The “IT Guy Kit”

My "IT Guy Kit"

When you work on IT you’re prone to two things: being a geek and carrying a lot of gadgets.

Well, I surely can’t escape my fate, and suffering from both issues (geeking with gadgetry) I have a plethora of things always ready on my “IT Guy Kit”.

Here’s the list:

  1. The kit pouch itself – It’s a Goodis GPS pouch but you can use it to carry anything. It has a decent amount of space for storage and two additional small pouches inside.
  2. TP-LINK M7350 Mobile LTE WIFI router – My main portable router. 4G LTE, 802.11a, with a 2550mAh battery and a 32GB MicroSD card I can share over the network, it’s the perfect router to use outdoors and indoors when your ISP or electricity provider fails.
  3. TP-LINK M5360 Mobile 3G WIFI router – This is my spare router. It’s not as fast as the M7350, but it has more autonomy thanks to a 5200mAh battery. It also doubles as a power bank.
  4. TP-LINK (yeah, I like TP-LINK’s stuff!) TL-PB10400 Power Bank – This sucker can charge a lot of stuff with its 10400mAh. It has two charging ports (1A and 2A) and a bonus flashlight.
  5. WD Passport Ultra 1TB – Storage on the Go. For Virtual Machines, backups and other stuff I don’t want to fill my laptop SSDs with (games, music, emulators, etc…)
  6. SanDisk Extreme USB 3.0 Flash Drive 64GB – One of the best USB pens on the market, very fast, but it lacks a lot on the build quality of the materials. It heats up very easily and it should have an Aluminium body instead of plastic.
  7. USB OTG 3 Port Hub & Card Reader LINDY (42626) – This is a hell of a gadget to have around if you are an Android user. Plug it on the USB port of your tablet or phone and you can use it as an SD Card reader or connect other USB devices like a mouse or a keyboard.
  8. Network stuff – Assorted cables, WIFI and Gigabit Ethernet USB adapters; Serial to USB adapter – I often need more than one network connection on my laptop when I’m configuring a router or a firewall so, these are always useful to have around.
  9. urBeats – All around good set of earphones, comfortable on the ear and with a decent quality. Very durable!
  10. VictorInox CyberTool M – Love this guy! It has an insane amount of tools, some of them specific for fixing electronic devices.
  11. Google Nexus 7 (2012) 32GB 3G – Right now I have a love / hate relationship with this tablet. After Google released Lolipop for it, it became useless, slow, buggy. Only after a full rom flash with the latest Android 5.1.1 it became tolerable to work with this thing again…
  12. Samsung Galaxy S6 (not in the photo) – My current phone. Replaced it last month after my HTC One M7 went to warranty due to multiple problems. The S6 is a beast of a phone concerning the hardware, still the TouchWiz could be more polished. It’s not as bloated as it was on earlier Galaxy S phones, but there’s still room for improvement.
  13. Bellroy Very Smal Wallet – Not really a gadget or a tool, but I love this wallet. I dumped my old classic wallet and fitted everything I need in this small pocket wallet. Never been happier without the bulge of papers and receipts I accumulated on my old wallet.

And you? Do you have a kit as well? What do you usually carry arround?

Enter the Server – Part Three

HP Microserver Gen 8

Still on the Gen 8 topic, here’s the lowdown on some questions I was asked:

  • File Sharing – I’m using regular Windows FS in a workgroup environment.
  • Backup – I was using a multitude of solutions for backup here at home: my PC had Backblaze backing up to the cloud, my wife’s PC had Veeam Endpoint Backup backing up for a network share. The QNAP was backing up to a USB HDD. Now I’m changing everything to Crashplan. The Gen8 will backup to the cloud via Crashplan and my PC as well as my wife’s will backup to the Gen 8 via Crashplan client.
  • Plex – Plex Server on the G8. I’m using Chromecast in my living room as a Plex client when I need to watch something served by Plex. Sometimes I use Rasplex as well on my Raspberry PI 2.
  • Private Cloud – BitTorrent Sync – they have clients for every major supported OS and mobile OS. Great to sync everything without having your files stored in a service like Dropbox or MEGA.
  • Download Management – uTorrent
  • SFTP Server – Bitvise SSH Server Personal Edition – Free for personal use. Very very good SSH server with lots of options and customization.
  • VPN Server – Windows Server VPN service.

Enter the Server – Part Two

HP Proliant MicroServers Gen 8
Yes, there is a kit with 3 exchangeable faceplates for the Gen8.

After I got the Gen 8, it was testing time. I knew the roles I wanted for my new server:

  • File Sharing
  • Backup
  • Plex
  • Private Cloud
  • Download Management
  • SFTP Server
  • VPN Server

When the hardware arrived I had to improvise a bit, since the budget I had, was not enough for the “perfect configuration”, so I had to settle with what I bought and with what I already had.

The “perfect configuration” I mentioned before would be IMHO, to upgrade the CPU for a Intel Xeon E3-1265LV2, 16GB of RAM, 4x 4TB WD RED, a 250GB SSD for the OS or a 64GB Micro SD to boot VMWare ESXi, running an entire virtualized solution.

The bundled CPU is a Celeron G1610T, and it’s not very powerful (2 cores @ 2.3 GHz) to run VMs, but enough to run the roles I had in mind. I just needed a few more gigs of RAM and my father got me an 8GB DIMM he had laying arround that luckily was compatible with the Gen8.

So from 2GB I was now sporting 10GB of RAM which, BTW, helps a lot with the HP B120i Controller. It’s not a great controller, but for the price I don’t think it could get better. Still, if you want, there’s a PCI-E expansion slot inside the server that you can use to add another controller (or anything else).

As for the storage, I got 2x 3TB WD Red drives, I managed to scavenge some WD Green drives I had lying around. So, my current storage configuration is:

  • 1 TB drive for the OS
  • 2 TB drive for laptop backups, guest file sharing, private cloud and downloads
  • 2 x 3TB drives in RAID 1 for the main storage (photos, documents, movies, tv series, music, etc…)

As for the OS, I tried a few. FreeNAS was the first. It resembled a lot of the NAS OSs you can find in regular NAS, but a bit behind QNAP and Synology OSs. It’s very powerful and robust, it’s based on FreeBSD, but the configuration is not very user-friendly. The Plex server configuration didn’t go as smooth as it should. Still, it’s on my top 10.

Second was CentOS 7. It all ran smoothly, with an exception (very big exception that also happened with FreeNAS): the Gen8 has only on big fan for the entire system. With CentOS, the fan would not lower from 16% and the temperature sensors on the server ILO reported temperature a bit higher than expected. This is probably related with how CentOS handles the Gen8 ACPI or some drivers… either way, I didn’t have time or the patience to look for a solution.

For Synology fans, there’s also a hack of the Synology OS for X86 machines – XPEnology – but maybe because I was trying to install and boot it from the MicroSD, I didn’t have success installing it 🙁 Also, it seemed a bit too much of a hack and by then I was trying to use the Gen 8 as a full server and not just as a NAS.

I then realized that I had my Technet copy of Windows Server 2012 R2 unused 🙂 and like I work with W2k12 on a daily basis… why the hell not?

Every piece of software I need is available on Windows. As an added layer of data protection, online backup plans like Crashplan and Backblaze also run on Windows (still Backblaze doesn’t run on Windows Server or Linux). HP drivers usually are very well optimized for Windows Server, so I went ahead.

The setup was very smooth. After I installed the OS, I ran the Service Pack DVD with the latest drivers and firmware from HP and some Windows Updates later, I noticed that the temperature readings dropped a lot compared with CentOS 7. When idle, the fan doesn’t go beyond 7% even when my office is at the peak of the heat and I don’t have Air Conditioning over here, just a window. The server is very silent, and notice, that my QNAP NAS was fanless!

So, now I have my Gen8 running all the services and roles I need. Is it perfect? No, not yet, there’s still room for improvement. Perhaps when I have the time and money I might try to carry out more and transform this into a VMWare server. Right now the most important for me is that I got full fledge server that suits my needs, cheaper than a NAS, and you can’t beat a good deal like that 😀

Tips for the Gen 8
  • The best site you can go to for info on the Gen8, is this forum on the HomeServerShow site. The info they have there is precious and it was a deal breaker for me when I was considering to buy the Gen8.
  • The Gen8 has a micro sd slot on the board that you can use to boot OSs like VMWare ESXi and FreeNAS. If you don’t want to use it to boot the OS, you can still use it to keep files normally. Get a 64GB or more MicroSD and you got another storage place on your Gen 8.
  • The entry-level Gen8 I got does not come with an optical drive. Although you can get one, with all the USB ports on the server, you can boot anything from a USB pen or HDD. Besides that, you still have the virtual drives on the ILO.  Skip the optical drive and get an SSD to put there instead and boot the OS.

Feel free to ask me anything about the Gen 8, here in the comments on Twitter. I’ll be glad to share more info on this with you.

Update: Here’s part three.

Enter the Server – Part One

Qnap-TS 119

I had a QNAP TS-119 unit as my home NAS for as long as six years. It worked very well until recently it began to corrupt the OS data in the HDD as well as the USB HDD connected to the unit for backup.

Even with a new HDD fitted in the unit and several clean firmware updates, after a few months, the NAS would show a lot of errors in the logs, regarding the HDD. SMART checks and other tests a like didn’t show any problems with the HDD…

This and the fact that the NAS was a one bay model really got me worried about loosing data and so, I began searching for a replacement.

My requisites were simple:

  • two or four bays
  • RAID capable
  • gigabit networking
  • at least one USB 3.0 port
  • a decent CPU
  • 2GB of RAM to run some processes
  • a decent price 😛

I first looked at QNAP and Synology, since they make the best NAS models in my opinion. Both OSs are Linux-based with a lot of functionalities, applications and stuff geeks like me love to play with.

At the end of the day, a NAS is nothing more than a server, a little dumbed down on the hardware. QNAP and Synology have good hardware and their OSs make most of it giving the user the ability to run applications and services like you would on a normal server… it’s a bit limited but it’s useful and cool.

Nowadays, having a NAS at home provides you with a personal cloud, since most brands have their own personal cloud service embedded in the NAS OS. Still you can always install your own options, like a VPN, SFTP server, HTTP/HTTP server, BT Sync, etc…

But I digress… looking at the NAS models from QNAP and Synology that would fit my needs, I suddenly found a pattern… they were all too expensive for my budget. I still needed to buy two WD Red 3GB drives for the new NAS, and this would bring the total up to more than I wanted to spend.

I looked at another brands like Western Digital and Netgear, but I found that their OSs were rather limited comparing to QNAP and Synology. All that apps, bells and whistles I mentioned before were not available entirely in these brands OS.

HP Proliant Microserver Gen 8

That’s when a friend of mine sent me a link for an HP Proliant Microserver Gen 8. The HP Microserver Gen8 is the follow-up model to HP’s Gen 7, which was talked a lot because of the form factor and the HP MediaSmart Server that it replaced.

The Gen8 (for now on) was released in 2014 and it had a lot of advantages compared to a NAS: the entry-level model, with a Intel Celeron G1610T, 2GB RAM, 2 Gigabit ports, one ILO port, several USB ports (some of them 3.0) and four HDD bays (!) would cost me about 250 Eur. With that price I could only get a two bay entry-level NAS from QNAP or Synology and this was a full fledge server, I could run anything I wanted there with almost no limitations.

So you guess right, this was a no brainer, I got the Gen8 and I’ll tell you more about this awesome micro server in part 2.

My Mac Died…

… but it’s now back from the grave.

I have a Macbook Pro built in 2008. It was the last “Discrete” model made before the “Unibody” model. Although it’s a great machine, the graphics card was the cursed Nvidia Geforce 8600M GT. Basically, I hade a time bomb inside my Mac, and by Murphy’s law, it should detonate on the worse day possible. Well, it did blow up. On the morning of last monday (27/12) may Mac screen was all garbled up, full of artifacts and no image on my second monitor. Reboot, battery off, resets, nothing worked. Powered up my netbook and surfed the web to find out that the behavior was consistent with the nvidia problem.

A few friends recommended me to take the Mac to Tou Aqui Tou Aí, an Apple Certified Assistance Center in Lisbon, but since I work on the other side of the Tejo, I decided to ask for a pickup at my place. 15 minutes after I pressed the submit button on the form, I received a call from them, scheduling the pickup for the same day. The next day I had the diagnostic confirmed and the hope that I might still be getting my Mac back this year, depending on when they would get a new logic board from Holland.

Yesterday I had the confirmation, by phone, that my Mac was ready and on my way. Today I got my mac, at 10:00, looking like sparkling new (yes, they cleaned it 😀 ) and at zero cost. Even the pickup and delivery was free of charge.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is SERVICE. It’s how every company should work and treat it’s clients.

Obrigado Tou Aqui Tou Aí

Asus EEE PC 1008 HA SeaShell

Asus EEE PC 1008HA

Until a few weeks ago, the netbook market / scene was a bit of a unknown thing to me. I lacked the information mainly because I was never attracted to small notebooks and netbooks felt into that “class”.

What made me change my mind? Well, my wife often mentioned she would like to have a smaller notebook than her 15.4″ Dell to take to school. That and a trip we made this vacation 🙂 I needed to take a computer and my 17″ Macbook Pro was out of the question since I would need it to check maps, info and e-mail on the go. So, a few days before this trip we went to take a look on the local Vobis / Worten and evaluated the offer.

The Asus EEE PC 1008HA was indeed the most balanced of them all, taking in perspective what we both needed: a light netbook. I was still split between the Asus and an Aspire One, but the Asus had Wifi N and a bigger hard drive, not to mention the screen quality that is amazing.

But enought chit chat, here’s my take and notes on the Asus 1008HA:

Pros

  • Very light, only weights 1.1 Kg
  • Stylish design, similar to a MacBook Air
  • 160Gb HD
  • WiFi Draft N and Bluetooth v2.1
  • Functional Keyboard
  • Multitouch Touchpad
  • 6 hours unplugged computing with Super Hybrid Engine (Asus’s energy managment app)

Cons

  • Plastic sheel feels cheap and fragile in some areas
  • Windows XP bundle
  • Non Removable Battery
  • No easy access to RAM and HD
  • 1.1 Mpixel Webcam has a crappy framerate

The Netbook behaved very well on the go, the battery time is amazing and it seems to last forever, and it’s a good thing because there’s no way to use a second battery. Due to the Seashell design, Asus limited all the expansion on the machine. The battery is not user removable neither is the RAM or HD. To replace these three components you need to disassemble the machine.

One of my frustrations was that there was no bundle with Linux, Asus seems to be kissing Microsoft’s ass again with Netbooks, so the first thing I did after getting home from the trip was to try to find a decent operating system for the Netbook. The candidates were:

  1. Windows 7
  2. Fedora 11
  3. Jolicloud
  4. Ubuntu Netbook Remix

Windows 7 installed very well, the only problem I had was with the ACPI and graphics card. Flashing the 1008HA with the latest bios solved the latest problem, and the other one was solved with a hacked ACPI driver I found on the web. There are still no Asus drivers for Windows 7 but the ones the system installs work rather well. The problem with 7 is that with a default configuration it ran slower than XP, consuming a hefty 450Mb of RAM without no other application loaded. Oh and it was slow as hell to boot. So, on to the next.

Fedora 11 looked beautiful for the first 5 minutes. It all seemed to work out of the box, even wireless and it booted rather fast from the CD I was using. One of the first problems I noticed was that the it wasn’t optimized for netbooks, Gnome dialog boxes were huge and often the OK / Cancel buttons were offscreen. When I tried to install it to the hard drive it failed afer creating the partitions and exited the installation program, leaving me with a damaged installation. I might try it another time but for now… next!

I was very eager to try Jolicloud but the alpha is still invitation only, and since no one on the Interwebs was kind enought to send me an invite, I only managed to try the OS without the cloud part… It seemed like a heavily modified Ubuntu Netbook Remix. It worked very well out of the box and the eye candy is very cool. Sadly for me the most interesting part of this system is the cloud… so, on to the next one.

Enter Ubuntu Netbook Remix, a netbook oriented Ubuntu, which seems to be the most common base of a boatload of netbook linux distros. I installed UNR 9.04 and guess what? Wireless and Ethernet didn’t work. It was Google time and I finally found this guy’s post on the 1008HA and exactly the same problem I had. Three commands and a reboot and Networking is back, my luck is that I also had an USB Ethernet adpter that UNR immediately recognized. After taking it for a quick spin, it seems I found a suitable OS for this netbook.

Of couse I’m not stoping here, as I’m writing this I’m installing UNR 9.10 Alpha to check if there are some significant improvements over 9.04. After that I’ll probably try another 2 or 3 distros, but I think it will be hard to surpass UNR 9.04. Unfortunately not everything works with UNR as well as it works with Windows XP, since there are no Asus drivers for Linux either. So don’t count with some keyboard combos and the Super Hybrid Engine on Linux, at least for now.

Ending this loooong post: The more I play with this netbook the more I wish that Apple would release a netbook or a smaller version of the Air (still I wouldn’t mind having an Air). I think that once you go Mac it’s hard to look back.

Notes

To get wireless working on UNR 9.04:

sudo apt-get update

Reboot

then:

sudo apt-get upgrade

Reboot

sudo apt-get install linux-backports-modules-jaunty

Reboot only needed after modules installation. (Thanks Tiago!)

Fon Things

Fon Logo

Well, I finally managed to buy a Fontenna… at least I think I did because after making the payment through PayPal, the redirect to the FON Shop failed. The Fon Shop has been really unstable with all the commotion caused by the 2€ Fontenna promotion for Foneros.

What made me buy the Fontenna (besides the great price of course) was the change Fon did on the community rules. Before this change you could get paid for the use of your Fon Spot if you were a Bill but you had to pay as well if you wanted to use other Fon Spots, now you can get paid and connect for free on any Fon Spot. Fon will be launching WifiAds, these will allow anyone to use free wifi after viewing an ad and the Foneros will get 5 cents per ad shown. I think that Fon is now on the right track 🙂

[tags]Fon, Fontenna, Foneros[/tags]

La Fontenna

Fon released La Fontenna just a few hours ago and the Fon Shop is down 😛

I’ve been trying to buy one with the promo code they sent me but so far no cigar… 🙁

[tags]Fon, La Fontenna[/tags]

Macbook Pro Refresh

I guess that the Apple user community was a little let down by yesterday’s MacBook Pro update, not a big update but more like a refresh.

Apple changed the CPU’s to new Intel’s new Santa Rosa model which has an FSB of 800Mhz, faster than the old C2D models, less power consumption which means more battery life (which is now mercury free). Still, the RAM speed is still 667Mhz. 2.2 and 2.4Ghz are now the new MacBook Pro CPU speeds.

Not much of an increase on HDD capacity, the 17″ models still come with the 160Gb, only the 15″ model had an HDD upgrade.

Both models have a new NVIDIA GeForce 8600M GT but only the 15″ model got the new LED-backlit display due to the costs of this new technology. These displays have no warmup time until it reaches full brightness levels unlike the previous models, still the color range and brightness are identical. The 17″ model has now an optional 1920×1200 allowing full HD resolution, but still no BlueRay or HD-DVD drives 🙁

Wifi support is now 802.11 N, which on previous models was only achieved by a paid software upgrade. Everything else remains almost the same as the previous models.

As for me, a owner of a 17″ 2.33Ghz MacBook Pro model, I feel that besides the new HD resolution screen nothing else attracts me on these new models. Still if you don’t have a Mac or you’re thinking about upgrading from an old model, it’s a great machine.

If you want to the traditional unpacking shots, Geeksugar has some fresh ones 🙂

[tags]Apple, Macbook Pro[/tags]