"Pinning" caches: not a good idea

Hybrid hard drives: Can Samsung and Microsoft invent a new market for 2007? | TG Daily

When NetApp spends money to have a NVRAM cache on their boxes, they do it so that writes can be committed faster and to avoid fragmentation. This way, high-transaction-rate writes don't cause a whole lot of seeks, and if you lose power halfway through a "writeback" kind of operation, things work just fine. High-end RAID cards do the same thing, often at a cost of hundreds of dollars.

But in a spectacularly stupid move, Microsoft is trying to apply Samsung's hybrid Flash drives to improve startup and shutdown times for Vista. They let the OS "move" certain sectors to Flash, a thing they call "pinning". This sounds really dumb to me - it limits the usefulness of this product to one tiny feature, and I don't believe they can even do it that well.

I know, people are starting up and shutting down a lot with their laptops, so speed might matter here. But startup and shutdown should not be seek-bound in any sane world, and hard drives currently have more linear-read performance than flash does.

So close, but so far away...makes no sense to me.


Environmental notices

Just in case we weren't wasting paper before notifying you that your purchase is enviro-friendly, well, now we are...

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ZFS is really cool

Sun has produced an open-source filesystem that pretty much rocks. Pooled storage, nice RAID support, O(1) snapshots, self-healing, a whole lotta other stuff. The only caveat? You have to run it under Solaris.

I've set this up with mirrored drives on one of my old servers. I did some awful tests: one script creates as many files as it can in a folder, and I left it running overnight. Another one recursively creates folders, and I left that one running forever too.

Snapshots are still quick after all that.

ZFS advertises how easy it is to administer, but I'm finding that snapshots happen only at the "volume" level, and you might think that volumes created inside other volumes would get snapshotted with their parents, but they don't. It seems like fun to make a lot of volumes (which is easy, right?), but then you have to write a lot of scripts to round them up and snapshot them. (Maybe I'm missing a flag that does recursive snapshots automatically, but it doesn't seem to be the default.)


You have to get Solaris Express to make it work (2006 "2", which calls itself Solaris 11), not Solaris 10 like I downloaded first. The very basic install contains ZFS (you don't need any third-party stuff), but I don't think ZFS is bootable yet.

It is incredibly easy to add and remove storage from pools, to remount existing storage in other places. They've done a fantastic job with the tools, and the core filesystem appears solid too.

But since I'm booting off UFS, I still have to cope with Sun's weirdo "something went wrong but we're not telling you what" console-driven recovery when I lose power. My data drive is entirely protected, but the rest of the system is up for grabs.

Anyway, these guys have achieved what previously you needed a Netapp to do, on commodity hardware. Really nice work.


DBAN: wipe your old disks

If you're upgrading storage a lot, then you'll have old drives to wipe.
DBAN looks like a nice one-stop way to do this, for any machine.

New Keyboards

As some people know, I've been addicted to Microsoft's Natural Keyboard (the original), since I got it in 1995. Heavy enough, but a decent key feel as well. I bought up several of them on eBay, and have kept them in the closet for years. I even got one of the limited-edition black ones.

But my favorite one (the one I bought in the company store at msft in 1995) went dead last year, and I started using one of the ones from the closet, which was a little bit -- stickier. The keys weren't worn down in the same ways, and it wasn't quite as comfortable. I had an old pair of shoes problem.

In the meantime, Microsoft has come out with many inferior keyboards, including the Elite (too light and flimsy, and I broke the pads off the bottom), the Pro, which has funny layout and squishy keys, and most recently, the Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000. Yes, Microsoft's marketing & naming machine has gotten even more extreme since 1995.

I was looking around recently because I got a new computer, and I ordered the cheapest possible keyboard, figuring I would once again keep my old 1995 keyboard. But this cheap keyboard surprised me -- the keys felt good and they were curved in a subtle way to make me like typing. So I started wondering if they'd done an update to their split/ergonomic line...indeed they had, and I ordered the Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000. It comes in a big red box, which says, Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000, just in case you were wondering.

I did this with a bit of trepidation, because this keyboard does have a "My Favorites" button, and it does have funny extra buttons along those lines-- not as many as earlier editions, but enough to be annoying and to make me think the keyboard doesn't take its job seriously.'s quiet. And it is really nice to type on, really quite nice. And so I'm keeping it, and I don't have to keep hoarding eBay finds from 1995 anymore.