Holy Cow – BTRFS!

Recently I have been experimenting with BTRFS. BTRFS is a relatively new filesystem which has modern features, high performance, scalability, supporting file-system snapshots and on-the-fly compression.

After spending the week running BTRFS on Ubuntu from within a Virtualbox VM I reinstalled my laptop using it. Ubuntu’s installer supports creating btrfs partitions, which is handy, and it is reported to work even as a boot partition. I had problems using BTRFS as the boot partition however, so elected to use ext2 for boot in the real install.

The installer doesn’t support enabling the on the fly compression, so once I had the system installed I edited /etc/fstab adding “compress=lzo”, I added “ssd” as I have an SSD and “space_cache” which is reported to improve performance. After I rebooted I ran a filesystem balance to compress any existing compressible data like so:-

btrfs fi balance /
btrfs fi balance /home

It’s worth pointing out here that there still isn’t a utility which can fix BTRFS filesystem corruption, so although BTRFS is considered stable, you may want to stay away from it just in case. There is also a nasty condition that can cause a kernel crash if the file-system runs out of space, so that is another one to watch for.

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Converting to GPT in Ubuntu

GPT stands for “GUID Partition Table” and it refers to a relatively new format for disk partition tables. It was designed to get around the limitations of the MBR format, namely that you can have more than 4 primary partitions and partitions can be more than 2.2 terabytes in size. GPT is part of the EFI standard but it can also be used on standard BIOS only machines i.e. most non-MAC PCs. Converting to GPT will allow you to future proof your partitions. 2 TB disks are becoming common and it won’t be long before the 2.2TB limit of MBR will stop people using all their disk space in one partition, so in the name of usability and flexibility GPT is the way forward.

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Remotely upgrading a server from 32 to 64 bit linux

This post isn’t designed to be a “how to” merely an overview of how I achieved the subject. It is possible to do this without any physical intervention but in practice I have had to visit site at least once to fix a boot error on every one I have done.

Disclaimer:- When attempting this having some sort of remote access solution that will give access to the server even when it won’t boot is desirable i.e. BMC, DRAC or KVM over IP. Obviously resizing and deleting partitions and file systems is very dangerous so you need to be ultra careful and ultra sure you understand the process and exactly what you are doing at each step. It may also be helpful to draw the partition layout at each stage so you have a clear view of what is happening. Don’t come crying to me when it all blows up in your face. You have been warned!

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