BVLog Bryan Voss’ mental synchronization point


Dusting off the old blog

I was digging through my hosting provider's admin area and found this old blog. Hasn't been updated in years. WordPress was in a broken state and everything was out of date. I've now upgraded everything to the latest versions and fixed the broken bits. I'm tinkering with some freelance work and some of the opportunities require WordPress experience. Although I have several sites I could point people to as examples, this one probably has the most content, even though it is years old.

Anyway, maybe I'll start posting more of my shenanigans here since this old blog is back in business.

Note to self: update the about page!

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24TB in 4u? Yes, please.

We're looking at disaster recovery solutions at work. We have traditionally contracted with Sungard to provide equipment in the event of a disaster. Once the equipment is delivered, we would theoretically restore from backups to get systems back up and running. Note that I said "theoretically". We have never had an "opportunity" to test this setup, but there has always been the little "ewww" feeling that pops up when thinking about having to restore all that data from tape.

After the Sungard contract was negotiated years ago, we have added a 10TB SAN and a 14TB Centera archive system. We do not have an offsite copy of the data on SAN and Centera. We were only recently able to get a tape jukebox in operation to begin making a copy of some of the data stored on Centera. Calculations show that at our current tape speeds, we will complete the offsite copy in around 8 months. This is ridiculous. With the amount of data we have to keep on hand due to HIPAA and other concerns, tape has become almost worthless as a mass archive media. We can't write the data to tape fast enough. Beyond that, there is no telling how long the tapes will last in storage before bit-rot sets in.

We are required to maintain patient documents for the lifetime of the patient. How long is that? 80 years, 100 years? We basically have to plan to keep all document images forever. Medical imaging (X-rays, etc.) don't have to be kept that long, but consume even more space. We are about to install a 64-slice CT machine which is rumored to generate over 1GB per study. Multiply that across thousands of studies per year and you begin to see the storage issues we are looking at.

Anyway, back to disaster recovery. Our Sungard contract expires soon, so they have been in doing dog-and-pony shows trying to get us to pay them several thousand dollars per month to manage an offsite data archive as well as provide equipment in the event of a recovery. At the prices they are quoting, we figured we could purchase our own secondary SAN and Centera and park it offsite somewhere and see ROI in a couple of years. So, we contacted or primary vendor and got a quote for said SAN and Centera. Ouch. Over 3/4 of a million dollars for the equipment to handle what we currently have as well as add enough space to do snapshots for backup purposes. That doesn't even cover the expense of building a secondary datacenter capable of powering and cooling two racks of hard disk.

All of this is lead-in to a conversation I recently had with a manager in my department. We were discussing the difficulty of getting the hospital board of directors to sign off on such a huge sum to simply give us a second copy of data we already have. We were both shaking our heads in wonder that the cost would be so high. I almost flippantly mentioned that we should just buy a Sun Thumper and stash it somewhere offsite to solve our problem. He did a quick google on it and was amazed that the box has 24TB of local storage. He got a phone call before we were able to discuss it any further and I went on to work on something else.

Later that afternoon, I was in the datacenter working on a server when a fellow sysadmin walked in and said, "That Sun Thumper you were talking about looks pretty cool!" Next thing I know, I overhear a conversation with the department director about getting a quote for "that Thumper box". Maybe a Thumper is on the horizon. And since it would be Solaris, that would fall under my purview.


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This is a high security facility…

We recently had electromagnetic locks installed on our department doors. We were also issued new ID tags with passive RF chips in them that will unlock the doors when passed near the readers outside the doors. The locks are programmed to unlock in the morning and lock in the afternoon. That's nice, but there's a problem. There's no way to override the locks and manually lock the doors.

My director just asked me if I am going to be around for a few minutes so he can go to the cafeteria and get some lunch. We're running on a skeleton crew this week with everybody trying to burn their remaining vacation time before they lose it at the end of the year. I was the only person left in the department to fend off rabid users with a broomstick until he gets back. (Actually, it's been a quiet week. Apparently a lot of people are taking off.)

When we have department meetings downstairs, the department Administrative Assistant has to stay behind to act as security guard. The Security department controls the locks. If we call them in advance, they can lock the doors, but what happened to good old-fashioned deadbolts? Apparently we were so enamored with the woohoo technology of the new system that we failed to consider the fact that there is no way to manually override.

We have also had problems with the keypad on our datacenter door. We have to scan our ID tag, then enter a super secret code on the keypad. Several numbers on the keypad began sticking the other day and we were unable to unlock the door. We can manually unlock with a key, but in the interests of limiting the number of keys in circulation, only the managers have one. That meant that every time anybody needed to get in the datacenter, they had to borrow a key, unlock the door and then return the key to the manager. As a result, the datacenter door was often left unlocked while people were coming and going. Since the datacenter door opens on a publicly-accessible hallway, this is quite a concern.

There's probably some lesson to be learned here, but my director just got back from the cafeteria and I'm going to eat lunch now...

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Jump drive on lanyard = cool IT guy

Is it just me, or does it seem like a jump drive on a lanyard around the neck has become the sign of an IT person? I finally jumped on that bandwagon recently and started wearing my data.

For the past year or so, I had been carrying a USB SD card reader in my pocket along with a couple of 128MB SD cards. That was sufficient until I needed to run some diagnostics on an HP server a couple of months ago. I had the option of burning a CD with the required software on it, or using an HP-provided tool to create a bootable USB jump drive that did the same thing. I opted for the jump drive route, but it required a 1GB+ drive. I grabbed a 2GB SanDisk Cruzer Micro from our stock cabinet at work and was able to run my diagnostics and even save a report back to the jump drive.

The drive came with a lanyard, and since I was already wearing my nametag on a lanyard, I decided to join the geek elite and strap some storage on. I spent some time downloading all kinds of utilities and working out directory structures and functionality in a futile attempt to fill the 2GB space. I was in awe of the amount of storage available in such a small form factor.

About two weeks after I got the drive, I was reaching in to unplug it from my laptop when I felt a snap of static electricity. This is a normal thing for me, since I seem to be some sort of biological capacitor. I regularly see bright flashes of static discharge when I touch the car door after climbing out at night. I'm so used to the shock that I don't pay much attention to it anymore.

Anyway, the static killed my little Cruzer. I tried several utilities and tricks to revive it, but alas, it was dead. I carried the poor thing around on my lanyard for a couple more days in desperate hopes that it would wake from its coma. I finally accepted the fact that my little friend was gone forever and moved on. I mentioned the loss to a coworker and he gave me his old 1GB SanDisk Cruzer Titanium. It's 3 times larger than my old drive, 5 times heavier, and half the capacity, but it looks cooler. It appears to be more sturdy as well, since I've had it for a few weeks and it hasn't succumbed to my electrifying personality yet.

We recently installed card readers on the doors at work, so I put a retractable cord spool on my nametag that allows me to zip it out and flash it in front of the reader. I strung that on my lanyard along with the heavy jump drive. I also had a "team excellence award" pin that I received for developing a web app for one of the departments. I put that on my lanyard. To balance things out, I put an American flag pin on the other side of the lanyard. I now wear a 5-pound conglomeration of bling around my neck that proves without a doubt that I am an all-American, team-playing, data-carrying geek. Whee.

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woot! first post!

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