Friday Sep 07, 2007


Finally, I have my Solaris based homeserver up and running. It took me quite some time to decide which hardware to buy, as I found it difficult to judge which compontents will work out of the box and which would need drivers from third party sources which I wanted to avoid. There is a lot of information available, including the Hardware compatibility list, but some information is outdated or incomplete. This is why I thought I should share my experience.

If you have any questions, just write me a mail:


Old setup

I had been running my home production system on Red Hat Linux 9 for a few years. This is what I was running and had to be moved to Solaris:

  • StarOffice
  • Agfa Snapscan Touch USB scanner with SANE/xsane.
  • evolution mail client
  • digital photo repository keeping family's photos
  • gqview to view photos
  • amavisd-new email Virus/SPAM scanner with Avira/SpamAssassin
  • ldap directory service for address book running on openldap
  • mozilla/firefox web browser
  • grip to rip CDs
  • xmms to play ripped CDs...
  • mgetty & sendfax to receive and send faxes

New Features I wanted to have

  • Sun Ray Server to run three Sun Rays I had bought, thinking about how I could provide my wife and children with their own workstations without having to administer ten PCs.
  • Big fat secure hassle-free file system to keep my photos in a safe place

The new way

Server Hardware

I bought the following:

  • Asus M2NPV-VM Mainboard for approx EUR 80. This board has disk connectors for 2x2 channels IDE and 4 SATA and onboard video.
  • AMD x2 dual core processor, the small one.
  • 2 GB of Kingston Memory @ EUR 45 each
  • three 500 GB Samsung SATA disks @ EUR 100 each
  • a rack-mountable case with power supply, fans and space for eight disks (6x5.25", 2x3.5")
  • cheap DVD Burner @ 30 EUR

I used a spare IBM Deskstar Disk as a boot disk and an old realtek pci network card for a second network interface facing the internet. After putting everything together, I was delighted to see that

  • I did not need a third-party driver for the on-board nge0 network interface (although the hcl report said so)
  • The SATA disks were accessible (although in pata compatiblity mode)
  • the Firewire interface was recognized I did not care about audio and video (nvidia), although the latter worked out of the box.


Sun Rays

I had already bought three Sun Rays on ebay at about 50 EUR each.



Well, of course it took me a few nights to set everything up.

  • StarOffice and evolution worked as before
  • gqview, mozilla, firefox, sane were available from Blastwave.
  • I installed a load of other packages from Blastwave, xpdf and evince amongst them (I like xpdf better for pdf viewing that evince)

Connecting the Scanner

This was were I expected to spend quite a bit of time on. I did a proof of concept with my notebook, where I had to recompile sane-backend as it was lacking usb support, and still had to manually integrate the backend for my scanner. I took the sane-backends from csw, too, but used the libusb that came with Solaris. I learned that my Scanned (niash chipset) is now natively supported by sane-backend, and thus, to my astonishment, the scanner connected to the Sun Ray worked out of the box.

The libusb plugin for Sun Ray worked instantly:

scanimage -L did show my scanner!

It is somewhat slower than before now, as the scanner is now connected to the Sun Ray which supports usb1.1 only, compared directly attaching to the server's usb2.0 port.


Configuring amavisd-new in the dual sendmail setup was time-consuming but not really difficult, as there is a pretty good walkthough in the documentation. I use Avira AntiVir PersonalEdition Classic for Virus Scans and SPAMassassin to fight SPAM.

I am running the cyrus imapd I got from Blastwave. Mail is being fetched by fetchmail, running as root, every five minutes. My email provider is doing "pop before smtp" and this way, I get my mail almost instantly, and sendmail can send mail all the time.

Sun Rays

The Sun Rays worked as expected, with two minor issues left:

  •  Every now and then, when rebooting, the dhcp server will not start up, claiming it can not access its configuration. As the Sun Rays rely on a working dhcp server, this is really annoying to me.
  • As expected, the Sun Ray is not really capable of displaying full-screen videos. However, did you know there is an mplayer version with support for Sun Rays? With that player, watching videos at 800x600 is feasible. Flash-Based video with low res, low size and low frame rate (Youtube) is not a problem at all.
  • Listening to music (xmms) is working perfectly.


ZFS is just great for home use, as you do not have to worry about file system sizes. To have raidz feels a lot better that running in an unprotected fashion.I still have to invest in a hot spare disk.

And, while a power spark may just fry all of your disks at once, snapshots can at least protect you from the consequences of "rm -rf".

ZFS eats lots of RAM. I had seen reports on that behaviour before and I feel inclined to do something about it. I have a TV set top box (Siemens Gigaset M740AV) that records to ZFS via NFS, and doing so, it trashes my file system cache. When I log in after watching tv, starting the gnome session takes ages as the cache is rebuilt slowly. I know about the way to change cache usage with mdb, but maybe I am just going to add memory.


I am using the squid proxy cache. As for sendmail and amavisd-new, I did my own SMF Manifests to have it being managed by smf. SquidGuard implementation is pending.


I now run the Sun Directory Server. Migrating from the crappy openldap export took quite some time and a few scripts.


After migrating all data to the new server, I had some more spare disks, and decided to replace that deskstar boot drive with a faster one. Somehow I managed to trash my root file system when preparing the Live Upgrade.

Lucky me, I had created a flash archive two days earlier, as LiveUpgrade lucreate trashed by root file system. I have no clue why. Anyway, with that flash on a different server, I booted from the Solaris DVD, selected installation from flash, and after two hours (including some testing afterwards) the system was back up.

DVD Authoring

I would like burn video DVDs, but there is no decent cutting or dvd authoring software that runs on Solaris. Any hints?


In my setup, the limiting factor is disk performance. When starting applications, the (single and slow) boot disk was at 97%. The cpu load barely went above 30%, even when doing mencoder- (video) oder lame- (audio) encoding. I have never seen a system load of above 1. That said, I wonder why I rarely see disk read rates above 5 MB/s. ZFS pool scrubs show rates of 50 MB/s on the SATA disks, but even when the boot disk is 100% busy, read rates look slow to me.

Now that I have the new disk in place, I expect them to increase.

Power consumption

With four disks, no overclocking, no ata spindown, power consumption is at 110 Watts. I will try and enable ata spindown, and see if it changes significantly. I just have to get a new wattmeter, mine just died after a power outage.


All in all, I did not expect the migration to run as smoothly as it did. There were absolutely no driver issues (I have not checked audio yet). I have most applications I need, and all that I had on Linux. Hmm. Not quite. Gnometoaster is missing. Still, Solaris lacks support for DVD authoring, first person shooters, and support by ISVs for childrens' games. 


Dirk Wriedt


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