Diggin' technology every day

May 30, 2014

HP Discover 2014 – Las Vegas

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — Nate @ 10:31 am

HP Discover 2014I’m going to be attending my first HP Discover in two weeks in Las Vegas. HP has asked me for a while to go but I do not like big trade shows(or anywhere with large crowds of people), so until now have shied away.

I had a really good time at the HP Storage tech day and Nth symposium last year so I decided I wanted to try out Discover this year given that I know at least some folks that will be there and we’ll be in a somewhat organized group of “bloggers” led by Calvin Zito the HP Storage blogger.

I’ve never been to Las Vegas before but I’ll be there from June 8th and leaving on the 13th. After that I’m going to Arizona to check out the Grand Canyon and a few other places for a few days and return home the following week some time.

Looking forward to meeting some folks there, should be pretty fun.

June 11, 2012

Back from Amsterdam

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — Nate @ 5:20 am

I’m back from Amsterdam – it was about what I expected. I basically stuck to the hotel and the data center – I even skipped out on that little cruise I pre paid for, just didn’t feel like going. I knew I disliked traveling and this trip was a massive reminder as to why. About the only thing that was a positive surprise for me was the long haul flights. I was dreading it at first but the nice reclining seats and big screen LCDs allowed me to kick back and stretch my legs without getting the usual cramps and discomfort. My flight to Amsterdam was on a single airline, made a stop in Chicago where the transfer of plans was amazingly short – it was about 150 feet between the gates I was afraid that it was going to be far and maybe I’d miss the flight (I don’t have much recent flying experience the last time I had to make a connecting flight was I’d wager 20 years ago).

I got confused as to my flight schedule(wasn’t going to be the first time) and I arrived in Amsterdam about eight hours before I thought I was going to arrive. The hotel was alright, I mean for the price at least, it was around $200/night or something which seemed pretty typical for a city room. First thing I noticed is it took me a good 3-5 minutes to figure out how the lights worked (had to put hotel key card in a slot to activate them). Took a shower after the long flight – no washcloth ? Maybe it is not typical in Europe I don’t know, I seem to recall washcloths at hotels I was at in Asia growing up. The toilet was a very strange design, it was like this, which had a couple drawbacks. The mini bar in the room was automatic, I didn’t notice that until the 2nd day, so you can’t even take something out to look at it without being charged. I ended up taking quite a bit of things out. There was a sort of mini mart at a shell station about a half mile away that I walked to to buy drinks and stuff on a couple occasions the selection paled in comparison to similar stores in the U.S. The first time I went I literally saw a line of cars at the pumps. I don’t know if gas was cheap or if it was a rush hour or the only gas station in the area but  it really reminded me of seeing the pictures of the gas shortages in the 70s in the U.S. There wasn’t many pumps – I think 4 or 5, I’d say less than half the typical gas station here.

On the first leg of my flight the passenger next to me said watch out for the bikes – but didn’t elaborate. Wow – I had not seen so many bikes since I lived in China in 89-90. They certainly have their bike infrastructure laid out pretty well with dedicated pathways for bikes as well as dedicated street crossing signals etc. On one of my walks around the hotel area I walked through what appeared to be their version of the Park and Ride. Where here the park and rides are filled with cars and parking lots, this one was filled with bikes and was pretty much entirely under a freeway overpass. It seemed like a large number of bikes weren’t even locked up. The overall quality of the bikes seemed low I suppose that is at least partly to reduce theft by not having nice fancy bikes I’m not sure. More than anything when I saw the bike stuff it made me think this must be what those hippies in Seattle and SFO want. It was certainly an interesting design, too much of a culture shock for me though.

I found the intersections very confusing and am even more glad I did not try to rent a car while I was there.

Speaking of cars, wow are they small over there, I struggle to think of seeing even a single pickup truck (of any size) while I was there. I saw a bunch of cars like mine, and there was this other really tiny car, which made those tiny Smart cars look big, it was smaller than a golf cart. I missed a few opportunities to take pictures of them, I’m sure I could find them online somewhere. The taxi drivers drove sort of crazy, drifting between lanes and stuff, one of them blew way through a red light(the other lights must’ve turned green already) which was freaky. I recall on that same trip we were behind some kind of small van that had a radiation warning sign on it.

The data center was — interesting I guess. Everyone had to wear protective booties around their shoes while on the floor which was a first for me, I think way over kill. Nothing really exciting here, I got everything done that I needed to get done.

I spent hours looking online for places to go but could not find anything that I was interested in. Well there was one thing I just couldn’t figure out how to do it. I was really interested in seeing the big water structures they used to hold back the water. The biggest of them appeared to be a 2 hour drive away from the city ( too far). There was a couple tours that hit them but they were minimum 8 hour commitment which was too long. This is my first trip where I did not have a car at the destination and that was a good reason why I didn’t do anything or go anywhere, normally I would just roam around but relying on taxis I really had to have a precise destination. I wasn’t about to rent a car, I really did not feel anywhere comfortable enough to drive in a foreign country like that. While everyone said “they all speak english!”, most people did speak great english, but the destinations for me for the most part were unpronounceable and not understandable (Schepenbergweg was the street the data center was on – I heard it pronounced at least a dozen times and at the end was no closer to beginning to pronounce it myself than hearing it the first time). Because of the $20 per megabyte roaming data fees on my phone I kept the data services on the phone disabled throughout my trip there which of course limited my ability to find stuff while not at the hotel or data center. I was especially worried of getting lost and having to call for a taxi and not be able to pronounce where I was and the taxi not being able to find me. I don’t know how it was like in the real down town parts of town but in all the places I visited while growing up in Asia there was taxis everywhere you could just flag down and get one. I did not see this situation in the areas I was at in Amsterdam. The hotel called me a taxi to go to the data center and I asked the security guards at the data center to call me a taxi to get back.

So in the end I ate most of my meals at the hotel, never went to the down town part of town, I walked around a bit around the hotel and took some pictures of the area, nothing special. It really reminded me how much I dislike traveling in general.

The flight back was a little more frustrating, having to stop in London and go through customs and immigration and a pretty long trip to change terminals, it seems like I barely made the flight despite having a 2 hour stop over. I had to ask multiple people for help while there too because while I had a boarding pass it didn’t tell me which gate or even which terminal to go to. Even once I knew where to go, getting there wasn’t clear either. The whole place was very confusing, and as a result very frustrating.

This is the first trip I’ve taken in recent memory where I was really excited about going home. I wasn’t looking forward to it to begin with and it turned out about the way I expected. Hopefully that’s my last trip for a long time to come.

I thought about going somewhere fancy to eat or something, but I really couldn’t find anything of interest. Add to that I don’t like going out alone, if I’m with a friend things are different. When it comes to things like fancy steak or pasta or whatever I really don’t have the sensitivity to tell the difference between most of them so I wouldn’t be able to appreciate the good stuff so there really isn’t a whole lot of point of me going. There was a BBQ + Grill near the data center (emphasis on was), the sign was still up but the building was empty. I went to two different nice places with a local friend when I was in Atlanta that I really enjoyed, I tried finding something sort of along those lines in Amsterdam but came up with nothing. Most of the places seemed too exotic or too fancy/upper class.

Apparently I left on the day things were going to get crazy, some special soccer game was being played on Saturday afternoon (I left at around noon). I’ve never been much of a soccer fan at least not since I played it back in 5th grade and earlier years. About the only sport I do enjoy watching is pro football, and even then my interest has been waning over the recent years.

I did all of my shopping at the Airport, picked up a bunch of dutch chocolate going to give most of it away, I tried some of it and it tastes like regular chocolate. I live a mile or so away from a pretty big Sees Candy operation, I bought some of their stuff for Christmas gifts last year, it tastes similar to the Dutch stuff if not better. Picked up a couple picture books of the area, along with some shot glasses for friends and/or family or something.

I got back a full day earlier than I expected. I was absolutely sure yesterday was Monday when I woke up at 5:30AM and turned to CNBC only to see it was Sunday. I got back on Saturday afternoon.

Contrast that with my next trip, which I think will be early July at this point, road trip up to Seattle. I decided to take the coast up north at least to Crescent City, CA. I’ve been wanting to take my new car along the coast since I bought it over a year ago. I made the coastal trip a couple of times several years ago but not in a car as fun to drive as the one I have at the moment. I’m not sure if I will spend two or three days driving up. I’m really looking forward to that. I think it may of been really cool to go along the coast of the Netherlands but I really didn’t have a way to make that happen while I was there.

One of my friends from SEA is in town for a few days I intend to take tomorrow off and go see him down in Morgan Hill, CA (60 miles away), should be good times to catch up and hang out at this nice place he is talking about.

December 15, 2011

VMware increases core counts in 4.1 licensing

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — Nate @ 10:43 am

I just came across this mention on AMD’s blog. They note that vSphere 4.1 Update 2 included a CPU licensing change –

For the AMD Opteron 6200 and 4200 series (Family 15h) processors, ESX/ESXi 4.1 Update 2 treats each core within a compute unit as an independent core, except while applying licenses. For the purpose of licensing, ESX/ESXi treats each compute unit as a core. For example, a processor with 8 compute units can provide the processor equivalent of 16 cores on ESX/ESXi 4.1 Update 2. However, ESX/ESXi 4.1 Update 2 only requires an 8 core license for each 16-core processor.

I had not heard of that before, so it’s news to me! So not only is the physical cost of the Opteron 6200 cheaper than the 6100, the licensing cost is half as much (per core). AMD’s blog post above shows some pretty impressive results where a pair of quad socket 6200 blades outperforming a pair of quad socket 10-core Intel blades(2 sockets populated per blade) and at the same time the 6200 solution costs half as much (per VM). Though it’s also comparing vSphere 4.1 vs 5.0, since the Opteron 6200 results seem to be the first vSphere 5.0 VMmark results posted. Also the Intel solution has twice the ram as the Opteron but still loses out.

Based on what I see it seems VMmark is more CPU bound than memory(capacity bound), which I suppose I can understand but still in the vast majority of situations the systems are not CPU bound. People tend to load up more on CPUs so they can get more memory capacity. I won’t have real numbers for probably two months but I’m expecting CPU usage on this new cluster I am building to be at least half the amount of memory usage.

The change sounds Oracle-esque in licensing where they have fairly complicated decisions they made to determine how many “Oracle cores” you have on your physical processor.

I am traveling tonight to Atlanta to deploy a new vSphere cluster with Opteron 6100s, I was going to go with vSphere 5 because of the license limits on vSphere 4.1 not supporting 16 core processors. Now I see 4.1 does support it so I have about 48 hours to think about whether or not I want to change my mind. I do like vSphere 5’s inclusion of LLDP support, more vCPUs per VM. Though really even now after I have been looking through what is in vSphere 5 I don’t see anything game changing, nothing remotely, in my opinion like the change to vSphere 4.0 from ESX 3.5.

Weigh the benefits of what’s new in vSphere 5 vs having the ability to have unlimited memory(well, up to 1TB, which for me is unlimited from a practical standpoint) in my hosts for no additional licensing cost…

I’m already licensed for vSphere 5 since we bought it after the deadline of the end of September.

Mad props to AMD for getting VMware to tweak their licensing.

Decisions, decisions..

July 8, 2011

Wired or Wireless?

Filed under: Networking,Random Thought,Uncategorized — Tags: — Nate @ 9:58 am

I’ll start out by saying I’ve never been a fan of Wifi, it’s always felt like a nice gimmick-like feature to have but other than that I usually steered clear. Wifi has been deployed at all companies I have worked at in the past 7-8 years though in all cases I was never responsible for that (I haven’t done internal IT since 2002, at which time wifi was still in it’s early stages(assuming it was out at all yet? I don’t remember) and was not deployed widely at all – including at my company). I could probably count on one hand the number of public wifi networks I have used over the years, excluding hotels (of which there was probably ten).

In the early days it was mostly because of paranoia around security/encryption though over the past several years encryption has really picked up and helped that area a lot. There is still a little bit of fear in me that the encryption is not up to snuff, and I would prefer using a VPN on top of wifi to make it even more secure, only really then would I feel comfortable from a security standpoint of using wifi.

From a security standpoint I am less concerned about people intercepting my transmissions over wifi than I am about people breaking into my home network over wifi (which usually happens by intercepting transmissions – my point is more of the content of what I’m transferring, if it is important is always protected by SSL or SSH or in the case of communicating with my colo or cloud hosted server there is a OpenVPN SSL layer under that as well).

Many years ago, I want to say 2005-2006 time frame, there was quite a bit of hype around the Linksys WRT-54G wifi router, for being easy to replace the firmware with custom stuff and get more functionality out of it. So I ordered one at the time, put dd-wrt on it, which is a custom firmware that was talked a lot about back then (is there something better out there? I haven’t looked). I never ended up hooking it to my home network, just a crossover cable to my laptop to look at the features.

Then I put it back in it’s box and put it in storage.

Until earlier this week, when I decided to break it out again to play with in combination with my new HP Touchpad, which can only talk over Wifi.

My first few days with the Touchpad involved having it use my Sprint 3G/4G Mifi access point. As I mentioned earlier I don’t care about people seeing my wifi transmissions I care about protecting my home network. Since the Mifi is not even remotely related to my home network I had no problem using it for extended periods.

The problem with the Mifi, from my apartment is the performance. At best I can get 20% signal strength for 4G, and I can get maybe 80% signal strength for 3G, latency is quite bad in both cases, and throughput isn’t the best either, a lot of times it felt like I was on a 56k modem. Other times it was faster. For the most part I used 3G because it was more reliable for my location, however I do have a 5 gig data cap/month for 3G so considering I started using the Touchpad on the 1st of the month I got kind of concerned I may run into that playing with the new toy during the first month. I just checked Sprint’s site and I don’t see a way to see intra month data usage, only data usage for the month once it’s completed. The mifi tracks data usage while it is running but this data is not persisted across reboots, and I think it’s also reset if the mifi changes between 3G and 4G services. I have unlimited 4G data, but the signal strength where I’m at just isn’t strong enough.

I looked into the possibility of replacing my Mifi with newer technology, but after reading some customer reviews of the newer stuff it seemed unlikely I would get a significant improvement in performance at my location, enough to justify the cost of the upgrade at least so I decided against that for now.

So I broke out the WRT-54G access point and hooked it up. Installed the latest recommended version of firmware, configured the thing and hooked up the touchpad.

I knew there was a pretty high number of personal access points deployed near me, it was not uncommon to see more than 20 SSIDs being broadcast at any given time. So interference was going to be an issue. At one point my laptop showed me that 42 access points were broadcasting SSIDs. And that of course does not even count the ones that are not broadcasting, who knows how many there are there, I haven’t tried to get that number.

With my laptop and touchpad being located no more than 5 feet away from the AP, I had signal strengths of roughly 65-75%. To me that seemed really low given the proximity. I suspected significant interference was causing signal loss. Only when I put the touchpad within say 10 inches of the antenna from the AP did the signal strength go above 90%.


Looking into the large number of receive errors told me that those errors are caused almost entirely by interference.

So then I wanted to see what channels were most being used and try to use a channel that has less congestion, the AP defaulted to channel 6.

The last time I mucked with wifi on linux there seemed to be an endless stream of wireless scanning, cracking, hacking tools. Much to my shock and surprise these days most of those tools haven’t been maintained in 5-6-7-8+ years. There aren’t many left. Sadly enough the default Ubuntu wifi apps do not report channels they just report SSIDs. So I went on a quest to find a tool I could use. I finally came across something called wifi radar, which did the job more or less.

I counted about 25 broadcasting SSIDs using wifi radar, nearly half of them if I recall right were on channel 6. A bunch more on 11 and 1, the other two major channels. My WRT54G had channels going all the way up to 14. I recall reading several years ago about frequency restrictions in different places, but in any case I tried channel 14 (which is banned in the US). Wifi router said it was channel 14, but neither my laptop nor Touchpad would connect. I suspect since they flat out don’t support it. No big deal.

Then I went to channel 13. Laptop immediately connected, Touchpad did not. Channel 13 is banned in many areas, but is allowed in the U.S. if the power level is low.

Next I went to channel 12. Laptop immediately connected again, Touchpad did not. This time I got suspicious of the Touchpad. So I fired up my Palm Pre, which uses an older version of the same operating system. It saw my wifi router on channel 12 no problem. But the Touchpad remained unable to connect even if I manually input the SSID. Channel 12 is also allowed in the U.S. if the power level is low enough.

So I ended up on channel 11. Everything could see everything at that point. I enabled WPA2 encryption, enabled MAC address filtering (yes I know you can spoof MACs pretty easily on wifi, but at the same time I have only 2 devices I’ll ever connect so blah). I don’t have a functional VPN yet mainly because I don’t have a way (yet) to access VPN on the Touchpad, it has built in support for two types of Cisco VPNs but that’s it. I installed OpenVPN on it but I have no way to launch it on demand without being connected to the USB terminal.  I suppose I could just leave it running and in theory it should automatically connect when it finds a network but I haven’t tried that.

So on to my last point on wifi – interference. As I mentioned earlier signal quality was not good even being a few feet away from the access point. I decided to try out to run a basic throughput test on both the Touchpad and the Laptop. All tests were using the same Comcast consumer broadband connection

DeviceConnectivity TypeLatencyDownload PerformanceUpload Performance
HP Touchpad802.11g Wireless18 milliseconds5.32 Megabits4.78 Megabits
Toshiba dual core Laptop with Ubuntu 10.04 and Firefox 3.6802.11g Wireless13 milliseconds9.46 Megabits4.89 Megabits
Toshiba dual core Laptop with Ubuntu 10.04 and Firefox 3.61 Gigabit ethernet9 milliseconds27.48 Megabits5.09 Megabits

The test runs in flash, and as you can see of course the Touchpad’s browser (or flash) is not nearly as fast as the laptop, not too unexpected.

Comparing LAN transfer speeds was even more of a joke of course, I didn’t bother involving the Touchpad in this test just the laptop. I used iperf to test throughput(no special options just default settings).

  • Wireless – 7.02 Megabits/second (3.189 milliseconds latency)
  • Wired – 930 Megabits/second (0.3 milliseconds latency)

What honestly surprised me though was over the WAN, how much slower wifi was on the laptop vs wired connection, it’s almost 1/3rd the performance on the same laptop/browser. I justed measured to be sure – my laptop’s screen (where I believe the antenna is at) is 52 inches from the WRT54G router.

It’s “fast enough” for the Touchpad’s casual browsing, but certainly wouldn’t want to run my home network on it, defeats the purpose of paying for the faster connectivity.

I don’t know how typical these results out there. One place I recently worked at was plagued with wireless problems, performance was soo terrible and unreliable. They upgraded the network and I wasn’t able to maintain a connection for more than two minutes which sucks for SSH. To make matters worse the vast majority of their LAN was in fact wireless, there was very little cable infrastructure in the office. Smart people hooked up switches and stuff for their own tables which made things more usable, though still a far cry from optimal.

In a world where we are getting even more dense populations and technology continues to penetrate driving more deployments of wifi, I suspect interference problems will only get worse.

I’m sure it’s great if the only APs within range are your own, if you live or work at a place that is big enough. But small/medium businesses frequently won’t be so lucky, and if you live in a condo or apartment like me, ouch…

My AP is not capable of operating in the 5Ghz range 802.11a/n, that very well could be significantly less congested. I don’t know if it is accurate or not but wifi radar claims every AP within range of my laptop(47 at the moment) is 802.11g (same as me). My laptop’s specs say it supports 802.11b/g/n, so I’d expect if anyone around me was using N then wifi radar would pick it up, assuming the data being reported by wifi radar is accurate.

Since I am moving in about two weeks I’ll wait till I’m at my new apartment before I think more about the possibility of going to a 802.11n capable device for reduced interference. On that note does any of my 3-4 readers have AP suggestions?

Hopefully my new place will get better 4G wireless coverage as well, I already checked the coverage maps and there are two towers within one mile of me, so it all depends on the apartment itself, how much interference is caused by the building and stuff around it.

I’m happy I have stuck with ethernet for as long as I have at my home, and will continue to use ethernet at home and at work wherever possible.

July 22, 2010

Got Hand?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Nate @ 3:32 pm

While the days tick by at my current job before the end (still planning on next Wednesday being my last day), I am pretty impressed with the number of senior system engineer/admin positions available, and the sheer number of people getting out of bad situations while the getting is good. Just a couple hours ago I had a friend of mine email me to see if he could bring me into his new company.

Do yourself a favor, at least if you happen to be in the Seattle area, and have mad engineering skills, and aren’t totally happy with your current position/company, take a look around, lots of others are hiring people like you, and at the very least you may be able to score more $$.

Even if you are happy, you can use the companies to practice interviewing, I don’t know about you but for me it seems the last dozen jobs I’ve interviewed for it felt like a formality more than anything, I mean the only thing I was concerned about from my end was whether or not I was overqualified (since I do so much more than just systems). I think I interview really well, which is kind of strange to me because I consider myself a fairly shy person at least around people I don’t know. But I suppose the high level of confidence I have in what I do overcomes that shyness during the interviewing process.

I don’t know how other regions of the country are doing but Seattle is hopping crazy for senior engineers/admins. Kind of reminds me of the Seinfeld episode where George get’s “hand” (at least for a short time!), you have hand! USE IT!

June 11, 2010

Investing in IT vs spending in IT

Filed under: Uncategorized — Nate @ 6:25 pm

My good friend Chuck over at EMC (ok we’ve never met but he seems like a nice guy, we could be friends) wrote an interesting article about Investing in IT vs Spending on IT. I thought it was a really good read, I hadn’t thought of things in that way, but it made me realize I am one who wants to Invest in IT infrastructure, even if it means paying more up front, the value add of some solutions are just difficult to put numbers on.

Take storage for example, since Chuck is a storage guy. There’s a lot more to storage than cost per TB, cost per IOP, cost per usable TB, and even more than cost of power+cooling for the solution. The smaller things really do add up over time, but how do you put numbers on them? Something as simple as granular monitoring, when I went through a storage refresh a while back the currently established vendor really had no way of measuring the performance of their own system to develop a plan for a suitable technology refresh. It wasn’t a small system either it was a big fairly expensive (for the time) one.

Would you of expected to replace one storage system with another that had less than half the number of disks, and roughly 75% less raw IOPS (on paper)? Would you of expected the new system to not only outperform and out scale the old but continue to eat a significant amount of growth over the following year before needing an upgrade? If your a normal person I would expect you to not expect that. But that’s what happened.

In my experience, my approach is to establish a track record at an organization, this may take a few months, or may take a year(may be much longer if it’s a big company). Once you have established X number of successful projects, a higher degree of trust is put in you to have more lateral control and influence on how things work. Less hand holding, less minute justifications are required to get your point across, and you can get more things done.

Maybe that thinking is too logical, I don’t know. It’s how I think though, myself I put more faith in people the more I see how good they are at their jobs, I trust them more, if they turn out to provide good solutions or even good angles of thought I believe I can rely more on them to do that line of work than to work over their shoulder double checking everything. I think it’s how you can scale. Of course not all employees measure up, I would say especially in larger organizations most do not(government is especially bad I hear).

No one person can run it all, as much as they’d like. I’ve tried, and well the results while not horrible weren’t as good as having more people doing the work. I learned the hard way to delegate more work, whether it’s to co-workers, or to contractors, or even to vendors. People take vendors for granted, there is a lot of experience and knowledge they can bring to the table, not all vendor teams are created equal of course.

If you just want to spend on IT, don’t hire someone like me, I don’t want to work for you. If you want to invest in IT, to give your organization more leadership in new technologies that can improve efficiencies and lower costs, then you may want someone like me. Which is why I gravitate towards smaller higher technological organizations. They usually don’t have the economies of scale to do things as well as the big guns out there, so it’s up to people like me to develop innovative solutions to compete differently. If you read the blog you’ll see I don’t subscribe to any one vendor stack. I like many different products from many different vendors depending on what the requirements are.

From a vendor perspective (since it’s been 5 years since I worked with a contractor of sorts) I do like to have a good relationship with the vendor, they can be a valuable source of information. Vendors either love me or hate me, it really depends on their products, as folks that have worked with me can attest. It also depends on how technical the vendor can get with me. I like to go deep into the technical realm. And I believe I do challenge the System Engineers at my vendors with tough questions. Those that don’t measure up don’t last long. I have high expectations of myself, and I have high expectations of those around me, frequently too high. I don’t like to play political games where you try to screw them over because you know they’ll screw you back the first chance you get. Having a good relationship is one of those things it’s hard to put a number on. To me it’s worth a decent amount.

Jake, another person on this blog(hi Jake!) is similar, though he’s a lot more loyal than me, which again can be a good thing as well. Changing technology paths every 15 minutes is not a good idea, having a dozen different server vendors in your racks because different ones provided 5-10% better pricing at that particular time of day is not a good idea either.

Speaking of Jake, I remember when I first started at my previous company and they were doing negotiations with Oracle on licensing. They were out of compliance on licensing(they paid for Oracle SE One but were using Oracle EE) and were facing hefty fines. I tried to propose an alternative solution (going to Oracle Standard Edition which is significantly different from SE One), which would of saved significant amounts of money with really no loss in functionality(for our apps at the time). I was a new(literally a few weeks) employee and Jake dismissed my opinion, which I could understand at the time I was new and had no track record, nobody knew if I knew what I was talking about. It was OK though, so they paid their fines, and licensed some new Oracle stuff as part of the settlement.

The next year rolled around and Oracle came back again to do an audit, and once again found massive numbers of violations and the company was once again facing large amounts of penalties to get back in compliance. Apparently the previous process wasn’t as transparent as they expected, either the Oracle rep was misleading the company or was generally incompetent, I don’t know since I wasn’t involved in those talks.

Once again I strongly urged the company to migrate to Standard Edition to slash licensing costs, this time they listened to me. It took a few weeks to get all of the environments migrated over, including a full weekend of my time migrating production doing all sorts of unsupported things to get it done(value adds for you) to minimize downtime (while you can go from Oracle SE to EE without downtime typically you can’t do it the other way around). Went the extra mile to establish a standby DB server with log replication and consistent database backups(because you can’t run RMAN against a standby DB at least you couldn’t on 10GR2 at the time), all of it worked great, and we (as expected) slashed our Oracle licensing fees.

Of course I didn’t have to do that, I could of sat by and watched them pay up in fees again(several hundred thousand dollars in total). But I did do it, I did go to them and say I’m willing to work my ass off for several weeks to do this to save you money. Many people I’ve come across I don’t think have the dedication to volunteer for such an effort, they’ll of course do it if asked, but frequently won’t push hard so they can work more. What did I get out of it? I suppose more than anything a sense of accomplishment and pride. I certainly didn’t get any monetary rewards from the company. I didn’t get to re-allocate that portion of the budget towards things we were in very desperate need for.

The only frustrating part of the whole situation was when we licensed Oracle EE originally the optimal CPU configuration at the time was the fastest dual core CPUs you could get. So we ordered a HP DL 380G5 I think it was with dual proc dual core CPUs. Given the system was marked as compatible with 4 core systems I figured it would be an easy switch when or if we went to Standard edition (which charges per socket not per core, a fact I had to correct Oracle’s own reps on more than one occasion). But when the time came it turned out that we had to replace the motherboard on the HP system because the particular part number we had was not compatible with quad core. It took lots of support calls and HP reps insisting that our system was compatible before someone dug further into the details and found out it was not. But we got the board and CPUs replaced and still of course came out way ahead.

When I come up with solutions it’s not half assed. You may have a problem and ask me and I may have an immediate solution for your problem, but it’s not because I just read about it on slashdot that morning. My solutions are heavily thought out over a period of months or years (usually years), and it’s not obvious to people that I work with (or for, often enough) how much thought actually went into a particular solution regardless of the amount of time that elapsed since you posed the question to me. I love technology and I am always on the hunt for what I consider best of breed in whatever industry that the product is in. I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty, I’m not afraid to stand by my decisions in the event I make a mistake, and I really like to operate in an environment of trust.

Would it surprise you that I led an effort to launch an e-commerce site on top of VMware GSX back in early 2004 so my company’s customer would be satisfied? How many of you were running production facing VMware servers back then? Were they doing credit card transactions? I only did it because the company’s software failed to install properly during a system upgrade, and in order to keep the customer happy we decided to build them their own stand alone cluster, went from 0 to fully functional and tested in about 96 hours, most of that time was NOT sleeping.

And before you ask, NO I am not one of those people who is going to go suggest an open source solution for every problem on the planet just because it’s free. I use open source where I believe it adds value regardless of the cost, and use commercial, closed platforms (whether it’s VMware or even Oracle) where I believe they can add value. Don’t equate creative solutions with using free software across the board. That’s just as stupid as using a closed source ecosystem for all of your IT infrastructure.You won’t catch me trying to replace your active directory server with a Samba+LDAP system. You could catch me trying to do that – 10 years ago -. I’m long passed all that.

I can only speak for myself, but let me do my job and you won’t be disappointed. I’m not afraid to say I am one of those people who can do some pretty amazing things given the right resources, if your on linkedin you can check the recommendations on my profile for some examples.

So, round about, thanks Chuck that was a good read. Getting all of this written down really makes me feel a bit better too.

February 23, 2010

Uptime matters

Filed under: Uncategorized — Nate @ 11:04 am

A friend of mine sent me a link to this xkcd comic and said it reminded him of me, I thought it was fitting given the slogan on the site.

Devotion to Duty

November 10, 2009

Reclaiming Quick Launch in Windows 7

Filed under: Uncategorized — @ 2:59 pm

Maybe I’m the only one out there, but I am a big fan of Quick Launch in Windows. Any new system I got the first thing I would do is resize the task bar to double height, move the Quick Launch bar to the bottom and start populating it with shortcuts. I hardly ever needed to go to the Start Menu or the desktop to launch programs – in fact, I see using the Start Menu and desktop shortcuts as a complete waste of time.

I tried Windows 7 Beta when it first came out and was very disappointed to see that they eliminated Quick Launch (or I guess some drink-the-koolaid marketing person would say they created a new, better hybrid solution – but whatever, I call it a regression). My one hope was that it was just a feature missing in the beta version and would be back in the release version. Nope. I just upgraded to 7 last night and QL is gone. It really made me want to finally give up and use Ubuntu for my work laptop (already use it for my home laptop). But, since I mostly manage Windows servers at my current job it still is a bit of a pain.

So, what’s that old saying: when Microsoft wants you to drink the koolaid you make lemonade? Something like that.

Here’s what I did to get Quick Launch back:

  1. Create a folder somewhere and name it something (I went with Shortcuts in my Documents folder)
  2. Hover your mouse over the top of your taskbar until you get the double arrow and click and drag your taskbar to double height (this step is optional – also gives the added bonus of letting you see the day of the week)
  3. Right click on your task bar and select Toolbars > New Toolbar
  4. Navigate to the folder you created in step 1 and click Select Folder. Your new Toolbar now appears just to the left of your Notification Area (where the clock is)
  5. Click on the “boarder” of the tool bar and drag it all the way to the right and down towards the Windows button on the bottom left of the screen (this will only work if the taskbar isn’t locked)
  6. Right click in the new Quick Launch space and uncheck Show Text and Show Title

Done! Now you have a Quick Launch bar that is almost like you had in XP/Vista. Sure, you’re missing the “Add to Quick Launch” feature you used to have in Vista, but at least it’s close. You can quickly add items to your home brewed Quick Launch by doing a right-click-drag from the Start Menu and and choosing Copy here (if you don’t do a right-click-drag, you’ll move it which you might not want to do). You can also right-click and send a shortcut to the desktop, and then drag the shortcut down from there.

Update: After I installed Windows 7 Beta when it first came out I did some searching on this issue and came up with nothing. I haven’t touched 7 since. After posting this article, I did another search and see that others have come up with the same or a slightly different solution. Good! Don’t drink the koolaid!

October 2, 2009

Cleaning the VMCC (3.5) Database

Filed under: Uncategorized — @ 10:45 am

Last weekend encountered a problem with our VMware instance where we could no longer reach a few of our VM’s via SSH. No big deal I thought I will just connect to VMCC and jump on the console. So I was mildly annoyed when I couldn’t connect, but it was Sunday and there was nothing Product impacted so decide to investigate first thing Monday.

By the time I got in Monday a co-work had already begun investigating why we couldn’t connect to VMCC and found the error ‘VIM_VCDB’ because the ‘PRIMARY’ filegroup is full. in Event log for the machine hosting VMCC. A little googling gave some pointers to the fix, but most seemed to assume you were a MS SQL DBA and knew what you were doing. Since I am not a MS SQL DBA and did not know what I am doing, I thought I would put what I eventually figured out here in case any other non-DBA’s had the same problem. (Note you could completely destroy your VMware installation following these instructions, I would highly recommend you hire an expert to do it)

1.) Download the purge old data SQL script from HERE

2.) If you don’t already have it (not being a DBA and all) download SSMSE from HERE

3.) Double- Click the VCDB_table_cleanup_MSSQL script and it will Launch SSMSE

4.) Select the VIM_VCDB database from the drop down

5.) Now click the SSMSE-execute-button button to perform a trail run. You should see something similar to the screen below showing the output of the test run.


From here I will leave as an exercise for the reader to figure out how to enable the cleanup script to actually clean up the database, Hint: read the script comments.

September 14, 2009

transcode tips

Filed under: Uncategorized — Nate @ 6:58 pm

I downloaded a show off my Tivo Series 3 last night, and wanted to convert it from it’s native MPEG-2 to MPEG-4. I’ve done it before, but didn’t want to spend time trying to find the scripts so I spent a bunch of time searching around for some quick tips on how best to do it. And despite some honest efforts I came up with nothing useful.

So a short time ago I dug up my scripts and thought to share some of them, not only will it make it easier for me since I can check this site for the syntax in the future but maybe it’ll help you too.

Of course I won’t cover installing transcode or it’s dependencies, I assume you have all of that done. I don’t recall what all of the options do but as you can see there are quite a few, not the easiest thing to remember. See the man page or transcode documentation for what the options mean.

Export audio portion of a video file to OGG Vorbis:

transcode -i input_filename -y raw,ogg -F mpeg4 -E44100 -b 128 -N 0x55 -w 120,300,2 -V -Z 176×120 -m filename.ogg -o /dev/null

Export audio portion of a file to MP3(using lame):

transcode -i input_file -y raw -F mpeg4 -E44100 -b 128 -N 0x55 -w 120,300,2 -V -Z 176×120 -m output.mp3 -o /dev/null

Convert video+audio from some format(e.g. MPEG-2) to MPEG-4:

transcode -i input.mpg y xvid4 -F mpeg4 -E22050 -b 64 -N 0x55 –w 250,200,3 -V -M 2 -o filename.avi

I wish transcode had some easy to use templates, such as convert with low, medium, or high compression type of deal. I mean if you don’t specify any options by default it seems to use maximum quality and in some cases despite going from say MPEG-2 to MPEG-4 I’ve seen the file size increase.

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