Posts Tagged 'Noise'

May 16, 2011

A Well-Deserved Retirement

On a normal day at home, the hum inside a personal computer would seem very inaudible. In contrast, if you find yourself inside a data center, you're constantly surrounded by the inescapable whir of workhorse machines. This whir is the sound of thousands and thousands of fans pushing cold air and keeping everything in top working order.

Netwon's Third Law of Motion states that "For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction," and the most common "reaction" to buzzing of these fans would normally be a gradual slip into madness after exposing human ears to the sound for an extended period of time. That same constant sound of enterprise cooling wreaks havoc on the ears of anyone working nearby due to its specific frequencies. As a result, ear protection is a must for any Server Build Technician.

Recently, a comrade with a special knack for ear protection reached a long overdue retirement from service.

My now-retired friend actually only began work in the SoftLayer Washington, D.C., data center two years ago, and this worker's career was a shining tribute to workplace professionalism. Always silent and steadfast ... You would rarely spend time at work without seeing him. Coworkers would often comment, "Does he ever sleep?" and, "Wow! You're still here?" Despite all these implicit praises, this friend always remained humble and accepting, even during the rough times. I can't remember how many times we may have thrown this poor coworker across the room or the amount of feet that he was dropped from (on a pretty large number of occasions). When abused, he just wrapped himself in duct tape or mended his broken body parts with zip-ties. This may seem an unusual fix for most things, but he never demanded more than that.

Anyone from the WDC location reading this article already knows the comrade I'm speaking of, but the rest of you might be a little lost (and shocked) as I mention the injuries that he suffered and possibly even very upset at how the treatment was handled afterwards. Luckily, the worker I have been describing to you is in fact not a person but an invaluable electronic device that has served me and essentially SoftLayer well through the years: To help combat the noise in our server rooms, I have always relied on this pair of headphones made by Koss to fill my ears with sweet music.

Any of our WDC staff will agree that I am rarely ever seen riding into battle (walking into our server room) without my partner at my side. As they say, you never fully appreciate the value of something until it is gone, so I was clearly reminded of this one day when I happened to misplace my headphones. I was overwhelmed with grief as I searched high and low until I found him dangling in one of our storage rooms and yelled out "TONTO!!" From personal experience, I can see clearly that the devices one picks for use are very important ... Which might explain the careful process SoftLayer undergoes to ensure our customers are provided with the very best equipment.

-Jonathan

Categories: 
January 29, 2008

Where is All the Noise?

Earlier in the week, Shawn Boles wrote a post that included some nostalgic feelings for old-fashioned computers. As I read it, I was thinking of my own experiences with the grandfathers of our desktop computers. I vividly remember getting the floppy disks out of the big dusty box, sliding them into the drive, and listening as the drive began its slow, crunching march towards the data I needed. That’s when it hit me. I can’t hear my computer! Sure, there’s a cooling fan in it, and if I stick my head under my desk I can hear not only the fan, but my coworkers quietly asking each other why my head is under my desk in the middle of the day. Other than that, there’s nothing! No drive heads moving, no crunching, no system beeping, no modem noises, and certainly no death rattles.

That’s right, death rattles. Those of you unfamiliar with the dinosaurs we used to call computers don’t know about the death rattles. The large floppy drives were the worst offenders. Every faulty sector on those disks caused a loud grinding sound that you could FEEL, indicating that the pencil-sized drive head was none too happy with encountering the data equivalent of a marching band at a funeral. Now that we’ve moved away from media that comes in physical contact with the drive head, we’ve moved away from the death rattles. However, hard drives can occasionally produce them, even to this day. When a hard drive goes bad, it emits this high-pitched chirping sound, akin to what you would expect a robotic sparrow to make.

When I was in high school, my best friend’s dad was a programmer. One day we were working on a bad hard drive for a friend and had a brilliant idea. We took a microphone and recorded the sounds the hard drive was making. With some Mp3 editing tools, we added roughly 10 minutes of silence in front of that sound. Then, we made the sound into his dad’s windows startup sound. So upon turning on his computer, he would work for 10 minutes and then hear the DEATH RATTLE. Watching his pasty frame lunge for the power button was hilarious for a good 24 hours after it happened.

Browsing computer message boards (yes, I’m a nerd, that’s why I work here as a developer) I occasionally come across people who are still cursed by dial-up modems, and they invariably ask how they can disable the noises their modem makes when it connects. I want to scream to them “DON’T! You’ll destroy your last audible connection to your machine!” The noises a modem makes are iconic, and a sufficiently trained guru can tell the connection speed simply by listening to the connection noises. From the industrial clanking of the 2400 baud to the sci-fi whooshing of the 56k, each remaining hardware noise is precious.

Precious to humans anyway. When I was younger I saved all my money for weeks to buy a 56k modem. I painstakingly researched (at 24,000 baud) all the different kinds of modems I could purchase, and finally decided on a US Robotics 56k modem. I arrived home from my triumphant shopping trip and promptly tore the cover off the family computer to install my new toy. Once installed, I powered up the computer, installed the drivers, and attempted to connect. Sweet, sweet screeching poured out of the modem, to my delight! However, my dog was also in the room. He had, until this point, tolerated the noises the computer had been making in “his” room. However, how there was a new noise. A new, screechier noise. And it was coming from an OPEN COMPUTER CASE. That’s right, in my excitement, I had left the case cover off just in case I had to tinker some more. My dog got up, walked across the room, and promptly ripped the modem right out of the case with one mighty chomp. He threw it on the ground, chomped it once more and then, satisfied that it would no longer disturb his rest, flopped back down onto his bed in the corner. I still cannot hear a connection sequence without bringing up that memory.

Of course, we don’t have to worry about these things at SoftLayer (dogs OR noises). We developers work on silent machines with no rattles or screeches, while the servers in the data center are attended to by dozens of employees, aware of any slight problem. The noise in the data center is substantial. Each employee wears hearing protection, and even with that the noise of thousands of cooling fans will get to you. Each time the developers have to spend a morning in the data center installing new servers, we spend the rest of the day shouting “WHAT?!” to each other. But computers will continue to get quieter, and our connection to them will continue to be less and less physical. Our customers know this already: none of them have even seen their servers, they rely on our skilled datacenter staff to monitor their hardware for them, day and night. But there are no death rattles, no screeches, just cooling fans.

The last of our noisy connection to our computers is starting to fade. Already we’ve stopped using magnetic media like floppy disks, and the noisy CD and DVD drives of yesteryear are being replaced with silent models. Even the hard drives that caused my friend and I so much joy are being replaced with mechanically simple solid state drives, which run much faster and have no noise at all. Come to think of it, I think I can learn to live in the new silent computing future.

-Daniel

Categories: 
Subscribe to noise