Our server is used mainly for hosting web content and applications (php, perl, and of course, WebObjects). It also handles some Subversion repositories and some other minor stuff.
I did the standard procedure I always do when migrating a machine to a new OS version: clone the hard drive to an external firewire disk, format the internal hard drive, install new OS and migrate data. I usually use migration assistant, but of course, this is a server, it’s a little more complicated than that.
While my memory is still fresh, here’s some notes about it, not necessarily by any specific order.
Our Xserve has two 80 GB hard drives configured in software RAID 1 (mirroring). As Apple sometimes does some tweaks and changes on the RAID software and drivers, I decided to destroy the RAID and create a new one. So I did: I booted from the Leopard Server DVD, destroyed the RAID and tried to make a new one. I had some problems with that, though. Disk Utility was not allowing me to create the new RAID. I don’t recall the error exactly, but it had something to do with not being able to mount a volume or RAID slice. I quit Disk Utility and launched it again, and then the RAID creation went fine. I just love to see those two blue leds blinking in sync!
Installation and System Updates
Installation itself went without any issues. Our Xserve has a graphics card, so it was like any regular desktop Mac, click click choose click and wait. The system installed correctly, rebooted, configuration assistants, answered all the questions, network working, etc. Perfect. Then, I went to grab all the system updates. I installed it this weekend, so I had a few updates waiting, namely the 10.5.2 combo update. Then something weird happened – after installing all the available updates, the machine rebooted 3 times in a row instead of just one. I know some updates that came out lately require 2 reboots in a row, but I never had seen 3. When the server finally came to life, I manually rebooted it again 2 or 3 times more, just to see if it was booting OK. Apparently, everything is fine. I checked the logs, and they were inconclusive. So, does anyone know if 3 reboots in a row is normal for all the updates that came out so far for a G5 Xserve running Leopard?
This is a fast one, but… sshd comes with PermitRootLogin defaulting to “yes”. Oh come on, guys!
This is one of the most serious issues that I find with Mac OS X Server migration. I had seen this when migrating from Panther Server to Tiger Server, and it’s still a problem. The thing is: you cannot migrate passwords. You can use Workgroup Manager to export all the user information… except passwords. That means all the user passwords will have to be reset on the new server. Of course, I don’t expect the real passwords to be exported – specially because they are hashed, so it’s impossible to recover them. But the hash itself could be exported and imported again.
This presents a very serious issue to system administrators and users. Of course, if you have thousands of users, you should use multiple LDAP servers dedicated to the authentication services, and you can clone them at will, making sure that you never loose information and the service never stops. But when you have about 30 users like we do, that is overkill. Even so, it’s a real pain in the ass to reset all those passwords, because some users are actually not in our office. They are external users, either from the other university campus (although that’s not too bad, I actually live closer to that campus that the one I work in, so I can drive by and take care of that stuff), or, worse, from people in some companies that are working remotely with us.
I believe migrations like this should be transparent to the user, and this little detail make them very very opaque.
64 bits hell
Having a full 64 bits OS running on a 64 bits machine can only be a good thing, right? Well… maybe not.
I’m a little crazy and my organizational skills might be very well defined by the word “chaos”, but I’m not crazy enough to do this in the space of two days without having tested all this stuff first and document the important details. So, before trashing our G5 Xserve, I grabbed an old PowerMac G4, installed Leopard Server and all the stuff that really needs to work. The most experienced of you should be smiling by now. Although it seems that the only important difference between both CPUs for the matters we are discussing is just speed, there’s a really important one: 32 bits VS 64 bits. The G5 is a full 64 bits CPU, and the G4 is 32 bits. Up to Tiger, this is not a problem at all, because most of the OS was also running in 32 bits. This included most services, like DBs and Apache. On Leopard, everything (or close to that) is compiled to four different architectures: PowerPC 32 and 64 bits, and Intel 32 and 64 bits. We’ll come back to this in a minute.
Mac OS X Server is bundled with MySQL, PHP and Apache, but not with PostgreSQL. As I prefer PostgreSQL to MySQL by far, I tend to use PostgreSQL with all the applications I can, including my own WebObjects applications. So, I compiled and installed PostgreSQL on the server. As I also need PHP applications to access PostgreSQL databases, I had to download PHP source code and recompile it with PostgreSQL support (you gotta love a language where you have to recompile the whole damn thing to add support to a DB…). But, to compile PHP with support to MySQL (and PostgreSQL) I need to have the MySQL headers and dynamic libraries. Well, Mac OS X Server is bundled with MySQL binaries, but not the headers or libraries. As there were no binaries available for PowerPC 10.5 on the MySQL page, I also had to grab the source and recompile all this stuff.
This is where problems started. I recompiled MySQL, and put it working after some struggle (I really hate MySQL). Then I recompiled PHP. Installed it, added the LoadModule directive to the apache config file, and restarted apache. Bum. Explosions. Apache would not start. It said that the PHP module was compiled for the wrong architecture. I started to thing, WTF, are you telling me that my Xserve just compiled PHP… for Intel? Why did this work on the test G4 box? Well, what other architecture could it be? 😛 I started googling for the problem and I got it: apache is compiled for all the four architectures I referred above, and it always runs with the most appropriate one for the machine. In the Xserve case, it uses the PowerPC 64 binaries. The problem is that PHP had been compiled for 32 bits only. Ok, no problem. Go to PHP dir, make clean, poke around with the environment variables, recompile the thing for 64 bits. Bum. More explosions. Guess what, MySQL was NOT compiled for 64 bits! Ok ok, one more level deep in the stack, go to MySQL directory, blablabla, recompile and… BUM! Yet another explosion. Now this one was more complicated. Apparently some of the libraries on the MySQL source code package were not being compiled for 64 bits. So, no 64 bits MySQL means no 64 bits PHP that means no runnable PHP with 64 bits apache that means falling back to Apple’s branded PHP that means… no PostgreSQL.
From what I saw on the Net, convincing MySQL to compile on 64 bits was not a road I wanted to go into. Also, one of the pages I found about the “wrong architecture” problem when starting Apache actually suggested to go in the opposite direction: grab Apache source code and recompile it in 32 bits. Using the mention configure command (./configure –enable-layout=Darwin –enable-mods-shared=all) I compiled the exactly same Apache version that Apple bundles with Leopard Server, and installed it over the Apple branded one. That made it all work, now on 32 bits. Of course, if you follow this trick, please keep in mind that this may break in future system updates. If some Apple system update replaces apache, it will not start unless you recompile it again for 32 bits only, or remove the PHP module.
This 64 bits mess is actually a very nasty problem, and makes me think what I’m actually gaining in all this. And the answer is: zero. My server has one GB of RAM, and will probably never have more than 4. If, for some reason, we actually need to boost the memory so far, it certainly won’t be because of Apache. It gets me thinking about actually how many people will actually need apache to run in 64 bits mode. If it’s more that 1% or 2% of the Xserve users, I’ll be very amazed. And what do I loose? A lot. Not all the open source projects compile easily in 64 bits mode (I know MySQL that comes with Mac OS X Server is compiled for 64 bits, but for some reason the needed fixes for that are not in the public MySQL source code tree), Apache may stop working at all in the next system update, and I had a lot of extra work. Maybe Apple should provide an easy way to switch this kind of stuff between 32 and 64 bits mode at will. Having only one OS version to all the architectures is interesting, but solving the problems that it creates is not.
Everything is working now, after an entire weekend spent behind many terminal windows. Unfortunately, I have to say that my opinion about Mac OS X Server is not the best one. I have been working lately with FreeBSD. My experience with FreeBSD is way, way less than the experience I have with Mac OS X, so there are probably many downsides in FreeBSD I had not yet to deal with. That being said, I think Mac OS X Server is a very easy to use OS, as long as you keep using the tools Apple provided. As soon as you need different tools, specially the ones that tinker with Apache, you’ll start regretting liking computers in the first place. And surprisingly, you start to find that it’s actually easier to do it in a FreeBSD server. Every software I installed so far in FreeBSD (including WebObjects) was installed in a very easy and straightforward, painless way. Just browse the ports tree, make install clean and there it is. No crazy problems, everything is made to work with everything. And the default configurations are usually safer than Apple’s.
It makes sense: although FreeBSD guys don’t do beautiful GUIs and assistants, they work hard to make sure the system Works. All of it, including all the ports. And most important, not just it works, but it works together. If I had to use a word to define FreeBSD, I would pick “consistency” without hesitation. Even WebObjects, which does not have an “official” port on the FreeBSD port tree actually installs easier in FreeBSD than in OS X (due to the hard work of Quinton Dolan that created a FreeBSD port of WO). And face it: probably all the software you need exist in the port tree. It’s HUGE. And if it doesn’t, you can always install it using the classic UNIX way.
The Apple way is different. Apple picks a very small range of software, compiles and packages it in a very easy to use OS. It’s really easy, way more than FreeBSD in many ways. The problems appear when you conclude that the bundled software is not enough, and you want to install your own. And when that happens, you are completely on your own. You’ll start fighting Apple sometimes weird configurations and file system structure, you may run in binary architecture incompatibilities like I did, and so on. And you’ll probably need to do this, because what comes bundled with OS X Server is probably far from enough to get the job done.