Upgrading Ubuntu With Minimal Downtime And A Fallback Option

When it comes to my notebook that I use around 25 hours per day I'm in a bit of a predicament. On the one hand it must be stable and ultra reliable. That means I don't install software on it I don't really need and resort to virtual machines to do such things. On the other hand, however, I also like new features of the OS which means I had to upgrade my Ubuntu 12.04 LTS to 14.04 LTS at some point. But how can that be done with minimal downtime and without running the risk of embarking on lengthy fixing sessions after the upgrade and potentially having to find workarounds for things that don't work anymore!?

When I recently upgraded from a 512 GB SSD to a 1 TB SSD and got rid of my Truecrypt partitions a few weeks ago I laid the foundation for just such a pain free OS update. The cornerstone was to have an OS partition that is separate from the data partition. This way, I was now able to quickly create a backup of the OS partition with Clonezilla and restore the backup to a spare hard drive in a spare computer. And thanks to Ubuntu, the clone of my OS partition runs perfectly even on different hardware. And quick in this case really means quick. While my OS partition has a size of 120 GB, only 15 GB is used so the backup takes around 12 minutes. In other words, the downtime of my notebook at this point for the upgrade was 12 minutes. Restoring the backup on the other PC took around 8 minutes.

On this separate PC I could then upgrade my cloned OS partition to Ubuntu 14.04, sort out small itches and ensure that everything is still working. As expected, a couple of things broke. My MoinMoin Wiki installation got a bit messed up in the process, Wi-Fi suspend/resume with my access point also got a bit bruised but everything else worked just as it should.

Once I was satisfied that everything was working as it should I used Clonezilla again to create a backup of the cloned OS partition and then restored this to my production notebook. Another 12 minute outage plus an additional 3 minutes to restore the boot loader with a "Boot Repair" USB stick as my older Clonezilla version could not restore a Ubuntu 14.04 Grub boot loader installation after the restore process.

And that's it, Ubuntu 14.04 is now up and running on my production PC with as little as two 12 minute outages. In addition, I could try everything at length before I committed the upgrade and I still have the backup of the 12.04 installation that I could restore in 12 minutes should the worst happen and I discover a showstopper down the road.

So was it worth all the hassle other than being able to boast that I have 14.04 up and running now? Yes I think it has and here's a list of things that I have significantly improved for my everyday use:

  • Video playpack is smoother now (no occasional vertial shear anymore)
  • The dock shows names of all LibreOffice Documents now
  • Newer Virtualbox, seems to be faster (graphics, windows, etc.)
  • MTP of more phones recognized
  • Can be booted with external monitor connected without issues
  • Nicer fonts in Wine Apps (Word, etc.)
  • Nicer animations/lock screen
  • Updated Libreoffice, improved .doc and .docx support
  • The 5 years support period starts from 2014
  • Better position to upgrade in 2 years to 16.04
  • Menus in header save space
  • VLC has more graphical elements now

One thought on “Upgrading Ubuntu With Minimal Downtime And A Fallback Option”

  1. Nice description. Separating OS from data is a standard practice in the IT world, so that was a good move you already did, but I hadn’t thought of installing the upgrade on a clone before. Seems like a good way to do it.

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