Posts Tagged 'Computer'

October 2, 2009

Is That a Real Computer?

Some mornings after work when the weather is nice I'll go to a local coffee shop on the way home to read or study for the CCNA exams. Sometimes I'll just end up pulling out the netbook and browse around online. There are times during these outings when I'll get asked the title question of this blog: is that a real computer? I guess the size that throws people but the answer is yes.

For those who are not familiar with the netbook class of systems here are the specs for mine:

  • 10.2 inch screen
  • 1 GB RAM
  • 1.6GHz Intel Atom processor
  • 160GB SATA hard drive
  • 3 USB ports
  • Card reader
  • Built-in Wifi
  • Built-in webcam
  • Windows XP (I've got plans for Windows 7)
  • 5 hour battery life
  • Light weight (I've got books that weigh more)

Netbooks are great for when you're just knocking around town and might want to do some light web work. This morning while at Starbucks I've checked e-mail several times, caught up on the daily news, and reviewed the game statistics from the Cowboys game I missed last night. Other mornings I've fired up a VPN connection into the office and been able to remotely help with tickets, work on documentation for our SSL product and tinker around with a NetScaler VPX Express virtual machine (an interesting bit of tech for a later article).

So how does this tie into server hosting?

You've probably had a time when your monitoring has indicated a service ceasing to respond on a server. If all you have is a cell phone the options are somewhat limited. With a fancy enough phone you might have an SSH or RDP client but do you really want to do anything on a PDA sized screen? I didn't think so. You can put in a ticket from your phone and our support can help out but the person best able to fix a service failure is still going to be you, the server administrator who knows where all the bodies are buried and how the bits tie together.

A small netbook can be a lightweight (and inexpensive) administration terminal for your servers hosted with us. Just find an Internet connection, connect up to the SoftLayer VPN and now you have complete access to work on your servers via a secure connection.

Through the wonders of the IPMI KVM this access even includes the console which opens up the possibility of doing a custom kernel build and install safely, while sitting under the stars, drinking a hot chocolate and watching the local nightlife.

Sounds like a pretty nice reality to me.

July 1, 2009

Pre-configuration and Upgrades

I recently bought a new computer for my wife. Being a developer, and a former hardware engineering student, I opted the buy the parts and assemble the machine ourselves. Actually assembling a computer these days doesn't take too long, it's the software that really gets you. Windows security updates, driver packs, incompatibilities, inconsistencies, broken websites, and just plain bad code plagued me for most of the night. The video card, in particular, has a “known issue” where it just “uh-oh” turns off the monitor when Windows starts. The issue was first reported in March of 2006, and has yet to be fixed.

This is why SoftLayer always tests and verifies the configurations we offer. We don't make the end user discover on their own that Debian doesn't work on Nehalems, we install it first to be sure. This is also why our order forms prevent customers from ordering pre-installed software that are incompatible with any of the rest of the order. We want to make sure that customers avoid the frustration of ordering things only to find out later that they don't work together.

The problem with desktop computers, especially for people who are particular about their configurations, is that you cannot buy a pre-configured machine where all the parts are exactly what you want. We attempted to get a computer from Dell, and HP, but neither company would even display all the specifications we were interested in, nevermind actually having the parts we desired. Usually pre-built systems skimp on important things like the motherboard or the power supply, giving you very little room to upgrade.

At SoftLayer, we don't cut corners on our systems, and we ensure that each customer can upgrade as high as they possibly can. Each machine type can support more RAM and hard drives than the default level, and we normally have spare machines handy at all levels so that once you outgrow the expansion capabilities of your current box, you can move to a new system type. If you're thinking of getting a dedicated server, but you're worried about the cost, visit the SoftLayer Outlet Store and start small. We have single-core Pentium Ds in the outlet store, and you can upgrade from there until you're running a 24-core Xeon system.

June 14, 2008

In Memory of Dawn

Dawn was the best friend I’ve ever had, except for my little sister. Just yesterday I got home only to find out that Dawn had died silently in the night. No amount of resuscitation could bring her back. Needless to say, I was quite sad.

Dawn was my computer.*

The funny part of it all was just how much of my time involves a computer. I watch TV and Movies on my computer, I play games on my computer, I do my banking on my computer, I pay all my bills on my computer, I schedule my non-computer time on my computer, I use my computer as a jukebox.

In other words, I was completely lost. What made it worse, however, was that I had had yesterday scheduled to pay my bills. But where was my list of bills?

If you guessed “Dawn had all your bills”, then you are right.

What about paper bills? I’ve got the Internet and a computer! So, in most cases I’ve canceled paper bills. All paper bills I get are shredded forthwith. So I had no paper backup of bills.

Well, I made do. I kicked my roommate off his computer (a technique involving making annoying noises while he tries to concentrate playing Call of Duty 4) and used it to pay what bills I could remember. I kept track of the bills I was paying by entering them into a Google Document.

That’s when it hit me! Why wasn’t my bill spreadsheet on Google Documents? Along with my bill list? Along with all the other documents I work on every day? Cloud Computing For The Win! As soon as I get my next computer up and running (and I figure out a new naming algorithm) I’m going to put all my vital files on Google Docs. This ties in well with Justin Scott’s post; the key to not having your data disappear during a disaster is to have a backup copy. You want backups out there, far away from your potential point of failure. (I did have backups… but they’re all on CDs that I didn’t want to have to sort through to find just one file. And had the disaster been, say, a flood, I would have had no backups.)

Google Docs is a great example of Cloud Computing: Putting both the program and the file being worked on “in the cloud.” Having built internal applications for a few people, I would make the same recommendation: Since many business apps are moving to PHP anyway (thanks for the reminder, Daniel!), you might as well move the application AND the data out of the building and onto a secure server. And as Mr. Scott** mentioned, SoftLayer ALREADY has geographic diversity as well as a private network that will allow you to link your application and data servers together in real time through all datacenters… for free. Along with the added bonus of being able to access your application from any computer… should yours meet up with Misty, May, and Dawn at the Great Datacenter in the Sky.

-Shawn

* I had a system of naming my computers after the female protagonists from the Pokemon series. Dawn, however, is the last of that series…

** I’ve decided that since Justin is an Engineer, calling him Mr. Scott is funny.

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