Category: hardware

supermicro 5036
Since I started working for a software vendor, my personal use of virtualization has grown exponentially. Everything I demo is contained within a VMware virtual machine. When I need to test new products or complex multi-product configurations, virtualization is the obvious choice, especially considering that my office is my home. I’ve been doing most of my work on a laptop, but I’m constantly running in to resource limits. Not enough disk space, not enough RAM, and lacking the CPU/Storage speed necessary for simulating enterprise software.

To solve my resource limitations, I decided to build a workstation that would function as a VMWare ESXI server. ESXi was the obvious choice since its the most widely used, and its completely compatible with the virtual machines I run on my Ubuntu laptop using VMware workstation. I wanted to get a pre-built whitebox that was supported by VMware. I selected the Supermicro 5036, which basically has server class hardware in a mid-tower form factor. I picked up a 3 ghz quad core i7 CPU and 12GB of ram. For storage I chose 4 1TB drives that I was planning on using in a RAID5 array.

When my hardware arrived, I burnt the latest ESXi iso (4.1) to a CD and began the install. I quickly discovered that ESXi does not support the on-board RAID capability of the motherboard. I naively assumed that when VMware said a device was supported, that all the functions of that device were supported. I really wanted to utilize RAID in my configuration, so I found a ESXi 4 supported 3ware RAID card on Ebay for a reasonable price. When the RAID card arrived, I installed the card and quickly discovered that VMware dropped support of the 3ware 9550sxu-4lp RAID card with version 4.1, so I would need to utilize 4.0 update 1 if I wanted to use RAID with my current card. The bottom line is VMware ESXi hardware support is very limited and subject to rapid changes.

So I downloaded and installed ESXi version 4.0 update 1 and the driver for 3ware RAID cards. I had 4 1TB drives setup in a RAID5 array, which seemed like a very basic configuration. However, when I logged in via the client I found out that ESXi cannot handle disk arrays over 2TB. My compromise configuration was to set up 2 drives as RAID 0 and 2 drives as RAID 1. One datastore for speed, and one datastore for data integrity.

With the installation complete, I was able to quickly move my existing VM’s to my new server using VMware converter. Besides the hardware compatibility issues, I’m really happy with the performance of the ESXi server. My only big gripe is that the Vsphere client used for accessing the ESXi server is Windows only, which is absolutely inexcusable.

Cloud Computing is the latest in a long history of overhyped computing technologies. I won’t try to define cloud computing, since wikipedia does a good job, but the most prominent example of cloud computing is Amazon’s EC2 Service.

Instead of finding space in a data center, and dealing with all the IT related headaches that come with servers, storage, networking, and hardware, business can simply purchase instances in the cloud. Instead of paying upfront for a ton hardware, companies only pay for what they use.

Its a great model, especially for software startups. Instead of spending a bunch of money upfront on IT infrastructure, startups can spend money on their core-competencies. Need regional servers? EC2 provides multiple datacenter locations around the world. No need to deal with networking, hosting providers, hardware, and all those other IT annoyances.

So whats the problem? Well first off, you are entirely dependent on Amazon for the availability of your IT infrastructure. Amazon had 6 hours of downtime the other day. Secondly, if you actually care about performance, cloud computing will never be the best option, since its really just a slick interface on top of virtualization.

Virtualization is another overhyped technology, that allows you to split up one piece of hardware in to multiple instances all running on the same machine. So what’s the problem? You’re adding additional layers on top of the hardware, so performance is a problem. Multi-core CPU’s certainly help, but the biggest virtualization bottleneck is storage.

So you have 5 VM’s running on one server using local disk storage? Every VM instance is utilizing the same storage controller. Local disk storage is huge no-no when it comes to virtualization. The way to get around the storage problem is to use SAN for storage, but a lot of organizations are SAN-allergic.

My biggest issue with cloud computing and virtualization is reliability. With cloud computing, a software bug is no longer isolated to a single server, it can literally bring your entire infrastructure down. A hardware failure on a VM server will bring down every guest. A failure of 1 box, is really like 10 boxes going down at the same time.

In the financial industry, current cloud computing offerings would never be used due to performance, security, and risk concerns. At financial firms, virtualization is limited to dev/test configurations since financial applications are extremely latency dependent. What works for a Web 2.0 startup, doesn’t necessarily translate to other industries.

Cloud computing is definitely a interesting technology, and virtualization is here to stay, but its not a magic bullet. There are huge downsides to these technologies.

A heads up to all you Debian people that run on HP. Etch downloads are now available for all the typical HP hardware and configuration goodies.

Hpacucli on AMD64 requires you to force arch.

A big hats off to HP. I’ve been really impressed with their server hardware, and their support of Debian Linux.

I still have nightmares about being in Dell centric environments.

For the server that this blog runs on, I wrote a quick little hardware health script to run on a daily cron. Of course Hpasm comes with snmp mib capabilities out of the box, but in a single server on colo, I just want to keep it simple. In my day job, with 4000+ servers, daily cron status e-mails would require a full time employee just to read the e-mail..

echo "Daily System Check"
echo "Disks"
/usr/sbin/hpacucli controller slot=0 physicaldrive all show
echo "Power"
/sbin/hpasmcli -s "show powersupply"
echo "Event Log"
/sbin/hpasmcli -s "show iml"
echo "Temps"
hpasmcli -s "show temp"
echo "Dimms"
hpasmcli -s "show dimm"

With that in cron_Daily, I get a nice picture at my systems status.

Daily System Check
Fri Jul 27 01:26:19 EDT 2007

Smart Array P400i in Slot 0

array A

physicaldrive 1I:1:1 (port 1I:box 1:bay 1, SAS, 72 GB, OK)
physicaldrive 1I:1:2 (port 1I:box 1:bay 2, SAS, 72 GB, OK)
physicaldrive 1I:1:3 (port 1I:box 1:bay 3, SAS, 72 GB, OK)
physicaldrive 1I:1:4 (port 1I:box 1:bay 4, SAS, 72 GB, OK)


Power supply #1
Present : Yes
Redundant: Yes
Condition: Ok
Hotplug : Supported

Power supply #2
Present : Yes
Redundant: Yes
Condition: Ok
Hotplug : Supported

Event Log

The IML Log is empty.


Sensor Location Temp Threshold
------ -------- ---- ---------
#0 SYSTEM_BD - -
#1 AMBIENT 20C/68F 38C/100F
#2 CPU#1 16C/60F 75C/167F
#3 CPU#2 0C/0F 75C/167F
#4 I/O_ZONE 37C/98F 65C/149F
#5 I/O_ZONE 32C/89F 65C/149F
#6 POWER_SUPPLY_BAY 29C/84F 65C/149F


DIMM Configuration
Cartridge #: 0
Module #: 1
Present: Yes
Form Factor: 9h
Memory Type: 13h
Size: 1024 MB
Speed: 667 MHz
Status: Ok

Cartridge #: 0
Module #: 2
Present: Yes
Form Factor: 9h
Memory Type: 13h
Size: 1024 MB
Speed: 667 MHz
Status: Ok

Cartridge #: 0
Module #: 3
Present: Yes
Form Factor: 9h
Memory Type: 13h
Size: 1024 MB
Speed: 667 MHz
Status: Ok

Cartridge #: 0
Module #: 4
Present: Yes
Form Factor: 9h
Memory Type: 13h
Size: 1024 MB
Speed: 667 MHz
Status: Ok

After purchasing my Macbook two weeks ago, I decided to put my Thinkpad X60 up for auction. After the auction closed, I got everything together in order to package and ship out the system. As with all the previous machines I sold on eBay, one of the first steps is to securely wipe my hard drive, then install windows from the system CD.

I manged to find all the documentation and accessories for my X60, but I looked high and low for the system disk to no avail. After talking to a coworker, I discovered that Lenovo no longer ships system CD’s with their computers. Lenovo expects people to keep the system partition. Formatting the system partition, is the first thing I do with any new laptop. I’m not paying to have 5GB of my hard drive clogged up with a copy of windows. 5GB is lot for a 60GB ultra portable (8.3%).

I called up Lenovo to order a new system CD for the X60. Amazingly, I was charged $51 for something, that by all accounts, should be provided with my computer. I asked the technical support person why Lenovo was no longer providing system DVD’s with their computers anymore, and he couldn’t give me a straight answer. I also couldn’t get a strait answer, as to why a replacement DVD costs $51.

Needless to say, I feel betrayed by Lenovo. I’ve been a huge supporter of Thinkpads for a long time, and I always trying to set the record straight when it came to overflow of anti-Lenovo FUD during the IBM -> Lenovo transition. Its simply unacceptable that manufacturers like Lenovo ship computers without an off-hard drive method of restoring the system.

Over two years ago, I swore off Apple computers. I purchased a G5 in January 2004, and sold it by October 2004, after months of being in and out of service. Its been a pleasure to operate at work and home with a 100% Linux environment.

Unfortunately, my needs have changed quite a bit over the past few months. My interest in photography has changed my personal computer use. On the work front, I find myself doing a lot of graphical work for projects outside my day job. Running Photoshop in VMware is fine for the occasional Photoshop session, but its agonizing if you use it on a daily or weekly basis.

The real turning point was my purchase of the D80, I’m shooting over 200 images a week. F-spot is my favorite photo management tool, but it can’t do much with RAW besides view. While basic printing in Linux is great, try printing say a set of 3×5’s on photo paper.

In order to print a photo the right way, I need to do the following:

  1. Export the image out of f-spot
  2. Start vmware with windows XP
  3. Launch Photoshop
  4. Launch Photoshop Album
  5. Import the Photo
  6. Print the photo

Its simply too much of a pain the ass. So I’m probably going to purchase the next “Macbook PRO” thats announced in January (maybe the slim one). It pains me to do this yet again, because I hate Apple users, for the most part they are obnoxious, and I dislike the company’s methods (proprietary, closed, secretive, FUD, hype). Unfortunately, for semi-serious graphics and photo work, desktop Linux is simply not there.

The nice thing about the x86 switch for Macs, is that I can dual boot with Ubuntu quite easily, or even triple boot with Vista/Solaris/etc. I will still be using Linux on the desktop for 90% of my tasks, but soon I will be toting around a Mac laptop. Hopefully Steve Jobs will come to his senses and stick a trackpoint in the keyboard. 🙂

I’ve been looking to upgrade my home networking equipment for quite some time. After doing a lot of research, I concluded that the Juniper Wireless Netscreen 5-GT would be a robust solution for my home network. VPN, stateful packet inspection, multiple wireless networks, spam/virus control, basically a lot more features than I will probably ever need.

I’ve had a lot of luck over my 7 years of ebaying, and only one bad experience, which led to me losing $300. I found an action for the Netscreen 5-GT, and placed multiple bids. The seller: rheythammond had a decent amount of feedback on three year old account.

I won the item on Sunday, and paid in full on Monday via paypal. Here were the sellers terms:

Hello Alex- In order for your item to be shipped on or before Friday, 11/17/06, your payment must be received via PayPal no later than Monday, 11/13/06 @ 5:00 P.M., CST. According to the auction terms and conditions you have until 5:00 P.M., CST on 11/15/06 to pay for your item via PayPal, but shipment could be delayed as late as 11/20/06. Thanks, Steven Roady

On Thursday afternoon, I sent an e-mail to get a tracking number for the item, when I came home from work on Friday, I received this e-mail.

Response from rheythammond

This item wil not be shipped because Paypal locked my account and I cannot get the funds. They think I am a business since I sold 7 items that totaled $1300.00. I choose not to comply with BS like wanting to run my personal credit just to accept paypal. If I had known there was going to a limit I would have never accepted paypal. Submit a refund request to Paypal to get your funds back. Or you can disput the charge to your cedit card company if you used that method.

First off, I paid for the item in full. Secondly, the idea that his inability to verify his paypal account has anything to do with my transaction is ludicrous. So I sent him this reply:

The transaction has been completed. Irregardless of your lack of the verification of your paypal account. Its a very simple process, and does not involve running your personal credit I have paid for the item. The transaction went through. IF I DO NOT HAVE A TRACKING NUMBER FOR THE ITEM IN 3 DAYS, I’m going to leave negative feedback, and file a fraud complaint with paypal and ebay.

Good Day.

Alex Valentine

About an hour after that message, another buyer of a Steven Roady item contacted me:

hello, I see you won an auction from rheythammond. I won an item on the 13th, paid him and now his email dosent work ( says he is no longer a user). Just wondering if your experience was (or is going) ok. Thanks, Brian.

At this point, I am pissed. I was waiting all week to configure this device, and now it appears that this guy is trying to rip off multiple people. So I decided to get his contact information via ebay.

User ID: rheythammond
Name: Rheyt Hammond
City: olathe
State: KS
Country: United States
Phone: (913) 772-XXXX
Registered Since: Thursday, Nov 13, 2003 17:12:29 PST

Surprise, Surprise, his phone number doesn’t work. I immediately filed for a refund via paypal. I finally got a response from Steven Roady of Kansas today:

Response from rheythammond
Do whatever you want ASSHOLE. I din’t even have to bother to e-mail you. AS far as I am concerned if I cannot get to the funds, the item is not paid for. Take it up with Paypal. And you can leave all the negative feedback you want.

So I replied with this message:

I received a refund from paypal. I will be publishing all your correspondence on the web for the word to see. Good Day.

Response from rheythammond

I received my refund from paypal less than 24hrs after making the claim. eBay is a great place to find good deals on high end gear, but just because someone has good feedback doesn’t guarantee a smooth transaction. Luckily, I used paypal. I will not touch a cash/money order transaction action unless its a face to face exchange.

Response from rheythammond
Your refund was iniitated my ME, NOT PAYPAL, you IDIOT. If I had not issued the refund you would still be waitng on PAYPAL to get your refund, and that takes 30 days or more.

Further, if there was fraud involved, then report this to the authorites. I welcome the investigatiion. It will prove I am telling the truth.

Bet you won’t post this!!!

Response from alexvalentine
Do you really think calling people idiots and a##holes is really going to get you anywhere in life? Bottom line, I paid for the item in full and did not receive the item. The refund, irregardless of how it was initiated, is completely irrelevant. I will update the blog with your posting. This is my final correspondence with you. Maybe both of us can learn something from this situation.