Eviction, quiet servers, and IPO


I got a notice last week from Workplace Re-location folks that my current office in Menlo Park is now slated for flex office space. In short, I've been evicted. But I didn't lose my office. I just moved around the corner to a bigger and brighter one.

Don't get me wrong. I think flex is a great idea that works for many folks. Coupled with Sun's iWork initiative where employees work remotely over VPN from home, it's really given us freedom to work where we need to be. In fact, I'm actually working in a flex office right now in San Jose because I needed to attend meetings here, today.

Sometimes I wish there was an option for me to go flex, too. But the WR folks haven't got an option for us engineers that have development systems that we need hands on with. But I have an idea how they could do it if any of them are reading this. Basically, in addition to flex-offices, WR folks need to provide a flex-racking space to permanently host our development systems and have terminal server console access and Lights-Out-Management on those boxes. And instead of an office to put these systems in, we are given locked drawers or lockers, and a shared office with a couple of desks and KVM-switched keyboard, video monitor, and mouse where we can attach to any of the systems in the rack. The only requirement would be of course that we still have physical access to our boxes on this flex rack, and that the flex-desk space is separate from the flex-rack so we can work in peace and quiet, and that we have adequate cooling, backup UPS power, and unfettered network access and shared workbench areas.

Some might call that a lab space. But labs tend to operate on a shorter-term project-by-project basis. They are large rooms filled with benches and noisy racks. And many have special network configurations, or physical access controls. And labs tend to be away from the mainstream office space and this reduces the local watering-hole/breakroom socialization aspect of office space in buildings.

Peace and Quiet

For now, I'm content with the new office. It gave me a new opportunity to clean out my existing junk and consolidate hardware plus reduce the noise level in my workspace. With 4 servers running in my office, the deciBel level can be deafening. I pretty much need to mute my phone all the time in conf calls. Power supplies are one contributor, but increasingly, I've noticed that disk drives have been getting really noisy. And this isn't from the newer, faster RPM drives, but from the old small drives; a sure indicator that bearings are shot on some of my older disk drives.

One box in particular was a dual-300MHz cpu Ultra-2. It had dual 4 GB SCA SCSI drives occupying the two bays, and these things were whining badly. No surprise since the box and disks were over 5 years old and average uptime between boots has been 200+ days! It had been serving as the group web server/java app server for quite a few years now and was low on disk and noisy. It's response was still snappy however, and it'd be a real waste to scrap the machine and pay for newer capital when really, it just needed a disk upgrade. Since I had hot backup on another machine already, I didn't need to replace the drives with mission critical hardware, so I sourced eBay and other local surplus stores in the Valley for SCA SCSI drives. To my surprise, I found a store in San Jose that carried 9.1 GB SCA drives, refurbed, from $2.99 and up. I picked up some 10K RPM Quantum Atlas II 9.1 GB Low-profile drives which formatted perfectly and worked great. And they were just $19 each with warranty. In fact, these drives worked as well as any newer SCA/LVD/SE SCSI drive. I just powered down the system, took out the old drive, removed the Sun spud bracket off the old disk, and put it on the new disk; then I slid the disk into the bay, booted the system, and immediately after the POST, I Stop-A the system and type 'reset' at the boot> prompt. I can confirm that the disk is found by Stop-A again after the reset operation, and running 'probe-scsi' at the boot> prompt.

Replacing the boot disk was pretty simple. I had upgraded the box about a year ago to Solaris 9 from whatever it was before that. I wanted to keep the boot configuration exactly as it was. So with the boot disk still installed, I powered off the system, installed the replacement drive in the second bay, reset and reboot the system, then formatted the new drive, partitioned and labeled it. Then I created a UFS filesystem on the disk for /root and any other partitions, and then mounted that under the current FS as /mnt or other mount point. Then I ran:

       # ufsdump 0cf - /dev/rdsk/c0t0d0s0 | (cd /mnt; ufsrestore xf -) 

Afterwards, I ran the installboot(1M)

       # installboot /usr/platform/`uname -i`/lib/fs/ufs/bootblk /dev/rdsk/c0t1d0s0 

And then I powered down, and physically replaced the first disk with the second, and rebooted with reset. With a new second drive as well and the /export/home directories restored on that second drive, I now had doubled the disk capacity cheaply and quickly, I've now reduced the noise from the failing bearing to a dull buzz of the power-supply fan. Not bad for more peace and quiet. I'm now on the lookout for some quiet 36GB SCA Low-profile SCSI drives at a bargain. If they have them discounted in the 10 pack, I'm interested.

dotCOM IPOs All Over Again?

So what's up with Google's IPO? I heard on the news that it was repriced somehow and SEC had not replied back with a confirmed IPO date. I was amazed to hear that it was originally priced at $130 or so, and they downgraded the IPO price to $85? That's a huge hit. For a second there, I thought is was the dotCOM boom all over again.

I'm not sure if I'm going to buy any. I'm a conservative investor-type. I follow the Peter Lynch model of buying what I know and buying stocks of companies that I'd buy from. For example, it's not hard to invest in a sound enterprise computer hardware/software business. If the hardware and software solutions are compelling for a large enough enterprise market and the margins are acceptable, then the business model is purely based on execution and track record. That's a no-brainer for any investor. Then there are investments in consumer products companies. For example, I shop a lot on-line for outdoor gear. My favourite store is Cabela's. I've been a loyal customer for about 20 years now. BTW, they run ATG software on Sun, too. They have incredible customer service and great prices. They went public (stock symbol CAB) back in early July I think, and they've gone down a bit but come back a bit too. I buy what I know. And I know Cabela's gets at least $1000/yr in business from me.

With Google, I'm not sure. I've never paid for any of Google's services, so I'm pretty sure they make their money on advertising and through affiliations and selling subscriptions to their search engine software. But I'm not sure what kind of business it can be or what the volume is. If they started charging me to use it, I'd probably drop the service. If they got my telco to price it into the subscription model, maybe I might just pay, but maybe I'd switch to a new provider too. Or, maybe, I'd charge Google back for spidering my websites since my existence benefits them too... hmmm.

I know when a very popular online Free Email provider tried to charge me $30/yr for POP access, I cut my ties and migrated my Mom, Dad, Wife, and In-Laws to my server at home too. As the number of mailboxes I host increases, the move looks smarter and smarter. Plus, I'm getting better privacy since now I'm in control of my mail, and it ain't some lowly paid employee admin hack that can sit around and monitor my mail. And plus, I use the same open spam site filters that these guys use. Of course, I have to remember that not everyone knows how to host their own web/mail servers and that I do spend more in ISP costs. But even if I couldn't host my own email, My Dad and Inlaws currently use Access4Less.NET, a $5.95/month Nationwide no-frills and zero-support dialup ISP. POP mailboxes are included with that subscription. So there's no need to mess around with any of these freebie email providers that aren't really free.

So, if these free service dotCOMs aren't making money from me, it's an interesting question where the money's at. Maybe from a speculative position, lots of investment banks are simply waiting for secondary markets to buy up shares before they cash out and make off with a measely 100% profit. Small compared to investors during the dotCOM boom when investment banks and underwriters at even the second/third round were getting a hold of stocks and making 1000% in just a year. But I could be wrong and there is a business model in all this...


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