The desktop kernel will give you better performance and battery lifetime than the server kernel. Another alternative is kernel-tmb-desktop-latest, which I had also good experiences with.

If you installed Mandriva’s i586 edition, you will need the server kernel to support 4GB of RAM. That’s why you really should try to install the x86_64 edition if you have that much RAM.

Intel VT

Because I want to make use of the Intel VT (virtualisation features in Intel CPUs), I went in the BIOS (press F2 when the Dell logo appears when starting up the machine) and enabled these features. After that, Linux became extremely unstable. Kernel oopses happened during start up, in some cases completely locking up the OS when booting. I could fix this by adding intel_iommu=off to the kernel command line. At the boot loader, again select the Mandriva 2009.0 line and press F2 and add this option. To make this permanently, start up the Mandriva Control Center (“Configure your computer” in the program menu Tools – System Tools), go to the Boot category and choose “Set up boot system”. Click on the next button, and then for all Linux kernel, click on Modify and add intel_iommu=off to the Append field.

Wireless and Bluetooth

After the installation, be sure to also start up the drakroam wireless utility, in order to make it install all needed tools to use the wireless networking card because the installer did not install these by default. To use the wireless network card, don’t forget to enable the wireless functionality with the wireless kill switch at the right side of the laptop. I have the impression that it’s best to make sure this is enabled at boot, otherwise the wireless does not always seem to work when enabling later on.

In order to use the Bluetooth, I had to install the gnome-bluetooth package myself. For KDE, you will need to install kdebluetooth4. The pin can be set in the text file /etc/bluetooth/pin.

Other things

Currently I have not yet tried the SmartCard and SD card readers and I did not succeed yet in setting up a dual screen configuration with a flat panel connected to the VGA output on the docking station. For some reason, xrandr only permits me to use a 640×480 resolution on the external monitor, possibly because it seems to ignore the Virtual lines I added to my xorg.conf. I’ll need to investigate this a bit more to find out what is really going wrong here. Suspending the machine also seems problematic: when I tried this, the machine locked up completely when it resumed.

I did not buy this laptop with the integrated webcam, however according to what I read on the Internet, it should also work out of the box with Linux kernerl 2.6.27, which is used by Mandriva 2009.0.


All in all, I’m pretty satisfied with this laptop. The specifications are nice and the price we got from Dell was nice (much cheaper than the standard prices on the Dell website). The biggest disadvantage of this laptop is that parts of the casing seem to be made of cheap plastic. It does not feel as sturdy as a Thinkpad or HP laptop. Time will tell whether that’s a real problem. The most important things can be get working with Mandriva 2009.0 without too much problems and I guess I will find solutions too for the remaining bits in the near future.