Hard Drive Cost Hike – Has It Affected You?

Posted by under Technology, on 31 October 2011 @ 11:28pm.
Hard Drive

You might have heard recently about the huge hike in hard drive prices, due to the temporary closure of a manufacturing plant in Thailand thanks to flooding. Well, it’s hit everyone I can see so far, from small computer shops to the big businesses and even manufacturers. Acer announced recently that they would have to increase the cost of their machines to make up for the loss.

It’s not as bad for big manufacturers like Acer than it is for consumers though. My regular supplier, ebuyer, used to sell 1TB Samsung drives for about £42, they’re now over £100. Similarly they did 2TB Samsung drives for £62, they’re now over £150. It’s been reported the price has been going up £5 a day for the last week.

I’m lucky. I didn’t anticipate this sort of drastic action but I’d already stocked up on a new 2TB drive last month, so I don’t have any storage problems at the moment and I can probably get by about 3-6 months on what I have. But what about those who don’t have space and need more? They’ll be forced to fork out obscene amounts of cash for a new drive. There is little use in waiting either, it’s reported things won’t pick up again until some time early next year, say Feb/March time and prices begin to fall again.

One of the biggest companies hit that I’m following is OVH, my hosting provider. They’re currently only receiving 10% of their requested hard drive stock, and as a result they are finding it hard to deploy new servers. They’re taking drastic action and using old drives from old stock. They’re pulling them out, running a full disk wipe and then putting them in new servers. Customers are being notified that their drives will be used but there is nothing they can do about it except stop deploying new servers. This obviously isn’t an option to such a big company that is still growing.

Some companies have been panic buying stock which has made things even worse. However this sort of behavior is to be expected – how else are companies going to survive? The fact that this plant that is no longer operating because of the floods, and that it produces around 80% of the worlds stock, makes you wonder why they centralised everything so much. It brings you back to the Japan earthquake and a lot of Sony’s production is done there as well (and not just Sony, quite a lot of other big companies too). Infrastructure centralisation is a bad thing! Why won’t anyone learn?! It doesn’t matter if it’s cloud infrastructures or manufacturing, the end result of something messed up like this is always going to be bad.

Anyway, we’ll just have to wait and see how this pans out. I feel sorry for those who are having to suffer with the ridiculous prices and count myself very lucky I have some spare drives to last me.



5v L7805 Regulator Heatsink

Posted by under Electronics, on 21 October 2011 @ 5:34pm.

A recent project of mine is creating my own 5v regulators for charging mobile phones, etc. This will be incorporated into a battery box which I and my friends use when camping. However on this years trip we burnt out the 5v regulator we were using. For that reason I decided to make my own that would be more robust in comparison.

The biggest hurdle I’m hitting so far is dissipating enough heat away from the L7805 regulator (12v to 5v @ 1.5A). I am currently avoiding buying a “proper” heatsink for it as they cost in excess of £3 each. The regulator itself cost about 15p! It has been suggested by a friend that I use a “buck” style regulator instead which is significantly more efficient and does not require as much heat dissipation. This will likely be what I look at if I can’t find a suitably cheap solution to this issue. However as those themselves cost almost £3 each and require no heat sink in many cases it may be the better option.

At the moment I have been using strips of aluminium attached to the 7805 regulator along with heat paste (the same kind used on computer CPU’s). It extracts the heat just fine but the aluminium on it’s own isn’t enough to keep the temperature low. The load I am using on the regulator is just a 25w peltier chip (it’s the device that keeps portable fridges cool). However as a friend pointed out it won’t be running at 25w because of the lower voltage.

I have used 3 pieces of aluminium so far to extract the heat away and it seems to hold at a steady 90*c at 680mA, but as it’s not at full power, this is not going to be enough. I want to be able to extract at least 1A from it and still be below 90*c. A fan does aid this and keep it around 50*c but I’d prefer to omit the fan if possible.

5v regulator with home made heatsink
5v regulator current 5v regulator temperature (IN)

I’m considering ordering one of the buck regulators (LM2575 by the way) for testing. However everywhere charges a fair bit for postage so I’ll wait until I need other parts too.



Second Home Server – I Need More Storage Space!

Posted by under Servers, on 17 October 2011 @ 9:55pm.

I’ve recently realised I’m rapidly running out of space and processing power on my current home server. It’s been running well for the last 3 years and currently has a capacity of almost 8TB, but that space is filling up. Running multiple websites, including the all huge BetaArchive, this space is primarily filled with backups of those sites. As BetaArchive continues to expand, more space is going to be needed for the archive backups.

current-server-statsStatistics from my home server

Although it looks like I have plenty of space left, I prefer to keep certain tasks kept to one drive. For example I don’t mix my main data with archive backups, or media with betas, etc. This keeps the layout clean and makes things easier to find (or lose!).

The BA archive backup currently occupies a little under 2.3TB spanned over a 2TB disk and a 1.5TB disk. The data is split between them with everything except PC Beta Operating Systems on one drive, and those being on another. Our FTP admin has recently released information that means another 1TB of data will be coming to the site in the near future. For this reason it means I have to prepare the extra space for this data so I will have a backup of it.

The problem with the current server is that not only is it suffering from being under powered, due to firstly having an older CPU, and lack of RAM (2GB doesn’t go very far, and the motherboard has issues taking any more than that due to faulty hardware), but there are no more spare SATA slots for more hard drives. I bought a replacement AMD Phenom II X2 and motherboard some months ago but it’s not yet been put into service. Even more recently I got myself a second 4U rack case to house it.

new-serverBottom: Current Server. Top: New Server

This new board now has 10GB of DDR3 memory (2x4GB and 1x2GB DIMMs) and 6 SATA-II slots for additional hard drives. My original plan was to use this as an ESXi or Hyper-V server but I’m not so sure now. I’ll probably stick with the single OS solution as I’m not familiar enough with ESXi to risk using it on a production system. If anything I would use Hyper-V.

I have 2 hard drives ready to go in it. An older Samsung F1 1TB and a brand new and currently untouched Samsung F4 2TB. I can instantly bump my storage space up to 11TB when I bring this server online. I hope to replace all of the 1TB drives with 2TB’s as I go along, retiring the 1TB’s to other tasks.

So what will I use the new server for? To begin with I may just move all of the BetaArchive archive backups to it, and use it as an offline server for the time being. Running two servers will be higher in electricity costs so if possible I want to reduce that until it’s necessary. It costs about £13 a month to run a single server at the moment (130Watts at 14.7p/kWh).

As I have some spare time later this week I will see what I can do to bring it online and get it running a copy of a server OS. I have a couple of beta keys I can use temporarily while I play around. I won’t keep the server online 24/7 though as I still need to wait for the fan extension cables. I can’t safely run the server 24/7 without risking damage from the heat.

Right that’s probably enough talk about servers for now, I’ll make another update during the week if I get around to having a play around.



Blackberry Downtime – What Could They Do Differently?

Posted by under Technology, on 14 October 2011 @ 10:33pm.
Blackberry Outage
Blackberry Outage, October 2011

No doubt you have heard about the recent Blackberry outage this week that spanned over the course of 3 days, Monday 10th to Wednesday 12th October. As a Blackberry user I was hit, although not as badly as some people given that I don’t use it for business purposes. Despite that I still got annoyed over the reasons why it went wrong, as it just shouldn’t have happened the way it did. Even RIM themselves acknowledge this and admit that a lot more could have been done to prevent it. I know for certain they will be looking into this to prevent future occurrences.

So what exactly stopped working? Everything. All e-mail, internet, Blackberry Messenger and everything else data related such as Facebook/Twitter apps. The reason for this is because all data is routed through the Blackberry servers rather than only some data being routed there. It wasn’t until the outage that I realised all data went through the BB servers as I thought browsing went through your providers network as usual. Wifi browsing still worked fine, which is great at home but useless if you’re away from a wifi network. What also annoys me about BB’s is that you can’t use e-mail unless it goes through RIM’s servers. I’d prefer it the way Android allows it where your standard data connection is used and your phone handles it all but I guess that’s what’s unique about the BB service.

I spent a little time trying to figure out if there was a way around this issue with regards to browsing and using the providers network as normal (in my case O2). I tried manually inputting the APN’s but this did nothing. I did discover that tethering still worked as intended which was good to know as the only time I use my BB a lot is when away on business (which is rare in itself).

Over the 3 days I found myself looking at the same news article over and over again, explaining what was happening and when it would be resolved. It was all the same; “It’s being worked on”. That was it, there was no detail at all. At that point I don’t know if they knew what the issue was or whether they were trying to avoid telling people. Regardless, in the end it all spills out and the issue was flagged down to a “faulty core switch”.

Immediately at that point alarm bells started ringing on why the system didn’t have redundancy. It was supplying a service to 10’s of millions of people around the world, surely there was some form of backup? Well according to RIM there was, except it didn’t work “as previously tested”. Fact is, you can’t simulate a failure like this. It’s not like the switch drops off the network and another takes over instead, sometimes the switch fails in a way you can’t predict, causing a flurry of data that causes chaos throughout the software. This itself can result in the fail over not working as intended because it’s not capable of detecting it as an error. I don’t pretend to know how these switches work but that’s my interpretation of articles I read about fail over networking.

So back to the title of this post, what could they do differently? Lets start with the basics of data access. There needs to be some form of fail over for data services. I can accept that because e-mail is controlled by the BB servers that this will be offline, but how about routing internet traffic temporarily through your providers standard network? This at least gets people online and able to check their e-mail via webmail for example.

Secondly the infrastructure itself, as I heard it described, is too centralised. It needs to be spread out over each country and have each country use that infrastructure. This outage took down practically the whole of Europe, plus more. Even USA and Canada were seeing outages. By splitting it on a per country basis they prevent the outage spreading too far, limiting damage and hopefully reducing the recovery time. You could go further and split this into multiple data centers in each country as well but this starts to get costly, so lets just consider 1 data center per country with your fail over being fed into another nearby country’s data center. This would be ideal, IF the fail over works properly if a switch fails.

It all sounds simple but I know it most certainly isn’t. I’d like to think myself technical enough to understand the core levels of networking but I’m not Cisco certified nor am I anywhere near it. RIM can’t afford another outage like this as their revenue is already falling. Disgruntled customers make this even worse when their service is out for 3 days so any and all attempts to avoid this are crucial.

So to summarise, what I think RIM need to do as a part of their strategy is:
1. De-centralise their infrastructure to multiple countries.
2. Fail overs should be another nearby countries BB data center.
3. Formulate a fail over for data services (browsing, etc) by using the providers standard network in an outage.
4. Allow users to choose if their e-mail uses BB’s servers or standard IMAP like Android devices do.
5. Keep users informed if an outage occurs!



Wikipedia – Lack of Free Speech – Why Can’t I Control My Own Article?

Posted by under Rants, on 12 October 2011 @ 11:00pm.
No Free Speech
Image Source: keyboardmilitia.com

OK here’s the story… My website, BetaArchive, has recently had a Wikipedia page set up for it by some members. I thought this was a great idea at first since lots of other sites out there have their own Wikipedia page (not quite sure why I bothered linking it…). With that I set about adding some nice useful content to it. After a couple of hours work I was happy with the result. I sent the link to the page to a few friends who found what I had wrote there some-what interesting, since it’s not the sort of information that was readily available elsewhere.

A few days went by and then suddenly I got a message saying that my username had been suspended because it represents a company rather than an individual. What?! Since when could you not represent a company? Well under Wikipedia rules, forever it seems. I never bother reading rules as common sense is usually enough. It seems stupid that I cannot represent my own company (or website in this case). I had to register under a real name or an alias. But what if I wanted to remain anonymous but have an account to make my changes on? It seems you can’t. Relentlessly, I accepted this fact and simply started editing without an account.

A few more days later and I get another notification that some things have been changed on the page. “Oooh!”, I thought, “someone has added more information”. I log onto the page and see that information has not been added, but it has in fact been removed. My first call of action was the history tab to see what has been changed. Various bits of information had been removed. The confusing part was that it was removed by a Wikipedia moderator. What gives them the right to change an article on a site they know nothing about? They had removed various pieces of information that without it, make the article read as unreliable and factually incorrect. This is against mine and others free speech.

Suffice to say I was quite annoyed at finding this out, so I reverted the page back to it’s previous state. 2 minutes later, the page had been reverted again to exclude the information I just put  back. Outraged, I removed all of the content and replaced it with a message stating I did not want this article on Wikipedia any more. Given that I own the site the article is about, I should have every possible right to remove it, yes? No. At least that’s how the moderators saw it, so a few minutes later the article was again reverted back to the original article, minus the important parts the moderator removed.

Seriously pissed off now I simply kept reverting it back to my message. I did this 6 times in the space of about 10 minutes, and each time it was reverted by a moderator. Eventually, my IP was banned and I was no longer able to edit the page. To me this screams “NO FREE SPEECH HERE”. I own the website this article is about, I should be able to control whether or not the facts or opinions shown on this page stay or go, and I should also be able to to choose to remove the page should I choose. However it seems this is completely against Wikipedia’s methods and ethics. You can request a removal but there is no guarantee at all that it will ever be removed, as it has to go through a “public vote”. What’s more now I am banned I can’t actually edit the article to include such a removal request.

My ban expires in a few days. Perhaps then I will go on and request the removal in the method they explain you should use. I am by no means happy about having to do it this way. I find it unrealistic that they have this much control over a page about someone else’s website/company, etc. Wikipedia was supposed to be unbiased and allow free speech. However it seems in the politic controlled society we live in now (and the dicks at the other end of a computer with the super powers we call “moderation”) it seems this is no longer true.

Please leave your thoughts and opinions on this one.



Welcome to my new blog

Posted by under Uncategorized, on 12 October 2011 @ 8:43pm.

Hello all, welcome to my new blog! Hopefully I will actually keep this blog for some time. I hope it can be a place I can voice my thoughts, show you things I’ve done and by damn right outrageous in my arguments without anyone caring. I hope it offends you, I also hope it doesn’t. Remember everyone is entitled to their own opinion! Get to know me before you judge, I’m a nice person really! =)