Tag Archives: Storage

Technology

Journey through the Amazon Web Services cloud

Working for a large system integrator, I tend to find myself focused on our own offerings and somewhat isolated from what’s going on in the outside world. It’s always good to understand the competitive landscape though and I’ve spent some time recently brushing up my knowledge of Amazon Web Services (AWS), which may come in useful as I’m thinking of moving some of my computing workloads to AWS.  Amazon’s EMEA team are running a series of “Journey to the Cloud” webcasts at the moment and the first two sessions covered:

The next webcast in the series is focused on Storage and Archiving and it takes place next week (23 October). Based on the content of the first two, it should be worth an hour of my time, and maybe yours too?

 

Uncategorized

Microsoft finally releases an iSCSI software target as a free download

For years, if you wanted to get hold of the Microsoft iSCSI software target (e.g. for testing Windows clusters without access to “proper” storage), you had to rely on “finding” a copy that a Microsoft employee had left lying around (it was officially only available for internal use). Then came advice on extracting it from Windows Storage Server. Now it’s finally been made available as a free download for Windows Server. Fantastic news!

Motoring Photography Technology

Hardware lineup for 2011

This is a bit of a copycat post really but I saw Mike Taulty and Phil Winstanley‘s hardware lineups and thought it was a good idea. So, here it is, a summary of the technology I use pretty much every day and how I see that changing this year.

Car: Audi A4 Avant 2.0 TDI 170 S-Line

Audi A4 Avant 20 TDI 170 S-LineMy wife and I have been Volkswagen fans for a few years now (we find them to be good, solid, reliable cars that hold their value well) so, a couple of years ago, when I heard that Volkswagen and Audi were being added to our company car scheme, I held back on replacing my previous vehicle in order to take advantage. I did consider getting a Passat but the A4 (although smaller) had a newer generation of engine and lower emissions, so it didn’t actually cost much more in tax/monthly lease costs.

After a year or so, I’m normally bored/infuriated with my company cars but I still really enjoy my A4 – so much so that I will consider purchasing this one at the end of its lease next year. My only reservations are that I would really like something larger, sometimes a little more power would be nice (although this has 170PS, which is pretty good for a 2 litre diesel) and I do sometimes think that the money I contribute to the car might be better spent on reducing the mortgage (I add some of my salary to lease a better car than my grade entitles me to).

Either way, it’s on lease until I hit 3 years or 60,000 miles, so it’s a keeper for 2011.

Verdict 9/10. Hold.

Phone: Apple iPhone 3GS 16GB

Apple iPhone 3GSI actually have two phones (personal and work SIMs) but my personal needs are pretty basic (a feature phone with Bluetooth connectivity for hands free operation in the car) and I recycled my iPhone 3G when I was given a 3GS to use for work.

After having owned iPhones for a few years now (this is my third one), I don’t feel that the platform, which was once revolutionary, has kept pace and it now feels dated. As a result, I’m tempted by an Android or Windows Phone 7 device but neither of these platforms is currently supported for connection my corporate e-mail service.

The main advantages of this device for me are the apps and the Bluetooth connectivity to the car (although I needed to buy a cable for media access). I use Spotify and Runkeeper when I’m running but there are a whole host of apps to help me when I’m out and about with work (National Rail Enquiries, etc.) and, of course, it lets me triage my bulging mailbox and manage my calendar when I’m on the move. Unfortunately, the camera is awful and it’s not much use as a phone either, but it does the job.

I could get an iPhone 4 (or 5 this summer?) but I’d say it’s pretty unlikely, unless something happened to this one and I was forced to replace it.

Verdict 3/10. Not mine to sell!

Tablet: Apple iPad 3G 64GB

Apple iPadAfter several weeks (maybe months) of thinking “do I? don’t I?”, I bought an iPad last year and I use it extensively. Perhaps it’s a bit worrying that I take it to bed with me at night (I often catch up on Twitter before going to sleep, or use it as an e-book reader) but the “instant on” and long battery life make this device stand out from the competition when I’m out and about.

2011 will be an interesting year for tablets – at CES they were all over the place but I’ve been pretty vocal (both on this blog, and on Twitter) about my views on Windows as a tablet operating system and many of the Android devices are lacking something – Android 3 (Gingerbread [correction] Honeycomb) should change that. One possible alternative is Lenovo’s convertible notebook/tablet which runs Windows but features a slide out screen that functions as an Android tablet (very innovative).

I may upgrade to an iPad 2, if I can get a good resale price for my first generation iPad, but even Apple’s puritanical anti-Adobe Flash stand (which means many websites are unavailable to me) is not enough to make me move away from this device in 2011.

Verdict 8/10. Hold.

Everyday PC: Fujitsu Lifebook S7220 (Intel Core 2 Duo P8400 2.2GHz, 4GB RAM, 250GB hard disk)

Fujitsu Lifebook S7220My personal preference for notebook PCs is a ThinkPad – I liked them when they were manufactured by IBM and Lenovo seem to have retained the overall quality associated with the brand – but, given who pays my salary, it’s no surprise that I use a Fujitsu notebook PC. Mine’s a couple of years old now and so it’s branded Fujitsu-Siemens but it’s the same model that was sold under the Fujitsu name outside Europe. It’s a solid, well-built notebook PC and I have enough CPU, memory and disk to run Windows 7 (x64) well.

Unfortunately it’s crippled with some awful full disk encryption software (I won’t name the vendor but I’d rather be using the built-in BitLocker capabilities which I feel are better integrated and less obtrusive) and, even though the chipset supports Intel vPro/AMT (to install the Citrix XenClient hypervisor), the BIOS won’t allow me to activate the VT-d features. As a result, I have to run separate machines for some of my technical testing (I’m doing far less of that at work anyway these days) and to meet my personal (i.e. non-work) computing requirements.

My hope is that we’ll introduce a bring your own computer (BYOC) scheme at work and I can rationalise things but, if not, it’ll be another two years before I can order a replacement and this will soldier on for a while yet.

Verdict 6/10. Holding out for a BYOC scheme at work.

Netbook: Lenovo S10e (Intel Atom N270 1.6GHz, 2GB RAM, 160GB hard disk)

Lenovo IdeaPad S10In its day, my netbook was great. It’s small, light, can be used on the train when the seatback tables are too small for a normal laptop and I used mine extensively for personal computing whilst working away from home. It was a bit slow (on file transfers) but it does the job – and the small keyboard is ideal for my young children (although even they could do with a larger screen resolution).

Nowadays my netbook it sits on the shelf, unloved, replaced by my iPad. It was inexpensive and, ultimately, consumable.

Verdict 2/10. Sell, or more likely use it to geek out and play with Linux.

Digital Camera: Nikon D700

Nikon D700After a series of Minoltas in the 1980s and 1990s, I’ve had Nikon cameras for several years now, having owned an F90x, a D70 and now a D700. I also use my wife’s D40 from time to time and we have a Canon Ixus 70 too (my son has adopted that). With a sizeable investment in Nikon lenses, etc., I can’t see myself changing brands again – although some of my glass could do with an upgrade, and I’d like an external flash unit.

The D700 gives me a lot of flexibility and has a high enough pixel count, with minimal noise and good low-light performance. It’s a professional-grade DSLR and a bit heavy for some people (I like the weight). It’s also too valuable for some trips (which is when I use the D40) but I always miss the flexibility and functionality that the D700 body provides. Maybe sometimes I think some video capabilities would be nice but I won’t be changing it yet.

Verdict 9/10. Hold.

Photography PC: Apple MacBook MB062LL/B (Intel Core 2 Duo T7500 2.2GHz, 4GB RAM, 320GB hard disk)

Apple Macbook White (late 2007)It’s been three years since I bought my MacBook and, much as I’d like one of the current range of MacBook Pros it’ll be a while before I replace it because they are so expensive! In fairness, it’s doing it’s job well – as soon as I bought it I ungraded the hard disk and memory, and whilst the the CPU is nt as fast as a modern Core i5 or i7, it’s not that slow either.

For a machine that was not exactly inexpensive, I’ve been disappointed with the build quality (it’s had two new keyboard top covers and a replacement battery) but Apple’s customer service meant that all were replaced under warranty (I wouldn’t fancy my chances at getting a new battery from many other PC OEMs).

I use this machine exclusively for photography and the Mac OS suits me well for this. It’s not “better” than Windows, just “different” and, whilst some people would consider me to be a Microsoft fanboi and an iHater, the list of kit on this page might say otherwise. I like to consider myself to have objective views that cut through the Redmond or Cupertino rhetoric!

So, back to the Mac – I may dive into Photoshop from time to time but Adobe Lightroom, Flickr Uploadr, VueScan and a few specialist utilities like Sofortbild are my main tools. I need to sweat this asset for a while longer before I can replace it.

Verdict 5/10. Hold.

Media: Apple Mac Mini MA206LL/A (Intel Core Duo 1.66GHz, 2GB RAM, 120GB hard disk)

(+ iPad, iPhone 3GS, various iPods, Altec Lansing iM7 iPod speakers)

Apple Mac MiniMy Mac Mini was the first Intel Mac I bought (I had one of the original iMacs but that’s long gone) and it’s proved to be a great little machine. It was replaced by the MacBook but has variously been used in Windows and Mac OS X forms as a home media PC. These days it’s just used for iTunes and Spotify, but I plan to buy a keyboard to have a play with Garage Band too.

It may not be the most powerful of my PCs, but it’s more than up to this kind of work and it takes up almost no space at all.

Verdict 6/10. Hold.

Gaming: Microsoft Xbox 360 S 250GB with Kinect Sensor

Microsoft Xbox 360sI’m not a gamer – I sold my Playstation a few years ago because the driving games that I enjoyed made me feel ill! Even so, I was blown away by the Xbox with Kinect when I saw it last month. I bought myself a 250GB model and now Kinect Adventures and Kinect Sports have become family favourites (with a bit of Dance Central thrown in!). I can’t see myself getting into first person shooters, but I can see us doing more and more with the Xbox, particularly if I can use the Connect 360 application to hook into my media library. The final piece of the jigsaw would be BBC iPlayer on Xbox – but that looks unlikely to come to fruition.

Verdict 9/10. Hold.

Servers and Storage: Atom-based PC, Dell PowerEdge 840, 2x Netgear ReadyNAS Duo

As my work becomes less technical, I no longer run a full network infrastructure at home (I don’t find myself building quite so many virtual machines either) so I moved the main infrastructure roles (Active Directory, DHCP, DNS, TFTP, etc.) to a low-power server based on an Intel Atom CPU. I still have my PowerEdge 840 for the occasions when I do need to run up a test environment but it’s really just gathering dust. Storage is provided by a couple of Netgear ReadyNAS devices and it’s likely that I’ll upgrade the disks and then move one to a family member’s house, remote syncing to provide an off-site backup solution (instead of a variety of external USB drives).

Verdict 6/10. Hold (perhaps sell the server, but more likely to leave it under the desk…).

Uncategorized

Connecting multiple ReadyNAS devices to a single UPS

It seems to be ReadyNAS week at markwilson.it because that’s what I’ve spent the last couple of days working with but the ReadyNAS really is a stonking piece of hardware (think of it as a £150 Linux box with built-in X-RAID) and mine will soon be providing the storage for a Windows Home Server VM (yes, I know the ReadyNAS can do loads of the things that WHS can, but I work with Microsoft products and it’s about time I had a serious look at WHS).

Anyway, my ReadyNASes are running off an APC Smart-UPS 1500 but only one of them has the USB connection to monitor the UPS status. It turns out that’s not a problem as the latest versions of the ReadyNAS software (RAIDiator) allow one ReadyNAS to act as a UPS status server for the others.

I think this needs at least v4.1.5 of RAIDiator (my ReadyNAS “UPS client” shipped with v4.1.4 and I updated it to v4.1.6, meanwhile the “UPS server” is running v4.1.5) but there is an option on the Power page in FrontView (the ReadyNAS web administration console) to define hosts that are allowed to monitor the attached UPS (where a physical connection to the UPS exists).

ReadyNAS UPS server

Similarly, on a ReadyNAS that is not physically connected to a UPS, it is possible to specify the IP address of a ReadyNAS that is connected to the UPS.

ReadyNAS UPS client

With these settings enabled, both ReadyNAS devices can cleanly shutdown in the event of a power failure.

I wonder if my Windows Server 2008 host can also monitor the ReadyNAS and shut itself down in the event of power loss too…

Uncategorized

Physical disks can only be added to Hyper-V VMs when the disk is offline

I don’t often work with passthrough disks in Hyper-V but, after configuring my Netgear ReadyNAS as an iSCSI target earlier this evening, I wanted to use it as storage for a new virtual machine. Try as I might, I could not get Hyper-V Manager to accept a physical disk as a target, despite having tried both SCSI and IDE disk controllers. Then I read the information text next to the Physical hard disk dropdown in the VM settings:

“If the physical hard disk you want to use is not listed, make sure that the disk is offline. Use Disk Management on the physical computer to manage physical hard disks.”

Doh! a classic case of RTFM… (my excuse is that it’s getting late here). After taking the disk offline I could select it and attach it to the virtual machine.

Uncategorised

Creating an iSCSI target on a Netgear ReadyNAS

A few months ago, I wrote that I was looking for an iSCSI target add-on for my Netgear ReadyNAS Duo. I asked if such an add-on was available on Netgear’s ReadyNAS community forums; however it seems that these are not really a true indication of what is available and the moderators are heavily biased by what Netgear supports, rather than what can be done. Thanks to Garry Martin, who pointed me in the direction of Stefan Rubner’s ReadyNAS port of the iSCSI Enterprise Target Project, I now have a ReadyNAS acting as an iSCSI target.

I have a lot of data on my first ReadyNAS and, even though I backed it all up to a new 1.5TB drive in my server (which will eventually be swapped into the the ReadyNAS as part of the next X-RAID upgrade), I wasn’t prepared to risk losing it so I bought a second ReadyNAS to act as an iSCSI target for serving virtual machine images. In short, don’t run this on your ReadyNAS unless you are reasonably confident at a Linux command prompt and you have a backup of your data. This worked for me but your mileage may vary – and, if it all goes wrong and takes your data with it, please don’t blame me.

First up, I updated my ReadyNAS to the latest software release (at the time of writing, that’s RAIDiator version 4.1.6). Next, I enabled SSH access using the Updates page in FrontView with the EnableRootSSH and ToggleSSH addons (note that these do not actually install any user interface elements: EnableRootSSH does exactly what it says, and when it’s complete the root password will be set to match the admin password; ToggleSSH will enable/disable SSH each time the update is run).

The next step was to install the latest stable version (v0.4.17-1.0.1) of Stefan Rubner’s iSCSI target add-on for ReadyNAS (as for EnableRootSSH and ToggleSSH, it is simply applied as an update in FrontView).

With SSH enabled on the ReadyNAS, I switched to using a Mac (as it has a Unix command prompt which includes an SSH client) but any Unix/Linux PC, or a Windows PC running something like PuTTY will work too:

ssh root@ipaddress

After changing directory to /etc (cd /etc), I checked for an existing ietd.conf file and found that there was an empty one there as ls-al ie* returned:

-rw-r–r–    1 admin    admin           0 Dec  3  2008 ietd.conf

I renamed this (mv ietd.conf ietd.conf.original) and downloaded a pre-configured version with wget http://readynasfreeware.org/gf/download/docmanfileversion/3/81/ietd.conf before editing the first line (vi ietd.conf) to change the IQN for the iSCSI target (a vi cheat sheet might come in useful here).

As noted in the installation instructions, the most important part of this file is the Lun 0 Path=/c/iscsi_0,Type=fileio entry. I was happy with this filename, but it can be edited if required. Next, I created a 250GB file to act as this iSCSI LUN using dd if=/dev/zero of=/c/iscsi_0 bs=10485760 count=25600. Beware, this takes a long time (I went to the pub, came back, wrote a good chunk of this blog post and it was still chugging away for just over 4 hours; however it’s possible to get some idea of progress by watching the amount of free space reported in FrontView).

At this point, I began to deviate from the installation notes – attempting to run /etc/init.d/rfw-iscsi-target start failed so I rebooted the ReadyNAS but when I checked the Installed Add-ons page in FrontView I saw that the iSCSI target was already running although the target was listed as NOT_FOUND and clicking the Configure Targets button seemed to have no effect (I later found that was an IE8 issue – the button produced a pop-up when I ran it from Safari over on my Mac and presumably would have worked in another browser on Windows too).

I changed the target name to /c/iscsi_0, saved the changes, and restarted the ReadyNAS again (just to be sure, although I could have restarted the service from the command line), checking that there was a green light next to the iSCSI target service in FrontView (also running /etc/init.d/rfw-iscsi-target status on the command line).

ReadyNAS iSCSI Target add-on configuration

With the target running, I switched to my client (a Windows Server 2008 computer) and ran the iSCSI initiator, adding a portal on the Discovery tab (using the IP address of the ReadyNAS box and the default port of 3260), then switching to the Targets tab and clicking the Refresh button. I selected my target and clicked Log On… waiting with baited breath.

Windows iSCSI initiator Discovery tabWindows iSCSI initiator Discovery tab

iSCSI target exposed in Disk Management

No error messages indicated that everything was working so I switched to Server Manager and saw a new 250GB unallocated disk in Disk Management, which I then brought online and initialised.

Finally, I updated /etc/rc6.d/S99reboot to include /etc/init.d/rfw-iscsi-target stop just before the line that says # Save the last 5 ecounters by date.

Uncategorized

ReadyNAS Duo with no available disk space

My new Netgear ReadyNAS Duo was delivered at lunchtime today. This is the second ReadyNAS Duo I’ve bought and the first is happily serving media and other files to my home network, whereas this one is intended to be hacked so that it can become an inexpensive iSCSI target (I hope).

I bought the RND2000 (i.e. the model with no disks installed) as I already have a spare 500MB disk from the first ReadyNAS (which has since been upgraded to use a pair of 1TB Seagate Barracudas) and NetGear’s current offer of a free hard drive will allow me to make this single disk one half of a RAID 1 mirror. After setting up the device via the web interface (FrontView), I discovered that the disk was detected as full with 0MB (0%) of 0GB used.

There were no options to erase the disk, but I had previously been using this disk in a Windows Server computer so I mounted it on a Windows PC where it was recognised and I was able to delete the existing partition. After putting the disk back into the ReadyNAS, the RAIDar utility showed that it was creating a volume (eventually I could see that Volume C: had been created, with 0% of 461GB used) although it seems that I had also wiped my configuration along with the NTFS partition (that was straightforward enough to set up again).

RAIDar showing new volume creation on a ReadyNAS

Now I have the ReadyNAS up and running it’s time to have a go at setting it up for iSCSI… watch this space.

Uncategorized

Microsoft makes Storage Server 2008 (including the iSCSI software target) available to MSDN and TechNet subscribers

I was doing some work yesterday with the Microsoft iSCSI target software and noticed a post on Jose Barteto’s blog, indicating that Windows Storage Server 2008 is now available to TechNet and MSDN subscribers. Previously it was for OEMs only (or you could extract the iSCSI Target from an evaluation copy of Storage Server) but this will help out IT administrators looking to set up an iSCSI target using software only (alternatives are available, but they are not free – at least not the ones that support persistent reservations, which are needed for Windows Server 2008 failover clustering).

Now, if only I could get an add-on for my Netgear ReadyNAS Duo to support iSCSI…

Uncategorized

Connecting to an iSCSI target using the Microsoft iSCSI Initiator

I’ve spent a good chunk of today trying to prepare a clustered virtual machine demonstration using the Microsoft iSCSI Initiator and Target.

I’ve done this before but only on training courses and I was more than a little bit rusty when it came to configuring iSCSI. It’s actually quite straightforward and I found Jose Barreto’s blog post on using the Microsoft iSCSI software target with Hyper-V a very useful guide (even though the Hyper-V part was irrelevant to me, the iSCSI configuration is useful).

The basic steps are:

  • Install the iSCSI Target (server) and Initiator (client) software (the Initiator is already supplied with Windows Vista and Server 2008).
  • Set up a separate network for iSCSI traffic (this step is optional – I didn’t do this in my demo environment – but it is recommended).
  • On the client(s):
    • Load the iSCSI Initiator, and answer yes to the questions about starting the iSCSI Service automatically and about allowing iSCSI traffic through the firewall.
    • Examine the iSCSI Initiator properties and make a note of the initiator name on the General page (it should be something like iqn.1991-05.com.microsoft:clientdnsname).
    • On the Discovery page, add a target portal, using the DNS name or IP address of the iSCSI Target and the appropriate port number (default is 3260).
  • On the iSCSI server:
    • Create a new target, supplying a target name and the identifiers of all the clients that will require access. This is where the IQNs from the initiators will be required (you can also use DNS name, IP or MAC address but IQN is the normal configuration method).
    • Add one or more LUN(s) to the target (the Microsoft implementation uses the virtual hard disk format for this, so the method is to create a virtual disk within the iSCSI Target console).
    • Make a note of the IQN for the target on the Target properties and ensure that it is enabled (checkbox on the General page).
  • Back on the client(s):
    • Move to the Target properties page and refresh to see the details of the new target.
    • Click the Log on button and select the checkbox to automatically restore the connection when the computer starts.
    • Bring the disk online and initialise it in Disk Management, before creating one or more volume(s) as required.

After completing these steps, the iSCSI storage should be available for access as though it were a local disk.

It’s worth noting that the Microsoft iSCSI Target is not easy to come by (unless you have access to a Windows Storage Server). It is possible to get hold of an evaluation copy of Storage Server though and Jose explains how to install this in another blog post. Alternatively, you can use a third party iSCSI software target (it must support persistent reservations) or, even better, use a hardware solution.

Uncategorized

NetBooks, solid state drives and file systems

Yesterday, I wrote about the new NetBook PC that I’ve ordered (a Lenovo IdeaPad S10). In that post I mentioned that I had some concerns about running Windows 7 on a PC with a solid state drive (SSD) and I wanted to clarify something: it’s not that Windows 7 (or any other version of Windows) is inherently bad on SSD, it’s just that there are considerations to take into account when making sure that you get the most out of a solid state drive.

Reading around various forums it’s apparent that SSDs vary tremendously in quality and performance. As a consequence, buying a cheap NetBook with a Linux distro on it and upgrading the SSD to a larger device (the Linux models generally ship with lower capacity SSDs than their more expensive Windows XP brethren) is not necessarily straightforward. Then there’s the issue of form factor – not all SSDs use the same size board.

Another commonly reported issue is that NTFS performance on an SSD is terrible and that FAT32 should be used instead. That rings alarm bells with me because FAT32: does not include any file-level access control lists; has a maximum file size of 4GB (so no good for storing DVD ISOs – not that you’ll get many of those on the current generation of SSDs – anyway, most NetBooks do not ship with an optical drive).

The reason for poor NTFS performance on SSDs may be found in a slide deck from the 2008 Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC), where Frank Shu, a Senior Program Manager at Microsoft, highlights:

  • The alignment of NTFS partition to SSD geometry is important for SSD performance in [Windows]
    • The first Windows XP partition starts at sector #63; the middle of [an] SSD page.
    • [A] misaligned partition can degrade [the] device’s performance [...] to 50% caused by read-modify-write.

It sounds to me as if those who are experiencing poor performance on otherwise good SSDs (whilst SSDs come in a smaller package, are resistant to shocks and vibration, use less power and generate less heat than mechanical hard drives SSD life and performance varies wildly) may have an issue with the partition alignment on their drives. Windows 7 implements some technologies to make best use of SSD technology (read more about how Windows 7 will, and won’t, work better with SSDs in Eric Lai’s article on the subject).

In addition, at the 2007 WinHEC, Frank Shu presented three common issues with SSDs:

  • Longer setup time for command execution.
  • SSD write performance.
  • Limited write cycles for NAND flash memory (100,000 write cycles for single layer cell devices and 10,000 write cycles for multi layer cell devices).

(He also mentioned cost – although this is dropping as SSDs become more prevalent in NetBooks and other PC devices aimed at highly-mobile users).

In short, SSD technology is still very new and there are a lot of factors to consider (I’ve just scraped the surface here). I’m sure that in the coming years I’ll be putting SSDs in my PCs but, as things stand at the end of 2008, it’s a little too soon to make that jump – even for a geek like me.

Incidentally, Frank Shu’s slide decks on Solid State Drives – Next Generation Storage (WinHEC 2007: WNS-T432) and Windows 7 Enhancements for Solid-State Drives (WinHEC 2008: COR-T558) are both available on the ‘net and worth a look for anyone considering running Windows on a system with an SSD installed.

%d bloggers like this: