Entries Tagged as 'Linux'

Thinking Inside the VirtualBox

Sun Microsystems used to be a major player in the computer world; and I guess since Java belongs to Sun they are still a a fairly major force…

There’s a number of open source or free projects that Sun sponsors:

And, of course, it’s VirtualBox that has inspired this post.

VirtualBox 2.0.4 released on 24 October 2008, and from my initial experiences with it, it’s a contender.

A fairly mature x86/x64 virtualization framework for x86/x64 platforms.  VirtualBox runs on Windows, OS-X, Linux, and of course Solaris.

What sets it apart — well it’s to my knowledge the only fairly mature cross-platform virtualization framework that’s FREE on all platforms.

In general it doesn’t require hardware virtualization support with the exception that to run a x64 guest you must be on an x64 host with hardware virtualization.

Going through the list of features and playing with it there’s really nothing I couldn’t find that it didn’t do (and in playing with it, it seemed to work well)… the one feature that VirtualBox supports that none of it’s competitors had last time I looked (and that Hyper-V is sorely missing) is SATA (AHCI – Advanced Host Controller Interface) support… that provides much more efficient emulation of disk channel connections to the guest (and thus much better performance — and if you recall from my post on Hyper-V the fact that Microsoft doesn’t have SCSI boot support or AHCI support at all is what prevents me from moving to Hyper-V).

VirtualBox does apparently support VMWare virtual disks, but not Microsoft virtual disks (both of them provide open specifications, so my only conclusion is that Sun’s anti-Microsoft bias is at play which is sad since VirtualPC, Virtual Server, and Hyper-V account for a fairly substantial segment of the market, and a growing segment).

Like any product, you really need to carefully evaluate it based on your needs, but my feeling is that certainly for Mac users this might be the choice if you don’t want to by Parallels Desktop… and for Windows desktops this looks to be a very good.

NOTES:

On Windows if you want to use this on a server host machine (ie one that doesn’t require users to control the virtual machine) VirtualBox doesn’t really provide any interface for controlling machines in this manner; however, you can launch a VirtualBox machine from the command line, so you can have your server start up VirtualBox sessions at boot… though there are no tools provided by VirtualBox for managing running instances started this way.  My recommendation is that the VirtualBox team add a tool to manage and launch instances in a server environment.

On Windows (and other OSs) the way VirtualBox handles host networking (the default is a NAT’d network through the host… which could have some performance impact) is buy using the TUN/TAP driver.  Certainly they way Microsoft handles virtualization of the network adapter is far slicker, and I found that using host networking is not as reliable as NAT; hopefully this is an area where there will be some improvement.

Lastly, I haven’t run any actual performance tests head-to-head with  Parallels, VMWare, VirtualPC, and Virtual Server… but I can tell you that guests “feel” substantially faster running under VirtualBox (I was quite impressed — and surprised).


VirtualBox

Originally posted 2008-12-08 12:00:55.

Disk Bench

I’ve been playing with Ubuntu here of late, and looking at the characteristics of RAID arrays.

What got me on this is when I formatted an ext4 file system on a four drive RAID5 array created using an LSI 150-4 [hardware RAID] controller I noticed that it took longer than I though it should; and while most readers probably won’t be interested in whether or not to use the LSI 150 controller they have in their spare parts bin to create a RAID array on Linux, the numbers below are interesting just in deciding what type of array to create.

These numbers are obtained from the disk benchmark in Disk Utility; this is only a read test (write performance is going to be quite a bit different, but unfortunately the write test in Disk Utility is destructive, and I’m not willing to lose my file system contents at this moment; but I am looking for other good benchmarking tools).

drives avg access time min read rate max read rate avg read rate

ICH8 Single 1 17.4 ms 14.2 23.4 20.7 MB/s
ICH8 Raid1 (Mirror) 2 16.2 ms 20.8 42.9 33.4 MB/s
ICH8 Raid5 4 18.3 ms 17.9 221.2 119.1 MB/s
SiL3132 Raid5 4 18.4 ms 17.8 223.6 118.8 MB/s
LSI150-4 Raid5 4 25.2 ms 12.5 36.6 23.3 MB/s

All the drives used are similar class drives; Seagate Momentus 120GB 5400.6 (ST9120315AS) for the single drive and RAID1 (mirror) tests, and Seagate Momentus 500GB 5400.6 (ST9500325AS) for all the RAID5 tests.  Additionally all drives show that they are performing well withing acceptable operating parameters.

Originally posted 2010-06-30 02:00:09.

Dreamlinux – because dreams can come true

I’ll have to echo what I said in my previous posts about not looking for a Mac clone, but rather an environment that was usable by ordinary people.

Dreamlinux has potential.

There are a number of visual elements about the interface that I don’t like, and don’t think they’re additive; but the bottom line is Dreamlinux works, it’s very stable, and it has virtually every component installed ready to use right out of the “box”.

Dreamlinux has a long way to go before I would give it a resounding vote of confidence — it’s still very much Linux, and Linux and all it’s geek appeal 0ozes out at every seam…

Geeks just don’t design software or systems to be usable — they haven’t learned that just because you can, doesn’t mean you should!

But like I said, Dreamlinux has potential, and it certainly warrants a thorough examination and review.

Dreamlinux

Originally posted 2010-01-07 01:00:51.

Linux BitTorrent Clients – Follow-Up

I’ve been using several Linux bit torrent clients fairly heavily for the past week or so, and I have a few new comments about each of the “contenders” — below I’ve ordered them as I would recommend using them.

KTorrent · KTorrent might be a little “fat”, but it works, and it works very well — particularly when dealing with a large number of torrents simultaneously.  This is my pick.

TorrentFlux · TorrentFlux is probably the best solution you’ll find for a torrent server.  Simply said, it works fine (though I don’t know that I’ll continue to use it, simply because it doesn’t seem to be being improved, and it’s far from perfection).

Transmission · Transmission is simple, and that simplicity seems to pay off — it works, it works well.

qBittorrent · qBittorrent works fairly well for a small number of simultaneous torrents; but if you want to download large numbers of torrents or seed large numbers of torrents stay away from this one — it actually crashes, and unless your goal is just to watch the integrity of your torrents be checked and over and over you can do much better.

Deluge · Deluge was what I really wanted to like; and it seemed to work, but it has two major problems — it doesn’t handle large numbers of torrents well, and it doesn’t properly handle port forwarding (either through UPnP / NAT-PMP or when you try and set the port forwarding manually).  We’ll just leave it at it has issues (that apparently are fairly well known) and the progress on it is glacial in it’s pace.

Moving torrents from one client to another isn’t all that hard to do, a little time consuming maybe… but once you figure out how to do it, and let your data files re-check, you’ll be on your way.

My experience over the past week reminds me that you can do your diligence by researching every fact and figure about a program all you like; but until you put it through the paces you just won’t know.

NOTES: My test included about 550 torrents totaling just under half a terabyte in total size.  I required that ports be forwarded through a firewall properly (either via UPnP, NAT-PMP, or by hand), and that I be able to control the total number of active torrents (preferably with control over uploads and downloads as well), and be able to restrict the bandwidth (a scheduler was a nice touch, but not a requirement).

Originally posted 2010-08-25 02:00:30.

Ubuntu – RAID Creation

I think learning how to use mdadm (/sbin/mdadm) is a good idea, but in Ubuntu Desktop you can use Disk Utility (/usr/bin/palimpsest) to create most any of your RAID (“multiple disk”) configurations.

In Disk Utility, just access “File->Create->Raid Array…” on the menu and choose the options.  Before doing that, you might want to clear off the drives you’re going to use (I generally create a fresh GTP partition to insure the drive is ready to be used as a component of the RAID array).

Once you’ve created the container with Disk Utility; you can even format it with a file system; however, you will still need to manually add the entries to /etc/mdadm/mdadm.conf and /etc/fstab.

One other minor issue I noticed.

I gave my multiple disk containers names (mirror00, mirror01, …) and Disk Utility will show them mounted on device /dev/md/mirror00 — in point of fact, you want to use device names like /dev/md0, /dev/md1, … in the /etc/mdadm/mdadm.conf file.  Also, once again, I highly recommend that you use the UUID for the array configuration (in mdadm.conf) and for the file system (in fstab).

Originally posted 2010-07-12 02:00:33.

Virtulization, Virtulization, Virtulization

For a decade now I’ve been a fan of virtulization (of course, that’s partially predicated on understanding what virtualization is, and how it works — and it’s limitation).

For software developers it offers a large number of practical uses… but more and more the average computer user is discovering the benefits of using virtual machines.

In Windows 7 Microsoft has built the “Windows XP” compatibility feature on top of virtualization (which means to use it you’ll need a processor that supports hardware virtualization — so many low end computers and notebooks aren’t going to have the ability to use the XP compatability feature).

While Windows 7 might make running older programs a seamless, you can (of course) install another virtualization package and still run older software.

Which virtualization package to choose???

Well, for me it’s an easy choice…

  • Windows Server 2008 on machines that have hardware virtualization – HyperV
  • Windows 7 on machines that have hardware virtualization – Virtual PC
  • All others (Windows, OS-X, Linux) – Virtual Box

Now, the disclaimers… if I were running a commercial enterprise; and I didn’t want to spend the money to buy Windows Server 2008, Microsoft does offer Windows Server 2008 – Virtual Server Edition for no cost (you really need one Windows Server 2008 in order to effectively manage it — but you can install the tools on Vista if you really don’t have it in your budget to buy a single license).

And no, I wouldn’t choose Linux OR OS-X as the platform to run a commercial virtualization infrastructure on… simply because device support for modern hardware (and modern hardware is what you’re going to base a commercial virtualization infrastructure on if you’re serious) is unparalleled PERIOD.

If you’re running Vista or Vista 64 you may decide to user Virtual PC ( a better choice would be Virtual Server 2005 R2); but Virtual Box is being actively developed, and it’s hardware reference for virtualization is much more modern (and I feel a better choice).

To make it simple… the choice comes down to Microsoft HyperV derived technology or Virtual Box.  Perhaps if I were a *nix biggot I’d put Xen in the loop, but like with so many Linux centric projects there are TOO MANY distributions, and too many splinter efforts.

One last note; keep in mind that you need a license for any operating system that you run in a virtual environment.

Originally posted 2009-08-12 01:00:34.

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.

Virtual machines need regular defragging, researcher says

This comes from an article on ComputerWorld, all I can say is duh!

Virtual disks require the same fragmentation as the same operating system would running on physical machines; plus if you choose dynamically expanding containers for the disk on the host, you’ll likely need to power down the machine and periodically defragment the host as well.

You’d think that an article that starts with a title like that couldn’t possible get any more asinine; well, you’d be wrong:

Windows, as well as third-party software firms, offer defragmenters to reassemble fragmented files. Fragmentation is not as large of a problem on Unix systems, due to the way that the OS writes files to disk.

Apparently the author seems to think that just because Windows includes software to defragment the file system, it must be much more susceptible to fragmentation.  He’d be right if we were talking about Windows 98 or if people choose not to run NTFS… but he and the article he references are dead wrong.

NTFS has almost identical abilities as EXT2, EXT3, and EXT4 file systems to avoid fragmentation — the difference is that NTFS supports defragmentation of the file system (and Windows ships with a rudimentary defragmenter).  In fact, if *nix file system were so impervious to fragmentation, why would the ability to defragment be one of the major feature additions in EXT4 (though not fully implemented yet)?

There are many thing about *nix type operating systems that can clearly be pointed to as superior than Windows, the resistance to fragmentation simply isn’t one; WAKE UP and live in the current millennium, we don’t need to confuse FAT16/FAT32 with Windows.

Virtual machines need regular defragging, researcher says
By Joab Jackson on ComputerWorld

Originally posted 2010-10-12 02:00:44.

Ubuntu – Creating A Disk Mirror

A disk mirror, or RAID1 is a fault tolerant disk configuration where every block of one drive is mirrored on a second drive; this provides the ability to lose one drive (or have damaged sectors on one drive) and still retain data integrity.

RAID1 will have lower write performance than a single drive; but will likely have slightly better read performance than a single drive.  Other types of RAID configurations will have different characteristics; but RAID1 is simple to configure and maintain (and conceptually it’s easy for most anyone to understand the mechanics) and the topic of this article.

Remember, all these commands will need to be executed with elevated privileges (as super-user), so they’ll have to be prefixed with ‘sudo’.

First step, select two disks — preferably identical (but as close to the same size as possible) that don’t have any data on them (or at least doesn’t have any important data on them).  You can use Disk Utility (GUI) or gparted (GUI) or cfdisk (CLI) or fdisk (CLI) to confirm that the disk has no data and change (or create) the partition type to “Linux raid autotected” (type “fd”) — also note the devices that correspond to the drive, they will be needed when building the array.

Check to make sure that mdadm is installed; if not you can use the GUI package manager to download and install it; or simply type:

  • apt-get install mdadm

For this example, we’re going to say the drives were /dev/sde and /dev/sdf.

Create the mirror by executing:

  • mdadm ––create /dev/md0 ––level=1 ––raid-devices=2 /dev/sde1 missing
  • mdadm ––manage ––add /dev/md0 /dev/sdf1

Now you have a mirrored drive, /dev/md0.

At this point you could setup a LVM volume, but we’re going to keep it simple (and for most users, there’s no real advantage to using LVM).

Now you can use Disk Utility to create a partition (I’d recommend a GPT style partition) and format a file system (I’d recommend ext4).

You will want to decide on the mount point

You will probably have to add an entry to /etc/fstab and /etc/mdadm/mdadm.conf if you want the volume mounted automatically at boot (I’d recommend using the UUID rather than the device names).

Here’s an example mdadm.conf entry

  • ARRAY /dev/md0 level=raid1 num-devices=2 UUID=d84d477f:c3bcc681:679ecf21:59e6241a

And here’s an example fstab entry

  • UUID=00586af4-c0e8-479a-9398-3c2fdd2628c4 /mirror ext4 defaults 0 2

You can use mdadm to get the UUID of the mirror (RAID) container

  • mdadm ––examine ––scan

And you can use blkid to get the UUID of the file system

  • blkid

You should probably make sure that you have SMART monitoring installed on your system so that you can monitor the status (and predictive failure) of drives.  To get information on the mirror you can use the Disk Utility (GUI) or just type

  • cat /proc/mdstat

There are many resources on setting mirrors on Linux; for starters you can simply look at the man pages on the mdadm command.

NOTE: This procedure was developed and tested using Ubuntu 10.04 LTS x64 Desktop.

Originally posted 2010-06-28 02:00:37.

Windows Live Essential 2011 – Live Mail

Or perhaps better titled: Why I continue to use a product I hate.

When Outlook Express debuted many years ago Microsoft showed the possibility of creating a email reader for Windows that was clean,simple, and powerful… and for all the problems of Outlook Express it worked.

When Microsoft shipped Windows Vista they abandoned Outlook Express in favor of Windows Mail; largely it appeared to be the same program with a few changes to make it more Vista-like.

But not long after Windows Mail hit the street, Microsoft decided to launch Windows Live Mail, and what appears to be a totally new program modeled after Outlook Express / Windows Mail was launched.  I say it was new because many of the bugs that were present in the BETA of Windows Live Mail were bugs that had been fixed in the Outlook Express code line years before (as an interesting note, several of the bugs I personally reported during the BETA of Windows Live Mail are still present in the newest version – 2011).

The previous version of Live Mail was tolerable; most of the things that were annoying about it had fairly simple ways to resolve them — and in time, maybe we’ll all figure out ways to work around the headaches in 2011; but I just don’t feel like putting so much effort into a POS software package time and time again…

And for those of you who say it’s “FREE” so you get what you get, I’d say, no — it’s not exactly free… Microsoft understands that software like this is necessary in order to have any control over user’s internet habits, so it isn’t free — you’re paying a “price” for it.

Plus, there are other alternatives… Thunderbird for one.

Why don’t I use Thunderbird… simple, there is one “feature” lacking in Thunderbird that prevents me from embracing it.  You cannot export account information and restore it.  Sure Mozbackup will let you backup a complete profile and transfer it to another machine — but I want access to individual email accounts.

Why?  Well, here’s the scenario that I always hit.

I travel, and I tend to take my netbook with me when I travel — and often I’m using my cell phone to access the internet… while it’s “fast” by some standards… if you were to re-sync fifty email accounts each with a dozen IMAP folders, you’d take all day.  Further, most of those email accounts are uninteresting on a day-to-day basis, particularly when I travel — I only want to access a couple of those accounts for sure, but I might want to load an account on demand (you never know).  What I do with Live Mail is I have all the IAF files for all my email accounts stored on the disk (I sync them from my server), and I setup the mail program by loading the three or four that I use routinely, the others I only load as I need them, and I remove them from Live Mail when done.

OK — so that doesn’t fit you… here’s another.

You’ve got several computers, and you’d like to setup your email quickly and painlessly on all of them… but you don’t need all your email accounts on everyone of them — plus you add and remove accounts over time.  Again, Live Mail and it’s import/export handles this nicely.  You simply export a set of IAF files, and then import the ones you want on each machine.

The question is why doesn’t Thunderbird have this ability?

Well, there was a plug in for an older version of Thunderbird that did kinda this; of course it didn’t work that well for the version it was written for, and it doesn’t work at all for newer versions.

One more that I consider an annoyance (but it’s probably slightly more than that) is that there is no easy way in Thunderbird to change the order of accounts in the account window — and they’re not order alphabetically (that would make too much sense), they’re ordered chronologically (based on when you created them).  So you can re-order them, if you delete the accounts and add them back in the order you’d like them to appear; but wait, you can’t add an account any way in Thunderbird by type in all the information again.

And if you’re thinking, OK so write a plug-in that manages account ordering and import/export.  Sure, that would be the “right” thing to do if Thunderbird really had an interface to get to that information easily — but no, it appears you’d have to parse a javaScript settings file… oh joy.

These should be core features of Thunderbird; and in my mind they are huge barriers to wide acceptance.

Originally posted 2010-11-12 02:00:32.