Sunday, February 28, 2010

Cache Innovation

I recently did a small survey of the state of SSD pricing. The results are grim!

  • If you are frugal a 128 GB 2.5" drive might be sufficient as a boot notebook or server hard disk
  • But the SSD price is still hovering between 400 and 700 CHF (1 CHF is about 1 USD)
  • By comparison a 16MB cache, 500GB Seagate Momentus 2.5 spinning disk costs only 130 CHF (130 USD)
  • The latest generation of drives now promise to be faster than their spinning counterparts. Claimed performance is now over 200MB/s read and 150MB/s write. Well allegedly (I mean excluding stuttering, multiple firmware problems, and badly designed notebook SATA interfaces)

Because of the expense there is growing interest in using the SSD as an intelligent cache to the rest of your computer disks. Here is a quick survey of the options

Adaptec MaxIQ

You need an Adaptec Series 2, Series 5 and Series 5Z Unified Serial Storage Controller

You get some software and an Adaptec SSD used to cache read write operations to a specific disk array. The limitations are:

  • You may not change the supplied 32GB SSD drive for another
  • The SSD is used to cache a particular RAID array. So if you create multiple arrays or are using RAID0 you have to choose which array to cache.
  • It is a 1000 CHF / USD add on, so not exactly a bargain

MaxIQ datasheet
Toms hardware MaxIQ review

Lenovo RapidDrive

For some new laptops Lenovo is adding a 32GB or 64GB SSD drive on a PCiE interface in conjunction with the normal 2.5" spinning hard disk. Some low level software is presumably responsible for shuffling the most active data onto the SSD and de-staging it to spinning disk as necessary.

RapidDrive description
RapidDrive article

Raidon HyBrid Disk
No information yet

Silverstone HDDBoost

I like this solution because it is inexpensive, although you do have to buy the expensive SSD. The review below does show performance benefits. I particularly like the design decision that means that all disk writes go straight to hard disk.

Any other Business
I will not dwell on the reverse (and insane) solutions which aggregate SSD disks into an ever more expensive solution. Examples OCZ Colossus, RAMSAN disks

Spending My own money!
It's really my money that I am spending. So IMHO the way forward is still

  • It goes without saying that OSX/ Windows users can make use of RAM rich environments to eliminate application paging as well as technologies likeReadyBoost
  • Not to use any of the above caching solutions, since the cost of SSD is still unacceptably high.
  • For desktop computers invest in a 15K SAS disk and controller
  • Or invest in a spinning WD VelociRaptor
  • For notebooks, keep the faith, keep your disk defragged with Auslogics or similar
  • When the insanely high SSD prices drop to less than 2x spinning then think again.

Ungrateful Kitty

Yes we are on feeding the cat duty again this week because a good friend (and kitty owner) has gone to Japan on a Earthquake holiday.
Marcus is ready to go. Agata is photo shy.

Beginning of our secret route into Lausanne

Small shops and Big prices in central Lausanne

Next is Renens. Things are a little upside down here.

I am so excited! STEG, the leading computer store has moved to Renens. They took over premises from the old Erotic superstore!

Oh my God. Graffiti in Lausanne. I am shocked.

Whooa. Curvy buildings are in construction next to the University of Lausanne (UNIL)

Arrival at kittyville

Okay, you are good to go. I have replace your water and food supplies.

Kitty is eventually found under the bed. But, he absolutely refuses to come out

Onto the Olympic Museum Lausanne

The Vancouver exhibition was disappointing. Some native art and a few generic displays on winter sports.

Some past Winter Olympic highlights

Frustrated I went to the basement kids area to watch some videos. Best exhibit here!

So to summarise, I have to say I've just been on a 30Km plus round trip run to feed the ungrateful kitty. He hid under the bed the whole time I was visiting. Bloody typical.

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Cost of Linux

Back in the day, and the day was roughly 1995 I recall I joined the Slackware subscription service from Walnut Creek. At regular intervals an increasing number of red CDROMs would arrive packed full of the latest LINUX distributions.

For my reading pleasure there was the magazine Linux Journal

Now all this was pretty affordable as I was then living in America. It was seemingly no problem to ship CDs or paper across this entire country and at low low cost.

Fast forward about 15 years and we arrive today in 2010.

Linux software is eminently torrentable and I've switched allegiance to the UK magazine Linux Format.

Today I got a renewal notice for 99.99 GB Pounds for a 1 year postal subscription. I nearly fainted I've done some research from their website

84.39 UK Newstand Price

59.92 UK Postal Subscription Price

83.90 Europe Postal Price

96.90 Rest of World Price

So as far as I can see, the loyal subscriber renewal price is higher than anything that is listed above, and one might expect for Switzerland to be included in the 83.90 European price. There is no option to receive a paper only copy (i.e. sans monthly DVD) or a more environmentally friendly Electronic Magazine Download copy.

I am really terribly underwhelmed. So what have I learnt?

Linux software might be free but the Format is certainly not.

What's in a CASE

It all started with a request to start hosting some guest SAP computer systems on our DMZ (Demilitarised Zone) computer. In layman's terms this is the most insecure PC in our home network, and the one to which hackers are encourage to land, should they penetrate the various firewalls in their path.

So what needs to be virtualised? A few Wintel SAP systems each takes between 2-4GB or physical memory to hum along nicely, then there is the Vintage Computer Webserver (4GB), the Linux Web environment (2GB). To cut to the chase I feel that the mighty 8GB, Quad core Shuttle SX48P2 is no longer man enough for the job.

A compact replacement might be a 16GB Shuttle SX58H7

Or, the as yet unavailable (both in terms of spec or product) Shuttle SX58J3

But I think a marginally larger but more flexible solution would be to implement a standard ATX motherboard in a smallest possible quality Aluminium case. So what would be such a case?

And the quality answer seems to be <<<>>>

The Lian Li PC-A06F black case

cost about 120 CHF i.e. 120 USD / 70 GBP
Dimensions 187 x 375 x 490 mm

March 10th 2010 update ... Lian Li PC-8FU

Oh and by the way, in the course of googling I found these nice Open Air cases, good for prototyping

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Blooming Miracle?

I was in receipt of an excited email from a well meaning colleage who indicated that if we only just installed hundreds of the new BloomEnergy ES-5000 fuel cells all our energy worries would be over.

Studying the specifications it became clear that this is an ingenious, portable, cool looking way of turning Natural Gas into Electricity. It is not as some might think, a miraculous way to produce limitless energy from a small shiny box.

Which got me thinking. Do people really have any idea how much energy we consume directly (e.g. lights, driving) or indirectly (e.g transporting food, making clothing)

It is quite possible to twist the facts of course. I could go for "I live in Switzerland, a country which you might be suprised to hear is self sufficient in Electricty, produced almost entirely using Carbon free methods".

Here is the big picture. For our Swiss population of 7.6 Million (let's call it 7.5 million to be conservative)

And so Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin:

  • The Bloom box is a fuel cell, it does not magically produce electricity
  • It costs over 500K USD (500K CHF), and if somebody tells me they can reduce this cost to 3K USD (as quoted) then I'll eat my hat
  • Switzerland is self sufficient in Electricity energy production / consumption. Something to be really proud of.
  • Switzerland's Electricity production is produced using Carbon free technology ... also totally amazing
  • Using the above 2008 government statistics we can see that Mr/Ms average Swiss person consumes an average of about 4KW energy for every second of the day, every day of the year. The average of pure electricity is 1KW per person.
  • Energy from Petroleum products is however over 50% of total Energy Consumption
  • That is an average, so children probably consume less, and people who do an average of 1 car journey per week (like me) consume significantly less
  • Switzerland produces many Chemical exports, so I believe that much of the Petroleum is actually used in products exported, i.e. native Swiss consumption of Energy is less, since the energy value of imports e.g. food and finished goods I propose will be less.
  • Assuming a family of 4, a Bloombox would supply just 25 Swiss famailies with Electricity.

Learning Powerpoint

Finally, I am learning Powerpoint

Monday, February 22, 2010

Getting Rich Slowly

In the 1st world many people go through 3 stages of the Get Rich quick mentality

As a youth: I'm going to have a great idea, makes lots of money, which I require to buy all the things I need as a young person which my parents deny me.

Middle age: I'm going to have a great idea, get rich, financially secure, and thereby be able to spend more quality time with friends and family

Senior Citizen: I'm going to get rich, and spend my remaining years living the high life, something that has been denied to me thus far.

There is a fourth way ...

This is where you have some pretty good ideas, and are prepared to actually implement them, but you are not so arrogant as to assume that it will lead to your instant retirement, though it could certainly make life more comfortable.

Since in the First world, we are constantly aware that the majority of us consume more, work less, and generally strive less than many more competitive Asian environments, we might need this buffer

And with that please take just 5 minutes to watch Eugene Lin's charming and inspirational video on how he created a rather popular iPhone application, which has helped him become a little richer, but probably not upto the level of retirement, just yet.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Walking the rock

As Sunday draws to a close we are happy to report that we made the effort to do a little Snowshoeing just down the road at La Roche. Our GPS told us that it was a mere 35 minutes drive from home in Lausanne to the start in La Roche (i.e. the rock).

So end to end just what is involved ..

Agata studied all the details here

Marcus prepared the emergency gear. These are spare gloves/hat, body fleece, neck fleece, balaclava, anorak, iPhone and GPS. None of these items should be required, but just in case.

Return home gear. After the trek we will probably be rather sticky so a complete change of clothes is a good idea.

Marcus is taking: fleecy hat and gloves, some high calorie Powerbar food, Hydration, Leatherman, Poles and his racing Speedcross2 shoes.

We fill up with petrol and notice the adjacent couple smoking with amusement / horror. Some people eh.

Arrival at Le Brand and Agata is ready, Snowshoes ON.

Marcus is ready, no Snowshoes, just the Salomon SpeedCross 2 shoes and some poles.

We walked through the forest parallel to the ski lifts. Already it is a long way down.

Marcus is down to his baselayer. If I stop moving I will freeze.

After an hour or two Agata reaches the top La Berra

Marcus got cold and had to put his crazy hat and neck fleece on.

From La Berra it was pretty much all downhill so we managed to run all the way down to the car.

We still find it just unbelievable that we are less than 45 minutes from the mountains by car. We are a similar distance from that big sophisticated city Geneva. Only in Switzerland.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Digital Domain

(Um, as usual click on graphic to enlarge)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Perseverance with DLINK-685

Perseverance is a much nicer phrase than stubborn. In its purest form it is the sort of feeling that Engineers, or perhaps programmers encounter when battling against a new project.

We sort of feel: By the force of our will, determination and experience, you (our project) is damn well going to work and do our bidding.

And so to review the DLINK DIR-685 router (including wireless)

This has the following features:

  • N class wireless router
  • Gigabit 4 port switch on the LAN side and Gigabit port on the WAN side.

In fact the dual Gigabit and concequent routing is the killer feature of this device for me. In our configuration the Wireless is switched off (for security) and the device is used primarily as a router. The LAN side is connected to secure servers, and the WAN side to futher less secure layers, leading (some firewalls later) to the Internet

(I'll post my network design one day)

This is a file copy from a secure server out through the router to the Windows Home Server (WHS) which lies in a less secure zone on the WAN side of the router

There is a configurable screen on the Dlink, here showing the Statistics screen. You see that 73.7 MBytes per second is passing from LAN to WAN

The phenonimal routing speed was first spotted in this review
Important note: After some hours this speed slows to about 45MB/second. Still faster than anything else in the consumer marketplace. My existing DLINK 655 routers, whilst bulletproof reliable for routing will not manage any more than 20 MBytes per second sustained from LAN to WAN

You sign upto FrameChannel and using the code number that you get from your Dlink generate an account containing photographs, RSS feeds, and a selection of precanned channels such as News and weather. Once setup you can use the button on the right side of the Dlink to select the channel(s) you want to view on its LCD.

In practice, I pressed that bloody set of buttons over 100 times to make the initial connection from the Dlink, via the Internet presumably to, well I got a combination of DNS error, or Failed to get Activation Code error messages repeatedly until it worked just once, which was enough to get the code.

Aside: In order to report the error I signed up to Dlink's support website which involves getting a userid, password and website emailed to you after some initial form filling. Guess what, the flipping website does not work! (1 day later it worked, but Dlink support say to use only IE to access) So initially I had no way to report the problem . I can now login, but the problem reporting screens contain a bug, so have emailed a support representative I spoke to. Unfortunately nobody at Dlink knew anything about FrameChannel, which was somewhat underwhelming.

With this 5 digit code you can complete your Framechannel userid registation and select your subscriptions.

Currently the FrameChannel is extremely unreliable, slow, but when working useful.

Yet more features:

  • A slot to place a 2.5" SATA hard drive. Once inserted you can format it ext3 and then use it as a FTP storage or even bitorrent site area.
Here is an example of using the torrent client to download Ubuntu

Using the same Internet connection and a regular PC is much quicker. Plus the Dlink torrent client takes over 3 minutes to start downloading.
  • There is another stunning disadvantage ... using the hard disk causes the Dlink to overheat, at which point a small fan, with the sound of a medium sized siren starts up. You have been warned.

  • Port forwarding e.g. send one or more particular TCP or UDP ports to a particular IP address. Example: send requests for port 80 from the Internet to your Webserver

  • Stateful Packet Inspection (SPI) firewall

  • Only if the Internal Hard disk is installed (a USB memory stick on the USB port does not work) you have use of the above BitTorrent client, NAS windows share storage and FTP server. These features sound useful but for me 3 facilties are too slow to be useful. NAS performance is below 5MBytes per second for example.
A few Problems
  • Ethernet connections from the Master server equipped with Intel 82575EB Gigabit Controller can cause the Dlink 685 to reboot. Seems to occur during my load testing.

  • FrameChannel updates, if working (and that was rare) can take over 20 minutes! Considering our Internet Download bandwidth exceeds 2MB/sec and my basic Framechannel config this is puzzling.

  • Should the units internal fan start, you will want to be elsewhere. It is loud. My old router was placed under the desk, with the fancy LCD display you want to keep this router visible, so a loud noise from the unit is unacceptible.

Conclusion and Summary
The Dlink 685 is terribly flawed. It works fantastically as a fast Gigabit router. But pretty much everything else is CRAP! If reliability can be assured by not using any other facilities (i.e. DISABLING all of wireless, storage, FrameChannel) then it might pay its way as a router.

Dlink 685 Firmware (valid for Europe only and not the USA)
Dlink UK support +44 871 873 3000

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

I said the Stieg not the Stig

Preamble: I just never have time to sit down and read a novel, but when merely doing battle with IBM's AIX or SAP Basis there are normally some spare brain CPU cycles to imbibe an audio stream. Suffice to say, that Podcasts, Plays and Radio 4 are my daily intake. I don't talk contemporary fiction, so when I do, well it has to be something special ...

Stieg Larsson was a Swedish political activist. He died from a heart attack aged 50 in 2004 leaving behind amongst other things 3 completed and unpublished manuscripts. These have been turned into the Millenium trilogy, the remaining 7 novels were never completed, though some words and plot outlines exist.

Addressing all geeks, this is how and why you should read or listen to these books

  • You can get the audiobooks from Audible, or from the usual sources :-)

  • Our hero is Mikael Blomkvist, journalist, straight talker and reluctant ladies man

  • Our heroine is Lisbeth Salander, computer hacker extraordinaire

  • The novels are crime fiction

  • There are plenty of good technical Computer hacker twists that can provide for endless hours of meaningful discussion. Compare this to titles like Dan Brown's Digital fortress et al. in which Computer plot twists eschew shrieks of "that is totally ridiculous".

  • Generally speaking the good girls win and the bad guys lose, and I like that

  • There are those carefully engineered hiccups where you the reader are made to feel so smart as our hero and heroine make the wrong decisions no matter how hard you shout at the pages, because you know, or think you know the answers.

So I can't imagine what is stopping you. Make haste, finish that excellent DB2 best practices with AIX 6L that I recommended last week (DB2 PureScale anybody) and get reading / listening to Mikael and Lisbeth. I do not think you will regret it.