Friday Feb 20, 2009

Challenges and Opportunities 2009

Me speaking at #cando09This Wednesday I was invited to speak at "Challenges and Opportunities 2009", an informal, almost barcamp-like gathering of startup companies and other bright and innovative people in the center of Munich. The name is the topic and so the focus was on how to make the best of the current economic situation. Surprisingly, the overall feeling of the conference was quite relaxed, almost cheery, as if the econonmy wasn't really that relevant. Just the right attitude to have, I'd say.

Nicholas MacGowan von Holstein of took the effort of putting this event together, which was a remarkable feat, given that he was in the middle of entering open beta with his startup at the same time. Twidox is a new startup company that offers a platform for the collaborative exchange of high-quality documents. The idea comes from Nicholas' experience during his university days where students would spend a lot of time researching publications and trying to find relevant papers to a certain topic. Twidox lets you both publish and search for documents and helps you make sense out of them through tagging, rating and other mechanisms. Actually, there are quite a few parallels to our own SunSpace document management system and so it was not surprising to see Nicholas and Peter having a great interest in each other's work.

Each presentation was limited to 5-10 minutes which was a good thing to keep the pace going. We heard from Terry Bibra about Yahoo's strategy of openness, Stephan Uhrenbacher from Qype talked about principles they observed when creating their startup, Ingo Dahm from Microsoft highlighted some opportunities that today's technologies offer and Nicholas Kirschner of High-Tech-Gründerfonds offered his insight as a venture capitalist about the good, the bad and the ugly of VCs during difficult times. The ticketing logistics of the event were done through Amiando, a fast growing German startup that provides streamlined ticketing operations to everyone. Felix Haas from Amiando offered his own views as a startup, highlighting flexibility in finding the right business model and pointing out that startups don't necessarily need to go for a multi-million Dollar exit.

My own talk was about "Survival 2.0", inspired by Tim Bray's "The Fear Factor" talk at FOWA 2008 that he also elaborated about in a series of inspiring blog posts. Tim talked to developers, so I mixed in some of my own experience of having gone through the Dot-Com Bubble and made a 5-point list of tips to get you through tough times, that everyone of us can use today. Most, if not all of these tips are just common sense, it's just that we sometimes tend to lose our common sense when the going get's tough...

The fine people at Tiburon-TV have recorded the talk and you can watch a video of "Survival 2.0" here. The slides are available from Twidox as well. It's all in German but if you're interested, I can send you a translated version of the slides so you can use them for your own presentations.

Also, check out the Twitter buzz around this event's #cando09 hashtag. It's quite fascinating how dynamic instant communication has become today...

Thursday Nov 01, 2007

7 Tips for Enhancing Your Email Efficiency

This article helps you deal more efficiently with large amounts of email. It looks at client and server side features that are useful, then concentrates on the most crucial aspect of email efficiency: Email processing workflow. We'll develop 7 easy to follow rules that will enable us to reach 0 mails in our Inbox in a short time while still staying informed earlier, easier and more reliably.
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Thursday Sep 06, 2007

7 Easy Tips for ZFS Starters

So you're now curious about ZFS. Maybe you read Jonathan's latest blog entry on ZFS or you've followed some other buzz on the Solaris ZFS file system or maybe you saw a friend using it. Now it's time for you to try it out yourself. It's easy and here are seven tips to get you started quickly and effortlessly:

1. Check out what Solaris ZFS can do for you

First, try to compose yourself a picture of what the Solaris ZFS filesystem is, what features it has and how it can work to your advantage. Check out the CSI:Munich video for a fun demo on how Solaris ZFS can turn 12 cheap USB memory sticks into highly available, enterprise-class, robust storage. Of course, what works with USB sticks also works with your own harddisks or any other storage device. Also, there are great ZFS screencasts that show you some more powerful features in an easy to follow way. Finally, there's a nice writeup on "What is ZFS?" at the OpenSolaris ZFS Community's homepage.

2. Read some (easy) documentation

It's easy to configure Solaris ZFS. Really. You just need to know two commands: zpool (1M) and zfs (1M). That's it. So, get your hands onto a Solaris system (or download and install it for free) and take a look at those manpages. If you still want more, then there's of course the ZFS Administration Guide with detailed planning, configuration and troubleshooting steps. If you want to learn even more, check out the OpenSolaris ZFS Community Links page. German-speaking readers are invited to read my german white paper on ZFS or listen to episode #006 of the POFACS podcast.

3. Dive into the pool

Solaris ZFS manages your storage devices in pools. Pools are a convenient way of abstracting storage hardware and turning it into a repository of blocks to store your data in. Each pool takes a number of devices and applies an availability scheme (or none) to it. Pools can then be easily expanded by adding more disks to them. Use pools to manage your hardware and its availability properties. You could create a mirrored pool for data that should be protected against disk failure and that needs fast access to hardware. Then, you could add another pool using RAID-Z (which is similar, but better than RAID-5) for data that needs to be protected but where performance is not the first priority. For scratch, test or demo data, a pool without any RAID scheme is ok, too. Pools are easily created:

zpool create mypool mirror c0d0 c1d0

Will create a mirror out of the two disk devices c0d0 and c1d0. Similarly, you can easily create a RAID-Z pool by saying:

zpool create mypool raidz c0d0 c1d0 c2d0

The easiest way to turn a disk into a pool is:

zpool create mypool c0d0

It's that easy. All the complexity of finding, sanity-checking, labeling, formatting and managing disks is hidden behind this simple command.

If you don't have any spare disks to try this out with, then you can just create yourself some files, then use them as if they were block devices:

# mkfile 128m /export/stuff/disk1
# mkfile 128m /export/stuff/disk2
# zpool create testpool mirror /export/stuff/disk1 /export/stuff/disk2
# zpool status testpool
pool: testpool
state: ONLINE
scrub: none requested

testpool ONLINE 0 0 0
mirror ONLINE 0 0 0
/export/stuff/disk1 ONLINE 0 0 0
/export/stuff/disk2 ONLINE 0 0 0

errors: No known data errors

The cool thing about this procedure is that you can create as many virtual disks as you like and then test ZFS's features such as data integrity, self-healing, hot spares, RAID-Z and RAID-Z2 etc. without having to find any free disks.

When creating a pool for production data, think about redundancy. There are three basic properties to storage: availability, performance and space. And it's a good idea to prioritize them in that order: Make sure you have redundancy (mirroring, RAID-Z, RAID-Z2) so ZFS can self-heal data when stuff goes wrong at the hardware level. Then decide how much performance you want. Generally, mirroring is faster and more flexible than RAID-Z/Z2, especially if the pool is degraded and ZFS needs to reconstruct data. Space is the cheapest of all three, so don't be greedy and try to give priority to the other two. Richard Elling has some great recommendations on RAID, space and MTTDL. Roch has also posted a great article on mirroring vs. RAID-Z.

4. The power to give

Once you have set up your basic pool, you can already access your new ZFS file system: Your pool has been automatically mounted for you in the root directory. If you followed the examples above, then you can just cd to /mypool and start using ZFS!

But there's more: Creating additional ZFS file systems that use your pool's resources is very easy, just say something like:

zfs create mypool/home
zfs create mypool/home/johndoe
zfs create mypool/home/janedoe

Each of these commands only takes seconds to complete and every time you will get a full new file system, already set up and mounted for you to start using it immediately. Notice that you can manage your ZFS filesystems hierarchically as seen above. Use pools to manage storage properties at the hardware level, use filesystems to present storage to your users and applications. Filesystems have properties (compression, quotas, reservations, etc.) that you can easily administer using zfs set and that are inherited across the hierarchy. Check out Chris Gerhard's blog on more thoughts about file system organization.

5. Snapshot early, snapshot often

ZFS snapshots are quick, easy and cheap. Much cheaper than the horrible experience when you realize that you just deleted a very important file that hasn't been backed up yet! So, use snapshots whenever you can. If you think about whether to snapshot or not, just do it. I recently spent only about $220 on two 320 GB USB disks for my home server to expand my pool with. At these prices, the time you spend thinking about whether to snapshot or not may be more worth than just buying more disk.

Again, Chris has some wisdom on this topic in his ZFS snapshot massacre blog entry. He once had over 60000 snapshots and he's snapshotting filesystems by the minute! Since snapshots in ZFS “just work” and since they only take up the space that actually changes between snapshots, there's really no reason to not doing snapshots all the time. Maybe once per minute is a little bit exaggerated, but once a week, once per day or once an hour per active filesystem is definitely good advice.

Instead of time based snapshotting, Chris came up with the idea to snapshot a file system shared with Samba whenever the Samba user logs in!

6. See the Synergy

ZFS by itself is very powerful. But the full beauty of it can be unleashed by combining ZFS with other great Solaris 10 features. Here are some examples:

  • Tim Foster has written a great SMF service that will snapshot your ZFS filesystems on a regular basis. It's fully automatic, configurable and integrated with SMF in a beautiful way.

  • ZFS can create block devices, too. They are called zvols. Since Nevada build 54, they are fully integrated into the Solaris iSCSI infrastructure. See Ben Rockwood's blog entry on the beauty of iSCSI with ZFS.

  • A couple of people are now elevating this concept even further: Take two Thumpers, create big zvols inside them, export them through iSCSI and mirror over them with ZFS on a server. You'll get a huge, distributed storage subsystem that can be easily exported and imported on a regular network. A poor man's SAN and a powerful shared storage for future HA clusters thanks to ZFS, iSCSI and Thumper! Jörg Möllenkamp is taking this concept a bit further by thinking about ZFS, iSCSI, Thumper and SAM-FS.

  • Check out some cool Sun StorageTek Availability Suite and ZFS demos here.

  • ZFS and boot support is still in the works, but if you're brave, you can try it out with the newer Solaris Nevada distributions on x64 systems. Think about the possibilities together with Solaris Live Upgrade! Create a new boot environment in seconds while not needing to find or dedicate a new partition, thanks to snapshots, while saving most of the needed disk space!

And that's only the beginning. As ZFS becomes more and more adopted, we'll see many more creative uses of ZFS with other Solaris 10 technologies and other OSes.

7. Beam me up, ZFS!

One of the most amazing features of ZFS is zfs send/receive. zfs send will turn a ZFS filesystem into a bitstream that you can save to a file, pipe through bzip2 for compression or send through ssh to a distant server for archiving or for remote replication through the corresponding zfs receive command. It also supports incremental sending and receiving out of subsequent snapshots through the -i modifier.

This is a powerful feature with a lot of uses:

  • Create your Solaris zone as a ZFS filesystem, complete with applications, configuration, automation scripts, users etc., zfs send | bzip2 >zone_archive.zfs.bz2 it for later use. Then, unpack and create hundreds of cloned zones out of this master copy.

  • Easily migrate ZFS filesystems between pools on the same machine or on distant machines (through ssh) with zfs send/receive.

  • Create a crontab entry that takes a snapshot every minute, then zfs send -i it over ssh to a second machine where it is piped into zfs receive. Tadah! You'll get free, finely-grained, online remote replication of your precious data.

  • Easily create efficient full or incremental backups of home directories (each in their own ZFS filesystems) through ZFS send. Again, you can compress them and treat them like you would, say, treat a tar archive.

See? It is easy, isn't it? I hope this guide helps you find your way around the world of ZFS. If you want more, drop by the OpenSolaris ZFS Community, we have a mailing list/forum where bright and friendly people hang out that will be glad to help you.


Tune in and find out useful stuff about Sun Solaris, CPU and System Technology, Web 2.0 - and have a little fun, too!


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