Leasing Computers in an Enterprise Environment

I’ve talked with a lot of people that are either for enterprises leasing their work stations or against it. I’ve worked for companies that do both and I’ve always leaned towards leasing because when it comes time to upgrade your fleet you don’t have to worry about disposing of the old machines.

People have pointed out to me that getting rid of one or two machines isn’t that hard. But when you are dealing with companies that have upwards of 1200 machines you start running into problems.  Problems like the one in the photos below:

Piles of Old Machines Piles of Old Machines

I’ve asked if I can pilfer a few to build for friends and family that need computers but don’t need the latest and greatest and they’ve said sure. But that’ll only get rid of a few. They now need to pay to have these removed.

The computer recycling groups that everyone has heard of, yeah they aren’t free. They will usually charge a per kilo or per pallet cost to take away your old computers. Even if they are going to fix them up and sell them, they will still charge you.

And this is where leasing machines makes more sense. You pay a lower rate per new machine and you don’t have to worry about paying to dispose of it at the end of your term. When dealing with deployments over 1000 machines the economy of scale kicks in and this becomes a desirable option. Even with smaller deployments it can make sense depending on your vendor and how often you want to upgrade your equipment.

On a side note: I look at that stack up there and really get the urge to build a Beowulf cluster just for shits n giggles.

Photos from Orange

Last week I had the chance to journey out to Orange for work and we had an early finish so I went off for a drive around the countryside.

First Snow

There is snow in the hills!

Snow in Orange

I found this snow on Mount Canobolas, a mountain that I was told many times by the locals to be the tallest point between the Blue Mountains and Africa in a straight line. I questioned the straight line part until I discovered that there are three mountains west of the Blue Mountains that are taller but they are either far to the north, or right in the south.

After playing in the snow I continued my drive down to Lake Canobolas.

Lake Canobolas falls

These are the “falls” from the man-made Lake that used to supply the water to Orange.

Orange Beach at Lake Canobolas

And here is Orange Beach down at Lake Canobolas. No idea if that is the actual name of it but it is the only sand-meets-water part I could find in the area.

Circumcision

Having found out that my wife is carrying a boy this week has left us with two issues. The first is the name, we had a girl’s name picked out but a boy’s name has us stumped. The second issue that I want to talk about in this post is circumcision.

What is Circumcision?

Circumcision is the removal of the foreskin from the penis, predominately performed on new born males but it can be performed on a male of any age.

How are Circumcisions performed?

First, the amount of foreskin to be removed is estimated. The practitioner opens the foreskin via the preputial orifice to reveal the glans underneath and ensures it is normal before bluntly separating the inner lining of the foreskin (preputial epithelium) from its attachment to the glans. The practitioner then places the circumcision device (this sometimes requires a dorsal slit), which remains until blood flow has stopped. Finally, the foreskin is amputated.

– Source: WikiPedia

Why do people Circumcise boys?

It is mostly associated with religious observance with Jews and Muslims doing it the most. It was also thought to improve the cleanliness of the penis. Some people thought that by removing the foreskin that bacteria and things would not get stuck in it and cause infections. Other people do it for aesthetic reasons.

There has been some research that points towards the removal of the foreskin leading to a reduced risk of penile cancer, however given that the odds of penile cancer is 1 in 100,000, that reduction is not altogether huge. Others also suggest it reduces the chance of cervical cancer in partners of circumcised men.

Other research has suggested that not having a foreskin can reduce the infection rates for STIs like HPV and herpes due to thicker membranes on the penis. This advantage is negated by the proper use of condoms.

Phimosis is a condition when you can’t pull your foreskin back over the head of the penis. This is one of the most common causes of circumcisions in older males.

How many are Circumcised?

According to WikiPedia, “approximately one third of males worldwide are circumcised, most often for religious or cultural reasons”. The rate of circumcision has changed recently, when I was born it was something like 70% of boys were circumcised, more recent numbers I’ve Googled show it is now closer to 16% of new borns are circumcised. So whilst it was popular in the 70s and 80s, the popularity of the practice has reduced recently. This is likely due to a combination of greater access to educational information, more discussions, the fact that public hospitals in New South Wales no longer perform circumcisions and Medicare doesn’t cover it, and also it is a trend thing.

Am I going to Circumcise my Son?

This is an interesting question. Years ago if you had of asked me it would have been “yes”. I am circumcised therefore it made sense that I would circumcise my son. Fast forward to last Tuesday and we go for the 19 week scan to see penis, right up in our grill. There was no doubt at all that it was a boy. Shortly after leaving the question came up and I’ve spent the past couple of days thinking it over.

Medically speaking there is no reason to circumcise a newborn unless we find a problem at birth. There are various studies that show both uncircumcised and circumcised penises are healthier but overall, the very slight probability of benefits of circumcision don’t outweigh the slight probability of complications from the circumcision itself.

There is also the issue of modifying someone’s body without their consent. Whilst most people who have been circumcised just accept the fact that it happened and get on with it, there are some who dislike the fact and there are a multitude of quack doctors trying to sell procedures to “regrow” your foreskin. Most of them involve clipping weights to the skin below the head of the penis and using gravity to stretch it back over the head.

Throughout various discussions with people that I know that have had kids recently, the general consensus was to not do it. A couple did want to do it for reasons ranging from perceived cleanliness benefits to religious reasons. So far no one has actually circumcised their child due to everyone having girls except for one who was unable to find someone to do the circumcision.

I’ve come to the realisation that the only reason that I can come up with currently for circumcising my son is purely aesthetics. I am circumcised, have been all my life. I’ve seen the occasional uncircumcised penis in the change rooms or online and because it is different to my own I thought it didn’t look as good. Basing a decision that will affect someone for the rest of his life based on what I think looks better is not a valid reason.

Ultimately it has been decided that circumcision should only be done when it is medically required. He’ll still have the ability to choose it for himself in the future but it is not something that we’ll be deciding for him.

Is your vagina holding you back?

A friend of mine is having major issues at her work place because none of the customers want to deal with her because they think that the men can do a better job when in actual fact it is her and one other guy keeping the whole small business afloat. The other men, including her boss, have no idea what they are doing.

I’ve noticed this attitude a lot in IT, not just from the male staff but also from customers. My only female minion at my previous job used to have to escalate calls because men would assume she was just a secretary and want to speak to “a real tech”. I used to love those calls cause when they came through to me I would give them a real hard time about their insistance on speaking to a man. And when I got through humiliating them I would then let them know that Chantelle was a tech person who could have answered all the questions they had because she was more than qualified to answer them.

I don’t think that Chantelle had ever really experienced it before and it wasn’t until I pointed out that it is because of her vagina that it was happening did she really feel the impact of the gender divide. I got the feeling that she thought there was something wrong with her. She was wrong of couurse, the actual problem was everyone else.

I know that there are other men out there like me who know that genitals have no bearing on ability but how do we eradicate the other morons that think that men are better?

Men can certainly do some things better than women. But those things are typically related to strength and such. Like being a lumberjack. You used to need big shoulders to chop through a tree. And there are things that woman can do better than men. Traditionally child card and cooking but there are other things too. But in industries like IT and Arts and such there is no intelligence advantage given to men because they have a penis.  I’ve only worked with a few women in IT and they were as smart, if not smarter than me at what they do.

In my working life I try not to think of people as men and women with different bits which regulate intelligence. I think of them as people who can either do their job or not. If you’re an idiot I am going to make that judgement based on your ability, not your genitals.

Can we not all do the same?

Power Redundancy

There is nothing like a major grid failure to test your power redundancy plan at work. On the day that the generators were being serviced we lost power to mulitple suburbs.

Today has been a comedy of issues that have been presenting themselves. The first one is that the settings for the generator meant that when mains power dropped and the UPS kicked in, the generator wasn’t triggered properly.

The building is currently running on UPS power only, the generator is running but the load on it is only 34 amps which shows that it is not powering the whole building.

A funny issue that has cropped up is that it appears that there was a project run fairly recently to review the load on the UPS circuit and that pretty much everything in the building was taken off that. So while a couple of months ago I’d still have power, now I have none.

The network gear is still getting UPS power, which means the VoIP phones are still running. Some users have laptops but the majority of the IT department here all use desktop machines. Even the guys that go to other sites all have desktops, they just have a single laptop that gets used by the whole team.

A big lesson that will be taken out of this incident is to review the backup power and DR plans to make sure that when we lose power again, the building will stay powered.

And as I said in my previous post, Redundancy Redundancy Redundancy, having a plan is no good unless you actually test it occasionally.

Dirty Racks

Recent discussions on Facebook have covered this topic and I finally managed to track down the photos of one of the messiest racks I’ve ever encountered. As part of the CSC Team I had to clean up this mess. It took a month or so of planning it out and then we had a 10 hour window in which to complete it.

CSC Rack 01

In this first photo you can see the racks in all their messy glory. It was up to us to clean it up and make it so that we could put the door back on and close it. The difficult part of this mission came about because under each patch panel is a Controller for an AS400. So it was simply a case of unplug everything and patch it back in using the 15cm cables we had. Part of our mission was to rename every AS400 terminal so that it would have its own unique Name in preparation for the merger of the Brisbane and Sydney Mainframe systems.

To rename an AS400 terminal involved a few steps:

  1. You had to login to the AS400 with “root” access and remove the Terminal Profile
  2. You then had to recreate the Terminal Profile by defining the Controller and Port that the Terminal would be plugged into
  3. We then had to patch the Terminal in from the Patch Panels to the correct Controller and Port
  4. We then had a small team of minions who had to go out and touch every terminal and tell it what Controller and Port it was now on

This process was complicated further by the fact that each rack had patch panels numbering from 001 to 180 or so and out on the floor, there were three columns of desks with non-linear numbering. What this meant was figuring out which Port 130 on the floor matched up to which Port 130 in the racks was made a little bit harder. The left column mostly matched up with the left rack, the right column mostly matched up with the right rack, and the middle column had some from Rack A and others from Rack B. The numbering confusion arose in the early 90s when the building housed both the Pizza Hut and the KFC Call Centres and the systems were meant to be separate.

The weeks of testing and mapping out of the ports on the floor to the patch panels in the room made the whole process far more tedious than it should have been.

We were lucky in that 30 terminals were actually Citrix thin clients that ran an emulator and these all plugged into a regular 10 Mbit Hub (not a switch) so they would work as long as they were plugged into the network somewhere. We started our Clean Up night at 2200, an hour before the Call Centre closed by renaming the Citrix clients and then moving all the Operators onto them. We then went in and unplugged everything else.

CSC Rack 03

At this point the Call Centre had closed and I had unplugged pretty much everything, including the thin clients. Most of the patch panels for them were in the top right and the hub was in the bottom right. Unfortunately I’ve only been able to find one other photo from the rest of this night, it was a long time, many camera phones, and 3 computers ago so I fear that the rest of the data has been lost. Either to the mess that is my file system or through a hard drive failure and lack of backup (make sure you BACKUP).

CSC Rack 04

This is the last photo that I could find chronicling the adventure. The big mess of long cables that have returned to the racks were due to the fact that we weren’t able to move the hub to be closer to the Citrix thin client patch panels so the cables had to go back. There were also further complications because the left rack housed all the patch panels for the Windows machines that the Supervisors and Management used and also the various printers.

If you look under the mess of long cables you can see the much neater patching connecting the Patch Panels to the Controllers. Eventually we were able to convince the IT Department to send out some of their recently retired 10/100 switches and I was able to install them in better locations and I was able to pull out all those long cables. We found that soon after moving to two switches and removing the hub the packet collisions on the network dropped. The Citrix thin clients being plugged into a hub meant that every time one of them spoke, the packet was sent to EVERY other device on the network. Printers were faster, the Windows machines were able to move data faster, the Citrix thin clients even responded faster.

It was a long and busy night but we eventually got it all done, I wish I could show off a photo of the finished work but they appear to be lost forever.

Netflix Vs Foxtel Vs Free to Air

Why will Netflix or other similar streaming services inevitably beat out Foxtel and Free to Air services? Advertising.

Today I managed to finally plug my TV into the Free to Air satellite and I’ve had the TV on for most of the day and during that time about 50% of the viewing has been advertisements and it got me thinking. Why do people pay for Foxtel still when services like Netflix exist now? Lets take a look at the current offerings in Australia.

Free to Air

  • Pros: it is free
  • Cons: advertising and a lack of choice for content

Free to Air is based solely upon advertising revenue. It is a “free” service, all the shows produced and the services provided are paid for by companies getting their message out to the public. This results in TV shows being peppered with advertising. Currently in Australia the commercial TV networks are allowed 13 minutes of non-program matter during peak hour and up to 16 minutes at other times per hour. That means that during peak hour, a 30 minute show will consist of 7 minutes of advertising.

Foxtel

  • Pros: more channels than Free to Air
  • Cons: costs at least $25 per month for the basic channel, still get advertising

Foxtel is essentially the only choice for Cable TV in Australia and when it first came out one of the big selling points was the lack of advertising. The government actually restricted Foxtel from advertising during programs for the first two years of it running. Since then Foxtel has bumped up their advertising to include up to 5 minutes worth of advertising for every 8 minutes of programming. There are a couple of channels that run ad free however they are usually included in a package that adds an additional cost to the base rate. Why would anyone want to pay money AND get advertising inserted into their paid content?

Netflix and other streaming services

  • Pros: pick what show you want to watch, when you want to watch it, costs at least $11 a month with no advertising
  • Cons: uses valuable bandwidth which in Australia can cost extra

Out of the three choices Netflix and other streaming services have the least amount of advertising involved. Based on data from Netflix, you pay a flat rate for as many TV shows as you can consume and you get no advertising. Granted you may not get access to every show available due to licensing issues, you still get a varied library of media to consume and you don’t have to spend a third of your day watching advertisements.

Summary

Netflix and other streaming services have one big bottleneck that is currently affecting their take up in Australia. Poor internet connectivity. With the average Australian having ADSL speeds it is hard to stream HD content to a TV without extensive wait times or having to resort to lower quality streams. Had the plans for a proper Fibre roll out come to be I think the TV ecosystem would be vastly different to what it is now. Foxtel would have lost the major share and newer services like Netflix, Stan, and Presto would be able to compete on a more level playing field. As it is, Foxtel manage their own cable infrastructure which ensures the speedy delivery of their content, and the Australian ISP ecosystem is based around quotas, not speed, like it is in many other markets.

Addendum

There are other services out there currently that side-step all of these options, the chief being SickBeard and Torrenting. By downloading the shows illegally to a local hard drive consumers are able to side-step the bandwidth requirements for streaming, and more importantly, they are able to side-step the geographic licensing issues that plague many shows in Australia. For example, you can’t get the latest episodes of Game of Thrones on any streaming service in Australia unless you are a Foxtel customer. Game of Thrones requires the Premium Movies & Drama package which results in a monthly cost of $50 per month just to see the latest episodes in Australia. Is it any wonder that Australia holds the record for pirating TV shows because it isn’t possible to get the show legally through multiple services? Monopolies will drive consumers to the illegal methods when the prices are to high.

Sources