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Dispelling Common Cloud Myths

Published on Dec. 30, 2010 at midnight by XC

Is there someone in your office that complains constantly yet offers no useful suggestions on how to fix the problem at hand? Do you wonder if some people just thrive on complaining and tickling the skeptic bone in others? Are you sick of the abundance of conflicting and often confusing information? When it comes to the cloud hosting industry, so am I. In this article, I’m going to present some very common arguments designed to lead you away from a modern hosting platform and tell you why those arguments are bogus.

In any hosting related banter, one must conceive that there are innovative companies and companies who just lease the same software that everyone else is using and put up a fancy site. That is hardly news. The term “buyer beware” applies to any industry.

Argument #1: “There is no definition for ‘Cloud Computing’, it is all marketing hype!” This is not true. A great deal of time and money has been put into the design of hosting systems that let you upload your site or application with confidence that whatever resources are needed to meet the subsequent demand will be there. The same people who fell in love with single system image clusters years ago are quite often the people who realized that virtualization brings a whole new breed of pepper into the chili.

Paravirtualization made amazing things possible, if not trivial to implement.

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Strange G-Mail Delays

Published on Dec. 11, 2010 at midnight by XC

This morning, I began noticing that e-mail was being delivered up to several days late via G-Mail. I haven’t seen anything on Google’s blogs or updates regarding it, so I’m guessing that I’m the beneficiary of a very minor and localized bug. How fortunate for me.

If you have been sending e-mail to my G-Mail address and I have not replied, it probably means that your mail has yet to be delivered. I have updated my contact form to deliver mail to an alternate address.

Hopefully, this gets sorted out soon
Update: It looks as if some mail I sent found its way into the same black hole.

Category: Computing

Backup To .Deb Or .Rpm ?

Published on April 6, 2010 at midnight by XC

A silly but interesting thought came over me today while I was working on a backup suite, wouldn’t it be easier if full system backups produced archives that could be re-installed via the system package manager? This would allow a bare metal restore on top of a base system, up to any version of the original in the past. For instance, you install apache and then configure it. A backup would not be all of the apache configurations, it would just be a series of diffs from the time that you originally installed apache.

I already accomplish this in /etc with version control and special file systems, but important text configurations sometimes live outside of /etc. For instance, if you install Mercurial, you will probably create a file named .hgrc in your home directory. That file should be restored during a full restoration after installing the base package. The same goes with bash_profile, etc.
The installwatch utility is very, very handy to catalog what gets placed where when installing software (i.e. during a make install). There is even a utility called checkinstall that helps make .deb / .rpm packages directly from source builds and installations. That really doesn’t help in this case, since it would just watch everything the package copied into place.

To pull this off, what you would need is a database that listed ‘commonly user configured’ files per package, even if the package did not provide them (i.e. .hgrc). To my knowledge no such database exists, but it could.

All of this is basically a result of picking through trixbox and freepbx (old and new) while deciding what really has to be saved in order to duplicate the system on a new installation. Tying in with something like inotify, this would provide a very nice granular rollback mechanism. Before I decide if I really want to write it, I have to consider merge conflicts during normal package upgrades, but that’s already a problem.

Category: Computing

From The Ashes – The Commodore Phoenix

Published on March 26, 2010 at midnight by XC

Reader beware: This whole thing could be a hoax, as Martin Decky pointed out in comments. See this, its identical to the Phoenix. This confirms my concerns about the Commodore logo being absent. To avoid linking and adding to hype, the original post has since been deleted.

Category: Computing

Going Beyond Hipaa

Published on March 4, 2010 at midnight by XC

Behind every rule or regulation that you can imagine, you will find an intent. The intent of speed limits is to reduce deaths and injuries caused by motor vehicle accidents. The intent of HIPAA is to safe guard HI (health information) thereby transforming it into PHI (protected health information). Its one thing to implement HIPAA (and HITECH) to the letter, its another thing to understand what the two combined are actually attempting to accomplish and incorporate that intent into procedures.

Rather than take the risk of a laptop not being encrypted, its a better idea to just have “no laptop” zones. You don’t want employees downloading PHI and walking out the door with it. Even if the laptop is encrypted, your problem lies in ensuring compliance with the other parts of the guidelines. For instance, can you trust that your employee will not have PHI displayed on a screen where the general public might be able to glimpse at and read it? If not, how is HITECH going to be effective since you can’t report a breach that you can’t possibly know about? Yes, allowing a passer by to look through a window at Starbucks and see someone’s information on a laptop screen is just as much of a breach as stealing a copy of the file.
There is no law that says your job has to be convenient. There is a rule that says good security is more often than not extremely inconvenient. This means, dealing with PHI is always going to be inconvenient.

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144 Petabytes On Compact Flash (Yes, Just One!)

Published on Feb. 22, 2010 at midnight by XC

You did not misread the title, its not 1.44 petabytes, its 144 (as in 12×12) on a single CF card. Read more about it here. It will still limp along at an unimpressive 32MB/sec (well, for CF, that is rather impressive) according to the CF 5.0 specification CAUTION: LINK LEADS TO AN ANGRY FRUIT SALAD.

You can also bet that these will be painfully expensive if (ever) offered in full capacity, but still worthy of a little drool. This could also be the beginning of the end of FAT16 / FAT32′s monopoly on removable storage.

Is kind of funny, I read about this while taking a break from looking at Hypertable for use on networked hand held devices. The gods must be crazy.

Category: Computing

Fun With Encfs

Published on Nov. 4, 2009 at midnight by XC

A lot of you have probably, at one time or another, had to deal with PCI/DSS compliance. I’ve dealt with it too, but this is the first time that I’ve really confronted conforming to HIPAA and HITECH, which dictate how medical records should be stored.

EncFS is the perfect solution in such a case. Its a pass through file system, which means encrypted contents are stored outside of the actual mount point. For instance, you would have .secure/ which contains the encrypted bits, and secure/ which serves as the mount point to access them.
This allows for awesome flexibility when dealing with things like backups, allowing users to mount and unmount file systems (don’t want root snooping around, do we?) and granular archiving of files that have not been touched in years. Why is it so flexible? The FS does not have to be mounted (or decrypted) to do these operations.

Getting it going on CentOS 5 was a bit of a pain. I needed to build from source, which led to having to manually compile libboost, compile a logging library (by the same author) that was not in rpmforge and do a kernel update to get FUSE working, but after that it was solid.

The other up side is web applications can mount and unmount storage volumes, ensuring that nothing sensitive is left mounted when nobody is using it. That’s just out of grasp for most other methods, including LUKS + LVM. Root is taken completely out of the picture.

I have not had a chance to fire up bonnie ++ with it yet, but will.

Its a great addition to your tool box if your job entails keeping data safe.

Category: Computing

Skype To Open Its Linux Client?

Published on Nov. 3, 2009 at midnight by XC

I came across this while reading my e-mail this morning and almost lost a mouth full of coffee. The last time that happened, Microsoft had just sent patches to the Linux kernel mailing list. It appears that soon (as in very soon), I’ll be able to actually get rid of the only copy of Windows that I own, on my net book. Why do I have it? I need Skype, since the world insists on using it and the Linux version sucks.

I doubt that we’re going to get a look at the nice, juicy p2p codec that Skype uses, if memory serves they are still in a dispute regarding their right to use it themselves. I’m not interested in their codec, I’m interested only in making that confounded user interface actually work.

We’ll probably see most of the code opened under an Apache or BSD style license, the GPL won’t work for them since they’ll have to ship pre compiled static objects to link against the codec magic. This is also an indication that Skype sees the value of letting distributions maintain their own versions.
I don’t want to encourage anyone to use Skype if they do not already, its always a bad idea to become dependent on proprietary stuff. But, if you have no choice but to use it (i.e. work mandates it), at least you can soon fix all of the irritating problems in the Linux version.

I’ve also added a new category, “Open Source”, as this clearly demonstrates the difference between ‘free’ and ‘open’.

Category: Computing

Load “Twitter” ,8 ,1

Published on June 16, 2009 at midnight by XC

I’m not sure why he did it, but someone has created a Twitter client for my favorite personal computer of all time, the Commodore 64. In the video below, you will see a C-128D running in C64 emulation mode.

When I see people do things like this, I feel happy inside. No, Twitter is not going to gain amazing market share from all of those people still using a Commodore, its just neat to see someone do something just because they can.

Plus, well, I have a soft spot for the C64.

Category: Computing

Better Productivity With Xen, Ubuntu And Xdmcp

Published on June 15, 2009 at midnight by XC

Being over-loaded with work is a vicious cycle, especially when the work involves more maintenance than creativity. The cycle goes something like this:

15 things require immediate attention
You give immediate attention to 15 things at once
Despite the cycle of #1 and #2, #1 still persists at the end of the day

Even if I had the space in my small corner of the world to set up 10 different workstations, I don’t think the breakers would hold. I thought about just adding more monitors since they’ve become so cheap, the problem is that I need to keep 14 urgent things out of view while working on a single task. This is not like the classic case of information overload, where you have temptations on your desktop like e-mail, instant messengers, IRC clients, etc all competing with your editor or terminal to get some love from your eye balls. Here, in this case, I really have 15 urgent things making me quite anxious that unfortunately relate to each other causing them to be in progress at once.

Some of the tasks involve fiddling with system libraries, testing bleeding edge versions of various applications and other things that could lead to melt downs. I had to get these tasks on different systems and I needed a desktop for each one.

I have used VNC or SDL frame buffers in the past when working with Xen guests. VNC’s idea of 24 bit depth is a little different than mine, plus the mouse is extremely akward in tracking.

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