Gentoo No More

Written by Barry Warsaw in technology on Sun 23 May 2010. Tags: canonical, servers, ubuntu,

Today I finally swapped my last Gentoo server for an Ubuntu 10.04 LTS server. Gentoo has served me well over these many years, but with my emerge updates growing to several pages (meaning, I was waaaay behind on updates with almost no hope of catching up) it was long past time to switch. I'd moved my internal server over to Ubuntu during the Karmic cycle, but that was a much easier switch. This one was tougher because I had several interdependent externally facing services: web, mail, sftp, and Mailman.

The real trick to making this go smoothly was to set up a virtual machine in which to install, configure and progressively deploy the new services. My primary desktop machine is a honkin' big i7-920 quad-core Dell with 12GB of RAM, so it's perfectly suited for running lots of VMs. In fact, I have several Ubuntu, Debian and even Windows VMs that I use during my normal development of Ubuntu and Python. However, once I had the new server ready to go, I wanted to be able to quickly swap it into the real hardware. So I purchased a 160GB IDE drive (since the h/w it was going into was too old to support SATA, but still perfectly good for a simple Linux server!) and a USB drive enclosure. I dropped the new disk into the enclosure, mounted it on the Ubuntu desktop and created a virtual machine using the USB drive as its virtio storage.

It was then a pretty simple matter of installing Ubuntu 10.04 on this USB drive-backed VM, giving the VM an IP address on my local network, and installing all the services I wanted. I could even register the VM with Landscape to easily keep it up-to-date as I took my sweet time doing the conversion. There were a few tricking things to keep in mind:

  • I use a port forwarding border router to forward packets from my static external IP address to the appropriate server on my internal network. As I prepared to move each service, I first shut the service off on the old server, twiddled the port forwarding to point to a bogus IP, then tested the new service internally before pointing the real port forward to the new service. This way for example, I had reasonably good confidence that my SMTP server was configured properly before loosing the fire hose of the intarwebs on it.
  • I host several domains on my server so of course my Apache uses NameVirtualHosts. The big downside here is that the physical IP address is used, so I had to edit all the configs over to the temporary IP address of the VM, then back again to the original IP of the server, once the switch was completed.
  • My old server used a fairly straightforward iptables configuration, but in Ubuntu, UFW seems to be the norm. Again, I use IP addresses in the configuration, so these had to be changed twice during the migration.
  • /etc/hosts and /etc/hostname both had to be tweaked after the move since while living in a VM, the host was called something different than when in its final destination. Landscape also had to be reconfigured (see landscape-config(8))

You get the picture. All in all, just tedious if not very difficult. One oddness was that when the machine was a Gentoo box, the ethernet port was eth0 but after the conversion to Ubuntu, it became eth1. Once I figured that out, it was easy to fix networking. There were a few other little things like updates to my internal DNS, pointing my backup server to the new locations of the web and Mailman data on the new server (Ubuntu is more FHS-compliant than my ancient Gentoo layout), and I'm sure a few other little things I forgot to take notes on.

Still, the big lesson here was that by bouncing the services to a USB-drive backed VM, I was able to fairly easy drop the new disk into the old server for a quick and seamless migration to an entirely new operating system.


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