Upcoming downtime

I’ll be moving this site to a new hosting provider over the next few days, so there will likely be some downtime. Not that this site gets that many repeat visitors, but figured I’d give a heads-up so Google can cache this ahead of time.

Compellent “future proof?” Not so much.

So, I’ve written about Compellent a few times from a price perspective, mostly on the disk side. I was recently contacted by our vendor with quotes for two new Compellent controllers. “What’s this all about?” I asked. “Why don’t we have a call with Compellent to discuss?” he replied. I rolled my eyes a little but figured it was worth hearing them out, since our Compellent SAN is at the heart of our infrastructure.

We currently have two controllers setup in failover mode. The first was bought in 2008 and the other in 2010 to add redundancy. Earlier this year we upgraded to the latest software version in preparation for moving our production DB onto the SAN, to allow us a nice window before we had to perform another upgrade (which would now risk DB downtime… I like failover but I don’t trust it enough to have a DB up during a failover), so I was kind of skeptical about any sort of upgrade to begin with.

On the call, the Compellent reps explained that they’ve dropped Fibre Channel connectivity between the controller and the disk enclosure, and the purpose of the upgrade is to give us SAS. In addition, they no longer sell SATA (!). I asked why we couldn’t simply add SAS cards to our existing controllers and was told that our current controllers are PCI-X, so can only support up to 3Gb/s SAS, while the new controllers have PCI-e and support 6Gb/s. And they want to ensure that we have the best possible performance. Pretty sure someone said the new controllers “have the future built in” to them.

One of the features we really liked about Compellent from the beginning was the fact that it was basically a software solution on top of commodity hardware. They stressed this point repeatedly. “When new technology comes out, we can just add a new card into your existing controller.” I think the example at the time was 10-gig Ethernet, but it seems like the same logic would apply to SAS. I understand that PCI-X doesn’t support 6Gb/s SAS, but it’s a tough pill to swallow that if we want to expand our SAN at all now, on top of whatever the actual expansion costs, we’re going to need to plunk down some serious money to upgrade the controllers, which really seems like a net-zero for us. We’re not going to ditch our existing FC enclosures so we’re going to be limited to 4Gb/s anyway. If they’re only selling SAS, well, that sucks for us, but ok. But why can’t we just throw a $500 PCI-X 3Gb/s card in to expand? So we’re not running at peak performance. I doubt that would be our performance bottleneck anyway. Plus, swapping out controllers is a huge operation for us.

I know at some point we’re going to have to bite the bullet and do this upgrade, but it just irks me. On the bright side, I guess, we don’t have to do a “forklift upgrade,” and the disks/enclosures will all still work. But we have a long way to grow before we need to expand, so fortunately I can put this off for a while.

FCC Report shows Verizon much faster than Cablevision

The FCC recently conducted a study of some of the top broadband ISPs in the country and measured customers’ actual bandwidth as compared to what the ISPs advertised. FiOS really came out on top.

The report is available on the FCC site. The bottom line, though, is that Verizon FiOS averaged nearly 120% of advertised speed (i.e., more than was advertised) and Cablevision was between 50% and 75% of advertised speeds. Latency (ping) was also heavily in FiOS’s favor.

FCC - Fios vs Cablevision
FCC - Fios vs Cablevision

Continue reading “FCC Report shows Verizon much faster than Cablevision”

US Public Debt – historical

In a recent “debate” with a friend, I looked for historical data about the US public debt. I found Google Public Data, which has info about the annual budget deficit/surplus, but apparently (oddly) doesn’t have the debt. Odd because this info is available on the Treasury website.

I copied & pasted the data into Google Docs and made a chart of my own and some basic comparisons over time. Here are some of them rendered as images, though the scale makes the horizontal access kind of useless. I tried embedding the interactive Flash-based graph but it didn’t work. Oh well.

{“dataSourceUrl”:”//spreadsheets.google.com/spreadsheet/tq?key=0Arz9JIGL5KjodGlHZjZyRE9YXzBRd0JpVDRKWkE1d0E&transpose=0&headers=1&range=A1%3AC461&gid=0&pub=1″,”options”:{“displayAnnotations”:true,”title”:””,”backgroundColor”:”#FFFFFF”,”legend”:”right”,”logScale”:false,”wmode”:”opaque”,”hAxis”:{“maxAlternation”:1},”hasLabelsColumn”:true,”width”:550,”height”:400},”state”:{},”chartType”:”AnnotatedTimeLine”,”chartName”:”US Public Debt”}

VMWare 5’s new licensing model.

After reading up on the new VMware licensing&pricing model I understand the uproar. Limiting vRAM is a reasonable constraint, but 32GB per socket for Enterprise? 48 GB for “Enterprise Plus”? If you have a dual CPU server with 144 GB (easily configurable last year), with 4.1 you’d only need 2 enterprise licenses to use all 144 GB, since in 4.1 an “Enterprise” license covered 1 CPU (up to 6 cores) and up to 256 GB memory on the host.

But with 5.0 you’ll either have to buy 5 Enterprise licenses (160 GB) or 3 Enterprise Plus licenses (144 GB) just to use the full 144 GB. I guess VMware has done away with memory overcommit as a selling point? They used to tell us it was recommended to go up to 2:1 so we could safely put ~140 GB of VMs on a 72 GB machine – with the new model that’s completely gone.

To put it in monetary terms, on the machine with 144 GB ram from above, the cost for 4.1 would be $2875 * 2 = $5750. To stick with Enterprise it would be $2875 * 5 = $14,375, or $3495 * 3 = $10,485. A gigantic price jump. I haven’t read up on any features of vSphere 5, but I don’t think any feature can make up for at minimum nearly doubling the cost, with loss of a major selling point (memory overcommit). I mean, you can still overcommit as long as you’re willing to pay for the overcommitted memory. Also, the above numbers are per-host, so if you’ve got a 5-host cluster you’re looking at a $25,000 price hike.

VMWare has long been one of my favorite products, but this is making me consider alternatives. Almost 100% of the feedback I’ve read about this change has been negative. Seems like a huge mistake on VMware’s part.

Information is overpriced.

On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it’s so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Information_wants_to_be_free

I started college around when Napster was getting big. Between Napster and the ability to browse other students’ shared files, I downloaded plenty of MP3s, mostly due to the novelty of being able to get one-off songs that I’d never otherwise pay for. Songs like AC/DC’s “Big Balls,” which I’d never heard before, but which I noticed hundreds of people had in their collections, so I downloaded it and laughed as Bon Scott dragged out a double entendre for about 3 minutes.

In the years since then I’ve purchased lots of CDs, many of them due to having downloaded the MP3 years earlier. I’m certainly not an audiophile, but I can hear MP3 compression artifacts in anything encoded in “joint stereo” or under 192 kbps, so I usually bought the CD so I could create a pristine rip with my own settings. I haven’t bought every album, only the ones I really liked – one of the things that made MP3 downloading so novel was the ability to get a single track rather than having to buy an entire CD of crap, which is what the music industry was trying to force everyone to do.

A few companies tried over the years to sell individual MP3s, but nobody really had much success until Apple rolled out the iTunes music store. Apple succeeded for a few reasons, but I think one of the most important was the simplicity of the pricing model: $0.99 for a single track, or $10 for a full album. No subscription fees or any of that annoying crap, just pay once and you own it. Yeah, there was annoying DRM, but 95% of people don’t care about that.

I happen to be one of the 5% that does care about that. There were ways to strip the DRM but that was already too annoying for me, plus I hated iTunes (still do) and didn’t own an iPod, so this wasn’t very appealing to me. But on a more basic level, I already owned almost all of the CDs I wanted. When new albums were released, I could usually grab them (in CD form) online for around $15 shipped. Compared to Apple’s $10 for a DRM-laden AAC, this was a no-brainer for me – a physical copy of the disc to serve as a permanent backup, and the ability to rip the entire album at any bitrate I wanted.

Fast-forward to 2011. I have an iPhone now and so I’m stuck with iTunes (which also sells DRM-free MP3s now), but I still don’t buy music from Apple. In the intervening years I’ve come to realize that I just find $0.99 per track overpriced. There’s a price I’ll pay for a song, greater than zero, but less significantly than $0.99. The last few albums I’ve bought have been $3.99 specials on Amazon, most recently Foo Fighters Wasting Light last week. 11 tracks for $4; about $0.36 per track. The CD version of this album normally sells for $9.99; the MP3 version normally sells for $7.99. For $9.99 you get a physical item shipped to you to do whatever you want – rip to MP3, lend to a friend, sell in a yard sale, donate to a library. If you get the MP3 version, you get it instantly and save $2, but lose all the other stuff. I don’t know if Amazon lets you redownload stuff you’ve purchased, so maybe you don’t need the physical medium in the event of a HD failure. But for $2 more I’d rather have the disc.

What got me thinking about this is the NY Times paywall. I love the NY Times and apparently by their measure qualify as a “heavy user,” someone who reads more than 20 articles a month. I probably read 5 to 10 stories a day. I’ve found it’s pretty easy to bypass their paywall – I’m sure they realize it’s trivial, but most people won’t bother – but I do feel kind of dirty doing it, and it’s kind of annoying. I was thinking I wouldn’t mind paying for it, but certainly not their ridiculous prices. For one thing they have ridiculous pricing distinctions depending on whether you’re just reading online, on an iPhone, or an iPad. Who cares? If you’re paying for the content you should be able to view it on any medium. You’re paying for the CONTENT! $3.75/week for “nytimes.com and Smartphone” or $8.75/week for “All access” are the options and both of them are horrendous.

How about this: fund your account with $20. Each article you read debits your account $0.01 to $0.05 depending on age (stories older than 30 days shouldn’t cost as much as today’s news – I mean, you couldn’t give yesterday’s paper away for free on the street). When your balance gets below $5 it auto-debits $20 again. You can keep all the rules you have about referrals from Twitter & Facebook being “free” but that seems kind of silly. Maybe people who pay get a more pleasant experience while freeloaders get bombarded with ads. Paid users should also be able to see a full report of every article they’ve “purchased” and the date.

I guess my point is that I wouldn’t mind paying for this content, but it’s overpriced. I understand that people need to be paid, but when CDs were $20, I didn’t buy any. When they dropped to $10, I bought plenty. If the NY Times is $200/year, I’m not going to pay for it. If it’s $40/year, I might. If it’s $20/year I’d definitely pay just to assuage my conscience. I want the NY Times to continue to exist and I understand someone has to pay the reporters and everyone else involved, but I’m not paying $200/year for it. I have a price in my head, what I think it’s worth. If you’re not near that, I’m not paying. A year ago my DVD player died and I wanted to get a PS3 for use as a BluRay player, but there was no way I was paying $300 for it, even though it’s probably a fair price. If it were $150 I would have snatched it up, it just was not worth $300 to me. In the end I bought a $50 Sony upscaling DVD player.

The NYTimes has overpriced itself as well, so I’m going with the cheaper alternative – bypassing the paywall and viewing the content anyway. They could tighten up the paywall, and maybe I’d find a way around it, or maybe I’d just get my news elsewhere, in which case we both lose. If there was a “name your own price” way to make it work, everyone would win.

Back on FiOS again (finally)

Well, that was quite an ordeal. But Verizon came today and finally installed FiOS. All’s well that ends well, I suppose. My phone number was finally ported over and the internet is insanely fast. This is 25/25 internet with my desktop Fedora box plugged into the TP-Link router which is then plugged into the FiOS ActionTec router. I didn’t want to have to reconnect all my computers to a new SSID so I’ll just continue using the TP-Link until I have a reason not to.

FiOS 25/25 Speed Test - May 20th, 2011
FiOS 25/25 Speed Test - May 20th, 2011

One thing I did right away was change my DNS servers. The default DNS servers with Verizon were 68.237.161.12 and 71.243.0.12. By default, Verizon uses “DNS assistance,” meaning that DNS queries against these servers will return IP addresses when they should return NXDOMAIN, so if you mistype the hostname in a URL it can direct you to a page full of ads. You can disable this by replacing the last octet of the default DNS IP with 14. So for the two IPs above, it would be 68.237.161.14 and 71.243.0.14. I figured I’d compare the response times of these servers with Google’s 8.8.8.8 and 8.8.4.4. I used dig to time DNS requests and also used ping to measure latency. 68.237.161.14 was the fastest for me, followed by 8.8.4.4 and then 71.243.0.14, so those are my primary, secondary, and tertiary DNS servers.