Of backups and reinstalled

I finally decided to do it - reinstall my home media server.  I switched it from Windows 8.1 to Ubuntu 17.10.

The reinstall

Believe it or not, this is actually a big thing for me.  Fifteen years ago, it would have been par for the course.  In those days, I didn't have a kid or a house, so rebuilding my primary workstation from scratch every few months was just good fun.  But these days...not so much.  Now I have a house and a kid and career focus.  Installing the Linux distribution of the week isn't fun anymore - it's just extra time I could be spending on more important and enjoyable things.

But, in a fit of optimism, I decided to give it a shot.  After all, modern Linux distributions are pretty reliable, right?  I'll just boot up and Ubuntu DVD, it'll run the installer for 15 minutes or so, and I'll have a working system.  Right?

Well...not quite.  Turns out Ubuntu didn't like my disk setup.  Things went fine until it tried to install Grub and failed miserably.  I'm not sure why - the error message the installer put up was uninformative.  I assume it had something to do with the fact that I was installing to /dev/sdb and /dev/sda had an old Windows install on it.  After a couple of tries, I decided to just crack open the case and swap the SATA cables, making my target drive /dev/sda, and call it a day.  That did the trick and Ubuntu installed cleanly.  I did have to update my BIOS settings before it would boot (apparently the BIOS didn't automatically detect the change of drives), but it worked fine.

The only real problem I had was that apparently Wayland doesn't work properly on my system.  I tried several times to log into the defaut GNOME session and after a minute or two, system load spiked to the point that the GUI and even SSH sessions became unresponsive and eventually the GUI just died.  And I mean died - it didn't even kick me back to the GDM login screen.

I suspect the problem is my system's archaic video card - an integrated Intel card from the 2010 era which I have absolutely no intention of ever upgrading.  I mean, it apparently wasn't good enough to run Windows 10, so I wouldn't be surprised if Wayland had problems with it.  But in any case, Ubuntu still supports X.org and switching to the GNOME X.org session worked just fine.  I don't really intend to use the GUI on this system anyway, so it's not a big deal.

The restore

Once I got Ubuntu installed, it was on to step two of the process: getting my data drive set up.  It's a 1TB drive that used to serve as the Windows install drive.  It was divided into a couple of partitions, both formatted as NTFS.  Since I'm switching to Linux and really just wanted one big data drive, this was a sub-optimal setup.  Therefore I decided to just blow away the partition table and restore from a backup

I currently use CrashPlan to back up this computer.  It's set to back up to both the cloud and a local USB hard drive.  So my plan was to repartition the disk, install CrashPlan, and restore from the local hard drive.

This was fairly easy.  Installing the CrashPlan client was the first task.  There's no .deb package, but rather a .tgz that contains an installer script.  It was actually pretty painless - just kick off the script and wait.  It even installs its own copy of the JRE that doesn't conflict with the system version.  Nice!

Next was actually restoring the data.  Fortunately, CrashPlan has their process for restoring from a USB drive well documented, so there wasn't much to figure out.  The process of connecting a particular backup dataset on the drive to the CrashPlan client was slightly confusing because the backup interface (as far as I can remember) doesn't really make it obvious that a USB drive can have more than one dataset.  But it just boils down to picking the right directory, which is easy when you only have one choice.

The only surprise I ran into was that running the restore took a really long time (essentially all day) and created some duplicate data.  My data drive contained several symlinks to other directories on the same drive and CrashPlan apparently doesn't handle that well - I ended up with two directories that had identical content.  I'm not sure whether this was a result of having symlinks at all, or if it was just moving from Windows symlinks to Linux symlinks.  In any case, it's slightly inconvenient, but not a big deal.

Other services

While the restore ran, I started setting up the system.  Really, there were only a handful of packages cared about installing.  Unfortunately for me, most of them are proprietary and therefore not in the APT repository.  But the good news is that most of them were pretty easy to set up.

The first order of business, since this box is primarily a media server, was setting up Plex.  This turned out to be as simple as installing the .deb package and firing up the UI to do the configuration.  From there, I moved on to installing Subsonic.  This was only marginally more difficult, as I also had to install the OpenJDK JRE to get it to run.  I also followed the instructions here to make the service run as a user other than root, which seemed like not such a great idea.

The only thing I wanted to install that I couldn't get to work was TeamViewer.  But this wasn't a deal-breaker, though, because the only reason I was using TeamViewer under Windows was because I was running the Windows 8.1 Home and was too cheap to pay for the upgrade to Professional just to get the RDP server.  But since this is Ubuntu, there are other options.  Obviously SSH is the tool of choice for command-line access and file transfers.  For remote GUI access, I tried several variations on VNC, but it eventually became clear that xRDP was the best solution for me.  It's not quite as straight-forward to get working, but this guide provides a nice step-by-step walk through.  There are also a few caveats to using it, like the fact that the same user can't be logged in both locally and remotely, but those weren't big issues for my use case.


For the most part, the transition has gone pretty smoothly.  The setup didn't go quite as smoothly as it could have been, but it wasn't too bad.  In any event, what I really cared about was getting Plex and Subsonic up and running and that was pretty painless.  So I'm back to where I was originally, but on an up-to-date operating system, which is all I really wanted.

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