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Building A Virtualization Host

So what kind of hardware makes a good virtualization host?

Well, I would say the things you should consider are:

  • Processor, the more cores the better
  • Memory, the more the better
  • Storage, the more spindles the better

There are a couple more things you want to consider; for your CPU you really want a multi-core process that supports hardware virtualization.  I generally consider the Q6600, Q9300, and Q9400 to be good choices.  At $160, $170, $180 each you should probably consider the highest end processor your motherboard can support (some older Intel based motherboards may not accept the Q9300/Q9400 processors, so go with the Q6600, it’s about the same performance as the Q9300, just draws more power and produces more heat).  Of course, pricing varies — so figure out where the “sweet spot” is in the price curve for your favorite vendors.

With memory on a Intel processor you always want to populate all the banks; the interleaving will greatly increase the performance of your memory.  And with quality (Corsair DHX) memory costing only about $100 for 8GB (4x2GB) there’s really no excuse to scrimp.

Before I cover storage I’m going to throw in motherboards; yeah you need one of those two (as well as a case and power supply).  For motherboards I generally will pick something like the Intel DG33TL or DG45ID (the newer motherboard actually will cost less).  The built in video reduces the required component count, and you don’t really care about the video on your virtual host — it’s a server.  Also, that frees the x16 PCIe slot for a x8 RAID adapter if you choose to go that route (though there are now many motherboards that have multiple x16 PCIe slots that only cost a little more — but generally require a video card).  One other thing you might want in a motherboard is multiple ethernet controllers (and those should be Gig-E).  It’s not really required, for the most part your virtual infrastructure will be limited by your storage subsystem or your internet connection (depending on your application), but it is “nice to have”.

Now to storage.

The first thing is your system drive on a virtual host really isn’t that important.  Any reasonable SATA-II drive running in AHCI mode will be fine.  And you don’t really need to mirror it, since you can take a snapshot of it and restore it to another drive if it fails.  The decision of whether or not to mirror your OS drive will depend on other factors.  Also, since you definitely do not want your operating system swapping (no paging file) the performance of the drive isn’t a huge concern.  And if you want the ultimate, choose an SSD — that will let you boot very quickly, and there shouldn’t be any delay in writing a log file (32GB  is plenty, 16GB might be a little tight, but you could do it).

Your data drive, the one that will hold your virtual machine images, is very important.  For a small server you can start with just a mirrored (RAID1) or mirrored and stripped (RAID0+1) drive set of what ever size you need.  But understand that the number of spindles in your data set will greatly effect the performance of your virtual machines if they are disk bound (ie they read or write lots of data from the disk).  In fact, if any of the virtual machines are heavy disk users, they will impact all the virtual machines if you don’t have lots of spindles.

The rule of thumb I often use for virtual hosts that will have reasonable disk activity is the minimum number of spindles is the number of virtual machines plus one.  For economizing or for lightly loaded disk activity you can divid the number of virtual machines by two and add one… but you really always want at least a mirrored pair (single drives can get sluggish — they’re OK for a development workstation, but not a virtual server where you might depend on the machines running day in and day out).

To get more spindles you can use the pseudo RAID controllers build into the motherboard (the Intel Matrix controller isn’t bad, but it’s not a real hardware RAID controller); those controllers do fine for stripping and mirroring (and there’s no reason to buy anything more than that if that’s all you need).  If you get serious about virtualization and want to go with RAID5 (or RAID6) then you’ll want to invest in a real hardware RAID controller (and be careful when you buy, lots of entry level controllers actually aren’t any better than the Intel Matrix controller, except that they allow you to migrate to higher end RAID controllers seamlessly).

The absolute best name in RAID controllers is LSI, you can often save money buy purchasing an older series of controller, or a controller that uses the LSI chip set (but made by a systems vendor).  The most important thing is that the physical interface is SATA-II for the drives and PCIe for the system, and that the controller have enough channels for the number of spindles you’re likely to need (four, eight, twelve, sixteen, and twenty-four are the number you’ll see — LSI used to have a six channel, but they don’t offer that in the newer series).

You can buy a controller larger than you need, but you’re going to spend a great deal more money on the controller; and you’ll need a case and power supply that can handle that number of drives.

You will also want to consider hot-swap bays for more than four drives for sure; and those will add greatly to the cost of your machine (for 3.5″ drives you can get 1-in-1, 3-in-2, 4-in-3, and 5-in-3; for 2.5″ drives you can get 4-in-1… where this referes to the number of drives you can fit in a 5.25″ drive way).

What I do on my machines with sixteen channel RAID controllers is I have three 3.5″ 5-in-3 and one 2.5″ 4-in-1; the fifteen 3.5″ drives are attached to the first fifteen channels of the RAID controller (the sixteenth channel is unused), and four motherboard channels are attached to the 2.5″ drive bays.  My case actually has two power supplies, and all the 3.5″ drives are run off a 750W single rail power supply, and the 2.5″ and rest of the system are run off a 400W supply.  By using the combination of 2.5″ and 3.5″ everything fits nicely in the case, and the power supplies are more than adequate.  You’ll note that I use 2.5″ for system drives (I plan on going to SSDs eventually) — so obviously I’m not worried about the performance.  I have similar configuration for my eight channel RAID machines (except they don’t need dual power supplies). 

One final note, if you’re concerned about power consumption, you might want to consider building out a virtual host using only 2.5″ drives and stick with just using the motherboard controllers (real hardware RAID controllers consume a great deal of power).  With 500GB 2.5″ drives you could have 1TB mirrored and stripped, and that may be adequate for your needs.  Once you add a hardware RAID controller I’m not sure that you really need worry about the power consumption of the drives as much, but you’d need to do the math.

Originally posted 2009-02-11 01:00:16.

My BLOG

My BLOG has developed quite a following, and I appreciate all the readers it’s attracted.

I want to be clear that I do not accept money from any company for inclusion of information or preferential treatment or positioning on my BLOG.

If you have a product that you’d like me to “play” with, contact me — I will expect you to make reasonable arrangements to get it to me and returned to you, but if it’s something I’m interested in looking at I will be happy to see how I like it and share my experiences with the world.

If you have a site that you believe may be of interest to me or any of my readers, simply tell me about it, and I’ll check it out.  If I like it, I’ll be happy to include information on it here…

If you feel you need to “reward” someone for my efforts I encourage you to donate the money you would have given me to a charity of your choice.

Originally posted 2008-11-05 08:00:00.

The new SPAMmer in town — Apple Computer, Inc

Last week I wanted to update my Mac Pro to the newest version of OS-X, it’s free after all…

So powered up my Mac, let it apply all the updates for the software I had on it; then I went to the App Store to download OS-X Version 10.9 “Mavericks”.

When I tried to use my Apple ID to log in, the system told me that it had been deactivated; when went through the rats maze of information I ended up needing to call Apple Support.

I got through in about two minutes, which was impressive until I was connected to a person who barely could speak intelligible English (if English was her native language I’d consider her near illiterate). After what seemed like an eternity of back and forth (the human version of the electronic rats maze I’d just been subjected to), she told me that she would not be able to re-activate my account… after that I ask to speak to her supervisor.

I don’t know how long the hold was, but it was long, and long enough to put us past the operating time for support — the phone clicked (I could tell a person had answered), and I was immediately disconnected.

Great service Apple — the only other places recently I’ve found websites as poorly done and customer service as clueless is HealthCare.gov…

Since service was now closed, and I couldn’t get another call through to Apple (I did schedule a call back for the next morning; which FYI — I never got, absolutely no record of any call attempt within an hour of the scheduled time) I decided to be creative with their recovery system.

Eventually I got a reset email (perhaps Apple’s recovery system takes a few hours to send an email — I don’t know — and I really don’t care).

I gained access to my account, changed my password as required (it indicated I couldn’t change my password to my previous password — so in fact it wasn’t that I had forgotten my credentials, the account really had been deactivated).

Finally, after several hours I was able to “purchase” Mavericks from the App Store (as an aside — what happened to the cat motif ) and start the install.  I just went to sleep, it was way later that I had expected to be up.

While it really miffed me that Apple decided to deactivate my account (no one could really tell me why) and made it so difficult for me to re-activate it (and threw a horrendous web site and clueless customer service in my face) but what really pissed me off is that Apple automatically subscribed me to their f’ing mailing lists.

WTF???

I don’t want $#!+ from Apple – unless you’re giving me something to get your f’ing marketing crap I don’t want it — and I (and the laws of the State of California — where Apple is based) would classify it as SPAM.

All I can say is Wall Street isn’t the only one who’s becoming disillusioned with Apple.

Originally posted 2013-10-29 16:00:04.

MoneyDance

A little over a year ago Microsoft announced the end of Microsoft Money…

In the beginning I used a program written by a friend of mine to manage my check book (he actually marketed it), it was basic, and worked reasonably well.

Then I switch to Quicken… which never worked reasonably or well… but did the job (sort of like hammering a nail with a screwdriver rather than a hammer).  Obviously from what I’ve said I never liked it and never wanted to contemplate going back — financial management is about function, not form (or in Quicken’s case, pretty pictures, graphics, and selling as much of your information to anyone who will pay anything for it they can).

One of my friends used MoneyDance, and I’d pointed him that way when he decided gnucash just wasn’t what he wanted… so at the end of last year when I decided to make a decision to move to a financial management (tracking) software that was a little more current I paid for MoneyDance… and honestly, I’ve regretted it ever since.

The program basically works, and works on OS-X, Linux, and Windows… but one of the whole reasons to use financial management software is to be able to download transactions from your financial institutions and them just basically automatically match up with what you’ve entered and be done with balancing your records with your statement in a matter of a very few minutes…

And there in is the problem.

If you just let MoneyDance import and process those imported transactions you will have the biggest mess you’ve every seen — and the more accounts you have and the more transfers between accounts you do — well, let’s just say “exponential” growth only give you an idea of how bad it gets.

But, of course, like most “commercial” pieces of software, MoneyDance recently released a new version (I’m never in a hurry to upgrade to anything — even if I’m having minor problems I like to wait and make sure there’s no major regressions).  I did, however, install the update this weekend.

All I have to say is: are you F^(#ing kidding me… how is is possible to make an almost completely broken “feature” worse???

Now the transaction matching not only seems to do a worse job, but it’s on the side now rather than the bottom, so it obscures most of the (wrong) transaction it wants to match to so you have no idea what the F^(# it’s about to screw up…

My personal feeling is that you’re better of using crayons in a drawing book to track your financial records than wasting your time or money on MoneyDance… this has to be one of the absolute worst products I’ve ever seen, and based on the “features” that actually work you can stick with Microsoft Money, a 20 year old version of Quicken, or use a free program like gnucash… or a spreadsheet, because at the end of the day all you’re going to get with MoneyDance that works well enough to trust is a simple ledger.

Needless to say at the end of the year, I won’t be using MoneyDance, and if I can figure out how to get this years financial data out of it I will delete it (of course, this years data has very little value since to really “fix” the issues I’d have to go back and manually re-key everything).

Do before you reach for your credit card; consider saving your money and trying something else.

Originally posted 2011-08-08 02:00:00.

SugarSync Epic Failure

Today I decided I would test out SugarSync, they offer 5GB (not much by today’s standards) free cloud storage when you sign up through the Windows 10 App.

I signed up, downloaded the PC sync app, and got both the welcome as well as the verify email address email.

I clicked on the verify link — and below I what I got.  Just to be sure it wasn’t something pathological about Edge, I tried Chrome, FireFox, and Opera multiple times (I also tried a few more browsers, and clearly it’s no my network connection or DNS resolution — since I get an error from SugarSync).  To add insult to injury, there’s absolutely no way I could find to report this issue to them (other than write them a letter and send it via the US Postal Service).

Great way to build confidence in your product SugarSync — great way to make me want to shell out money…

FORGET IT!!!

You can never undo damage to your reputation like this.  My recommendation, close up shop — there are many choices in the cloud storage space, and they actually work.


SugarSync Epic Fail

SugarSync Epic Fail

So you want to build a web site

I have a broad base of friends; from those who could explain how the universe was formed (in minute detail) to those that could build you a boat to those that have trouble starting a car… and many of them (from many different backgrounds) have asked me for help or guidance building a web site.

First, let me be clear — I’m not a graphics designer; and I’m much more autistic than artistic… but I understand how the web works (from the nuts and bolts — so to speak; on up)… and that gives me a unique perspective on how to explain to people about building a web site.

One of the first things I tell them is start small; you can grow later, but you need to get a handle on the basics and understand the dos and don’ts inside out.

My generally recommendation is something along the lines of a three page web site — and opening page, an about page, and a contact page… sure lots of sites need more, but almost all need at least those — so starting there will always get you closer to where you want to go.

I also recommend to most people that they start with a pencil and paper, and draw out roughly how they want their site to look — and then look for other sites that have the look that they’re interested in.

After that, they simply need to learn the basics of how you describe your site to a browser — HTML; and probably some JavaScript.

JavaScript???  That’s for programmers!!!

Well yes and no; there’s quite a bit a person can do with JavaScript that just understands the very basics of programming, much of the work are done by people who know JavaScript inside out, and have published a foundation and widgets… so it comes down to almost cut-and-paste (sure you need to understand a little; but if you can learn HTML, you can learn JavaScript).

Along with building a web site you really need to learn a little about search engines, how they work, and what they expect to find when they visit a site… because if a search engine isn’t kind to you, then people just won’t find your site — and there’s a limit to how many people you’re going to point out your site to…

You need to learn more about HTML, particularly META TAGS, you also need to learn about some of the conventions of the web; a file called robots.txt that will tell crawlers and spiders what to do, and what’s refereed to as a site map (that makes it easier for a search engine to do it’s job — thus it’s more likely to index your site).

But just having a site map isn’t enough,you’ve got to make it easy for the search engine to digest all the information on your site; which means you need to learn to avoid Flash, images without ALT TAGS, pages that use AJAX XHR methods to load content on demand (search engines don’t run the JavaScript on a page — so they never see delay loaded content); pages that have JSON data sets used to populate page elements (again search engines don’t run the JavaScript on a page), pages that are broken, and pages that are huge (search engines have limits to how much content they’ll crawl on a single page).

I know, it seems like a bottomless pit of things to learn and keep in mind as you do it — and it’s certainly not made any easier by the fact that like most “professions”, web developers like to exclude as many people as they can by coming up with totally nonsensical jargon to hide how trivial most of this is.

Well, it is trivial (for the most part).

But my advice is, if you want to build a web site — start with the basics, and get the mechanics dead on before you go off the deep end with a “look” that defines your site.

Form is easier to add to function than vice-versa.

Over the next few months I’ll write a few posts on some of the specifics that make building a functional web page easier — and I’ll also share some advice on JavaScript frameworks.

Originally posted 2010-11-16 02:00:41.

US Drug Policy

I certainly don’t have a solution to the drug problem in the US; but clearly the US government doesn’t either.

History teaches us many lessons, and when we ignore those lessons we often find ourselves repeating the errors of the past.

Prohibition didn’t work.

We make arbitrary decisions about which drugs are acceptable are which ones are not (we have legalized alcohol, but not drug in social use for much longer).

The Criminal Justice Policy Foundation has some interesting views on US drug policy:

The United States is at a crossroads in its drug policy. In our effort to quell the drug trade, we have greatly increased patrol and inspection on our nation’s borders. We have increased arrests for violation of drug laws and lengthened sentences. We have stripped away the rights of drug offenders and introduced drug testing in our nation’s schools and workplaces. We have poured billions of dollars into overseas anti-drug paramilitary operations that commit violent human rights abuses. And in the process of trying to eradicate illicit coca crops, we have destroyed over a million acres of land in Colombia alone.

Since 1990, more than half of the federal prisoners in America are serving time for drug offenses. The availability and purity of drugs has steadily increased over the past twenty-five years. The violence in the drug trade remains excruciatingly high and surges from year to year and city to city. Meanwhile, there remain a myriad of social issues as a result of drug abuse.

The use of drugs, and the enforcement of the anti-drug laws, effects all subpopulations in the U.S., all sectors of the economy, and many aspects of the legal system. Whether we are talking about violence, poverty, race, health, education, community development, the environment, civil liberties or terrorism, the illegal drug market is an important factor in the conversation.

We have tried to use force, prohibition and incarceration to control the drug market, but our efforts have actually led to a more efficient drug trade and a hugely profitable drug market. It is time to rethink our strategy and redefine our goals.

This section holds articles and speeches given by CJPF that address drug policy in all of its forms and effects. In this, we strive to provide a comprehensive framework for rethinking the war on drugs.

You can read the complete statement and peruse their web site at

Criminal Justice Policy Foundation

And if you’re wondering, I found their site through an article from NPR on taxing cocaine rather than (or in addition to) marijuana.

NPR

Originally posted 2010-03-28 02:00:43.