Failed My Save Against Recabling

It was just too ugly. Even for a temporary server. Especially when you consider all those wires flapping around would impede airflow.

Only took about half an hour of work to rewire it, although waiting for cable tie anchor pads to set (the adhesive wants 24 hours, ideally; and this batch I’ve had pull off in many situations, to the point where if it happens again I’m throwing the rest out) slowed down the elapsed time.

It also made getting the side panel back on easier (this case has a shroud connecting the CPU cooling fan directly to the outside, on the removable side of the case) since the wires were held back. That’s also why the sloppy wiring would work, though—those wires that look like they’d get into the CPU cooler wouldn’t really, once the side panel was on properly.

Cooling is working excellently (the external fan in front of the expansion bay probably helps; that’s held on with cable ties and tape too).

Hobby Servers

It really probably doesn’t make any sense for businesses with deadlines to meet and a shortage of time to hack around with servers the way we do. On the other hand, we’re keeping quantities of data safe that many of those businesses couldn’t contemplate, for a very small fraction of what they pay for semi-enterprise servers. (Real enterprise storage, from Isolon or people in that tier, is safer, much more available, faster, and so hugely more expensive you can hardly imagine.)

A lot of this works because FreeNAS is built on FreeBSD and uses the FreeBSD port of ZFS.  I originally started using ZFS when Sun first released it, using the free version of Solaris.  After Oracle took over that became less practical, and after a while running old software I eventually converted to FreeNAS, and we build the rest of the Beyond Conventions servers on FreeNAS from the beginning.

ZFS and FreeBSD let us get away with skating closer to the edge.  ZFS was famous from the beginning for finding disk problems in old toy systems (where a lot of people first installed it, to try it out without committing to it) and reporting them as clearcut hardware errors rather than very rare mysterious failures.  That’s a good thing—it shows ZFS is zealously guarding your data (it has its own data block checksums, rather than depending entirely on the hardware the way conventional RAID systems do). And it lets us scrimp on disks, especially in the backup arrays. We’re actually using “white label” drives mostly in the backup array, and we need to have multiple redundancy anyway.

I would rate FreeNAS as a clear step above Synology and Netgear and Drobo and those players in the small-server market, both in reliability (unless you skimp too hard on the hardware) and in features.

Rebma 3, the disk server over at Corwin’s, in its current incarnation is an 8+2x4TB array, meaning double redundancy and 32TB usable. Fsfs 4, my server, has a 3x6TB mirror, so just 6TB usable, but that’s enough for photos and books and such, just not huge piles of video (which live at Corwin’s). Zzbackup is currently being used to build an 8+2x6TB backup array which, when the data is replicated to it (locally! it’s a bit big to replicate over the Internet), will come over here, the drives will be transferred into Fsfs (which has capacity for 13 drives), and it will be kept up-to-date via ZFS replication over the internet. My production array in Fsfs is already replicating onto Rebma over the Internet; so when the last step is complete, we’ll have this huge pile of disk with redundant local storage plus continuous off-site replication. The production servers, though not zzbackup, even have ECC RAM, one further little bit of protection for the data.

The new Rebma cost vaguely $500 excluding disks (we didn’t spend it all at once, Rebma 3 has the same motherboard, processor, and memory as Rebma 2, but a new case with more drive slots and much better cooling), not the $1450 a roughly comparable Synology server would cost. And I do think FreeNAS with ZFS has many advantages over the Synology software.  In either case the disks are the expensive part at this level.

(I can’t resist reading “Synology” as a very clever brand name for “Chinese server”; I wonder if that has anything to do with it really?)

Here’s some of the hacking I’ve done while assembling the current version of zzbackup:

What It Takes

To boot from a USB flash drive, that is. This old motherboard (ASUS P5P43TD) is bizarrely fussy about booting from USB keys.

You must put the USB key in this particular port

Or the one directly under it. But none of the other 4 on the back.

I believe “Quick Boot” must be disabled

Not absolutely sure on this one.

And then you can set “Removable Dev.” in the boot device priority.

If you use the wrong port, you get some name relating to the particular USB key instead of “Removable Dev.” Then, putting that device first doesn’t boot from it.  (However, to confuse you, if you select the boot menu instead of setup, and choose to boot from that device name, it works.)

I haven’t encountered anything quite this idiotic with more recent motherboards, at least.

Possibly now I’ll be able to find this information if I need it again.

Laptop Fan Replacement

Well, not yet. The replacement fan, advertised as replacing the part number marked on the old one, arrived yesterday.

It is not any kind of possible fit. The mounting holes don’t line up at all, and also the open end the air goes out is 3/8″ less wide.  That’s the new one at the top of the photo, old one still installed in the laptop at the bottom, with the three mounting screws circled in red.

Oh well! Exercising the return option.

Failed Keychain USB Drives

Two very hopeful products have failed the practical portion of the test.

USB drives that didn’t survive hanging from my keychain

Mind you, the drives themselves are fine (they’re both 64GB USB 3 drives with “On-the-go” capability so they can be directly connected to a phone or tablet). But the mechanisms for hanging them from my keychain failed.

The first try was the Samsung on the left. The grey thing in the middle is the cap for the micro-USB connector. Note the hole; I used that to loop a cord with a keychain ring on it onto the drive.  Worked fine for a few months, until I realized the cord (just nylon, I think, nothing exotic) was cutting through the plastic.

The second was the PNY, which came with the braided metal hanging cable. The mess on the left end of that was a catch that could attach to a keychain loop.  But it broke today (that’s the spare piece at bottom left).

I can’t afford to keep buying these things every month or two!