Colin Quinn and the Art of Mining Rig Maintenance

I’ve been doing a lot with cryptocurrency mining lately, so there’s been a lot of activity here on rsts11 about it as well. For this post, a lot of the concepts can apply to a home lab in general, although it was inspired by several conversations on mining channels on Telegram and Discord over the past month.

In the late 1980s, actor Colin Quinn was an announcer on a game show called Remote Control. It’s not terribly remarkable in context, but as I’ve had a few people of differing technical levels ask about remote control for their mining rigs, it seemed relevant. 

Whether you’re managing a single server, a home lab, a mining rig, or an entire farm, it’s likely that your gear will not be in  your home office or possibly not even in your home at all, but you won’t want to travel to where the gear is everytime something needs to be power cycled. In the case of one of the people I consulted for recently, he was going to deploy mining rigs at a friend’s house in another country, and would not be able to be hands-on with the gear more than 2-3 times a year.  

So the considerations I’m making here are tuned for a relatively small number of systems that may not have IPMI console access, and may not have convenient access or remote hands services available. In a datacenter or similar environment, you may have contracted services to send someone to hit the reset button or look for issues. For many of my readers, this is not a luxury you’ll enjoy. 

My own remote access adventure happened when my oldest mining rig was a few miles from home. Thanks to my Meraki networks, I did have direct VPN access, but the rig would occasionally crash and require a physical power cycle. It was only 5-10 minutes each way, and I did have 24/7 access to the facility, but it got very inconvenient at times. 

The considerations I’ll layout here fall into a couple of categories. 

  1. Network access (usually via VPN of some sort)
  2. Console access (remote KVM)
  3. Power control (remote power controller over Ethernet, via #1 above)

Disclosure: Neither Robert M Persig, Colin Quinn, nor Ken Ober have any association or endorsement or even awareness of this blog post. 

Continue reading

Wrestling with an ONDA B250-D8P-D4 mining motherboard

Most casual crypto miners use a conventional motherboard, especially if they have a PC/case/power supply with sufficient PCIe slots for their GPUs. But when you get beyond 2-4 GPUs, you either need a rat’s nest of riser extenders, or maybe (just maybe) a dedicated mining motherboard.

I recently got a new-to-me mining motherboard, and found it painful to find some information and resources I needed. I’m aggregating this information in this post, and it will get updated as I get more relevant experience with the ONDA motherboard in question. If you have any info to share, feel free to comment below and I’ll update. (Last update 2021-03-14)

I’ve mined with an Octominer 8-slot motherboard for 3 years now. In addition to an onboard Celeron 3855U and a single DDR3 SODIMM RAM slot (max of 8GB), it has eight PCIe x16 slots, so you don’t need to use the common x1-to-x16 risers. It’s complicated in that you have to power the motherboard with a number of additional power connectors (in this case, 6-pin PCIe power leads from the power supply). But it sits flat on a custom frame I ordered in 2018, and it doesn’t have much that I don’t need (like lots of drive controllers, extra memory slots, audio, etc). And if you get a custom mining power supply (or breakout board) with only 6-pin connectors, you’re in good shape. 

Octominer has discontinued their 8-slot boards, and the boards may not support the latest GPUs on the market (much like the Ethos mining distro I used on it until this past week). I couldn’t get the board to boot with an AMD 5500XT GPU (Amazon, eBay) in the first slot, for example. So it’s chugging along with eight Sapphire Nitro+ RX580 8GB cards (Amazon, eBay), seven of which have been chugging for almost three years now.

While they still make custom boards, the only ways to get their products are either to find the rare used item on a marketplace, or to buy the one integrated rig they currently sell in quantities less than 10 (their x12 rig with everything but the GPUs, which runs almost $1,000 shipped to the US). 

Another company making custom boards is ONDA. You can usually find them on eBay or other marketplaces for a couple hundred dollars, with a range of slot support. I found a good deal on the B250 D8P-D4 recently, and since I wanted to aggregate a mess of old GPUs, it was an easy way to go. Continue reading

Quick Take: Different ways of acquiring cryptocurrency

With this past month’s stock and crypto activity (various stocks heading for lunar orbit, Bitcoin breaking US$40,000, etc), a lot of people have started looking for ways to buy cryptocurrency (and stocks).

In a lot of forums, they’re being hit with misleading or outright false information. I’m here today to give you some pointers and context, and help you understand the cryptocurrency options available to you.

Nothing in this post is provided as investment advice or recommendations to conduct any financial transactions. There is risk in any of these processes, and you are on your own for that.

If you choose to use one of my referral links to sign up for one of the services mentioned, I’ll either get a share or two of a cheap stock, a few bucks worth of a stock, or sometimes a cash bonus. And I’ll appreciate your support. (Note that promos can change, and I may not come back and update these promos later; see the respective websites for active promotion terms)

  • SoFi Invest (fund an active account including crypto with $1000, and we’ll both get $50 worth of stock) (crypto available)
  • SoFi Money (fund an account with $500, and we both get $50 cash) (Virtual money management account, linkable to Invest and other services)
  • Robinhood (sign up and link a bank account, and we both get a free share of stock) (crypto available)
  • Webull (fun an account with $100 and get at least one stock share, maybe two) (crypto under tags like BTCUSD, ETHUSD, no DOGE)
  • Public (app-only, complete application and get a free amount of stock up to $16, must hold the value of the free stock in the account for 90 days) (no crypto, just stocks)

What is cryptocurrency? Do I get an actual physical bitcoin?

Cryptocurrency is a virtual currency that is created through a process called mining, and can be transferred and converted to other currencies (including “fiat” or what some would call “real” money). You don’t get a physical bitcoin (or ethereum or anything like that), and if you’ve seen one of those metal “Real Bitcoin Coin” items at a store, you’ve just seen a souvenir with little to no value and no association with any bitcoins.

Many cryptocurrencies have developed value, primarily through people giving them value and accepting them in transactions. This isn’t entirely unlike paper money – a piece of green and white paper alone doesn’t have any value, but when a nation accepts that that piece of paper is worth a certain amount and uses it in trade, it suddenly has value. 

The cryptocurrencies you’ve probably heard most about are Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin, and (lately) Dogecoin. Bitcoin is the grandfather of crypto, and has been around since 2009. The others have come along since, to address perceived shortcomings or scaling issues with Bitcoin. Continue reading

Rabbit Reorganization: Building low power clusters from a rabb.it door

As you saw in my 3D Printing series, after years of pondering a 3D printer, I was finally inspired to buy one when a pile of clusters came up on eBay from the defunct rabb.it video streaming service.

In this series, I’ll take you through turning a rabbit door into some useful computing resources. You can do something similar even after the clusters are sold out; a lot of people have probably bought the clusters and ended up not using them, or you can adjust the plans here to other models.

The first thing I will put out there is that these are not latest-and-greatest state-of-the-art computers. If you’re looking for a production environment or DDR4 high density memory, keep looking. But if you want an inexpensive modular cluster that’s only about 5 years out of date, there’s hope for you in here.

The original cluster

eBay seller “tryc2” has sold several hundred of these “door clusters” from rabb.it, a now-defunct video streaming service that closed up shop in mid-2019. As of this writing, they still have a couple dozen available. I call it a “door cluster” as the 42 inch by 17 inch metal plate resembles a door, and gives you an idea of the ease of manipulating and fitting the environment into your home/homelab as it is delivered.

The cluster bundle will set you back US$300, plus tax where applicable. While they’re available, you can get one at this link and I’ll get a couple of dollars in commission toward my next purchase.

The cluster includes 10 Intel NUC quad-core boards (mine were NUC5PPYB quad-core Pentium; my friend Stephen Foskett got some that were newer NUC6CAYB Celeron boards which took more RAM). These boards feature one DDR3L SODIMM slot (max of 8GB), one SATA port with a non-standard power connector (more on this later), Gigabit Ethernet, HDMI out with a headless adapter (to fool the computer into activating the GPU despite no monitor being connected), four USB ports, and a tiny m.2 slot originally intended for wireless adapters.

In the center of the “door” are five NVIDIA Jetson TK1 boards. These were NVIDIA’s first low-end foray into GPU development, sold to let individuals try out machine learning and GPU computing. There are much newer units, including the Jetson Nano (whose 2GB version is coming this month), if you really want modern AI and GPU testing gear, but these are reasonably capable machines that will run Ubuntu 14 or 16 quite readily. You get 2GB of RAM and a 32GB onboard eMMC module, plus a SATA port and an SD slot as well as gigabit Ethernet.

The infrastructure for each cluster includes a quality Meanwell power supply, a distribution board assembly I haven’t unpacked yet, two automotive-style fuse blocks with power cords going to the 15 computers, and a 16 port Netgear unmanaged Gigabit Ethernet switch. With some modifications, you can run this entire cluster off one power cord and one network cord.

What’s missing?

So there is a catch to a $300 15-node cluster. The Jetson nodes are component complete, meaning they have RAM and storage. However, the NUCs are barebones, and you’ll need some form of storage and some RAM.

For the Jetson nodes, you’ll need an older Ubuntu machine and the NVIDIA Jetpack software loader. For the installation host, Ubuntu 14.04 is supported, 16.x should work, and later versions are at your own risk. You’ll also need an Ethernet connection to a network shared with your Ubuntu machine, as well as a MicroUSB connection between your Ubuntu host and the Jetson, to load the official software bundle.

For the NUCs, you’re looking at needing to add a SODIMM and some form of storage to each. I bought a bunch of 8GB SODIMMs on eBay ($28.50 each) to max out the boards. For storage, I tried USB flash drives and 16GB SD cards and had OS issues with both, so I bought the MicroSATACables NUC internal harness for each board, along with Toshiba Q Pro 128GB SATA III SSDs (these are sold out, but there’s a Samsung SM841N currently available in bulk for the same price, about $20 each).

If you do get a cluster bundle with the two-memory-slot NUC boards, you have two options beyond the above. The easy and documented option is to look for 4GB SODIMMs instead of 8GB; you may save a buck or two, or if you’re like me, you may have a box of 4GB SODIMMs from various upgrades and not have to buy anything. The other option is to update your BIOS on the NUC and try out 2x 8GB. For some uses, 16GB will be worth the cost (vSphere or other virtualization clusters). I’d suggest going with a known quantity to update the BIOS to the latest version, and then trying 2x 8GB.

One other thing you may need is a pack of spare fuses. I know they do their job, as I blew a few of them while plugging and unplugging the boards. But you may wish to have a few extras around. They’re the standard 3 amp “mini blade” fuse that can be found at auto parts stores (although my local shops tended to have one card of them, if that, on the shelf). You can also buy a 10 pack for $6.25 (Bussmann brand) , a 25 pack for about the same price (Baomain brand) or a 100 pack (Kodobo brand) for about $9.

Choose your own adventure

There are two paths to take once you have your gear collected and connected.

  1. How do we lay out the gear?
  2. What do we do with it?

I’ll look at my journey on both paths in upcoming episodes of this series. Spoiler: I’ve 3d-printed stacking plates for both the NUCs and the Jetsons, and am still working on how to mount the remaining pieces so I can e-waste the door piece. And as I write part 1, I still haven’t figured out what to do with the clusters.

Where do we go from here?

If you’ve bought one of these clusters (or more than one), feel free to chime in on the comment section and let me know what you’ve done with it. And stay tuned to this post (or @rsts11 on Twitter or Facebook) for updates on the next installments.

Treat, no trick: Free VMware premium training for a year if you sign up by Halloween!

My friend Christopher posted about a 6 month promo for the VMware Learning Zone that was being extended soon. As I’m looking to rebuild some of my VMware expertise (I was a vExpert for several years, but fell out of the program a couple of years ago), I figured I’d give the promo a try.

It turns out that, with the newest link, you can get a 12 month subscription to the “VMware Customer Connect Learning Premium Package” free. It includes the Basic Subscription, exam prep materials for VCP and VCAP (and possibly others), and the VMware Certified Technical Associate content (for the new entry level VMware certification).

You can find the details and “purchase” the free offer at this VMware Learning link. But do it by October 31, 2020.

Note that the VMware Learning portal has a different authentication system/login credentials from the MyVMware portal, the Flings site, or the VMUG site. Or as Christopher said, paraphrasing my gripe:

So while you may have your email in their system in various places, you will probably have to activate your learning portal account if you haven’t had official VMware learning programs before.

The enrollment deadline is October 31, 2020, and will run for a full year once you sign up.

But wait, there’s more

If you don’t already have a subscription to VMUG Advantage, it’s worth looking into. While general VMUG membership is free, the Advantage tier is similar to the old VMware Technology Network (VMTN) which provided home lab/training licenses for VMware products for a relatively small price (currently $200 before discounts).

The evaluation licenses are included under what’s now called EVALExperience. You can get 15 or more VMware products including vCenter/vSphere, NSX, vSAN, Fusion, Workstation, and more, for 365 days per subscription. You also get 20% off VMware training and exams, 35% off VMware Lab Connect, and the only stackable discount on real-world VMworld tickets.

The VMUG site currently has a popup with the discount code ADVNOW which will take 10% ($20) off. Earlier in the year, William Lam negotiated a 15% discount “group buy” which is probably the highest discount I’ve ever seen – 10% codes are available anytime there’s a VMUG UserCon or virtual event, and often even when there isn’t one.

You might check with your employer to see if they will reimburse you for this option, or if you work for a larger VMware customer you might have other license options internally, but if you’re working your way up outside the scope of your current job, VMUG Advantage with the EVALexperience is a great option. It might even get you headed in the direction of vExpert status (which also gets you those licenses, and a whole lot more, in recognition of your giving back to the community).