I didn’t think I’d be able to say this so soon… (He’s baaack at Tech Field Day!)

As many of my readers know by now, my time at Cisco came to an end last month. When I decided to leave Disney and come to Cisco 6 1/2 years ago, there were two main things I knew I would miss about being in the “real world” — Disney cast member discounts, and being a Tech Field Day delegate.

Well, there’s no change on the Disney discount front, but this week I’ll be back as a TFD delegate for Tech Field Day 22 the latter half of this week.

Riding in the limo at SFD5 in 2014 – four of the five people pictured will be at TFD22 this week with me

How did you get to this point?

In May 2014, I posted a two part post on storage vendors (“These 3 hot new trends” part 1 and part 2) from Storage Field Day 5, my last full event as a delegate. A month later, I moved to San Francisco for most of a week thanks to TFD sponsors, to participate in my second Cisco Live event and to interview for a position with Cisco.

I was offered the job the day I got home from the event, and a little under a month later I got badged at Building 9 and began the 6+ year adventure in mega-vendor sales engineering. But as a vendor, I wasn’t terribly welcome among the Tech Field Day delegations, although I was still invited to the parties, and managed to qualify for the roundtable at SNIA’s Storage Developer Conference in 2017. I did continue my participation with Interop over the years, leaving my Cisco ears (instead of my Disney ears) at home, and even attending a Cisco briefing during one of the events, in the former Playboy Club at the Palms in Las Vegas.

What is Tech Field Day? Do I need a ham radio?

If you’re new to Tech Field Day, the idea is pretty much the same as it’s been for over ten years, even if the participation venue has moved from conference rooms to Zoom. Stephen Foskett, founder of Tech Field Day and Gestalt IT, brings together independent analysts, practitioners, geeks, and javelin catchers to meet with companies producing something in the tech sphere.

From the huge established names (like Dell, HPE, Cisco) to companies just coming out of stealth and talking to the public for the first time, you get to see companies facing unstaged questions in realtime, discussing the product or service, the decisions behind them, and how people who might actually use the product or service see it rather than how the company’s marketing and PR team want it to be seen.

And unlike most press conferences and analyst events, anyone on the planet (pretty much) can tune in, watch and learn, and pose their own questions through social media to be answered. There’s no registration required, no event fees, and if you missed a company you can go back and watch within a couple of days.

Pro-tip: If, like me, you’re on the tech job market, Tech Field Day’s archives can be a great resource for learning about companies you might be interested in working for. Just go to the main page and search for a company name. Not everyone is in there, but you can get a good feel for the companies that are, from what they do and how they’ve evolved over the years to how well they understand their product and the market they’re competing in.

So what’s different for you this time?

Tech Field Day 9 in Austin, Texas (June 2013)

After five full delegate events in person, and seven roundtable/TFD Extra events (details), I’ll be back as a different kind of delegate, for obvious reasons. TFD22 looks to be the largest event yet, with twenty-five delegates. No, really, 25 delegates. The nine presenting companies will be split up into early and late shfits to accommodate delegates from around the world, and since none of us are traveling to an in-person location, we can focus on presentations in our own time zones… and some of us will be hopping onto the other shift’s events as well.

The early shift, for my European and Eastern colleagues, will feature Commvault, Veeam, VMware, Quantum, and Red Hat. Their sessions run from 5-10am Pacific, and while I’d love to see them live, I’m not sure 5am is a time I believe in just yet.

You’ll find me in the late shift (11am-3pm Pacific), meeting with MemVerge, Riverbed (who I last visited here in Sunnyvale for SFD2), Illumio, and oddly enough, Cisco. I only see three names among the other 24 who I’ve shared TFD events with, but about half of them are in my online circles and I’m looking forward to meeting the others.

If you’d like to watch along with us, check out the TFD page for livestreams on several platforms starting Wednesday morning, December 9th. You can click on this garishly-large TFD logo to get there if you like. And if you miss the sessions you wanted to watch, they’ll be posted on the same link within a couple of days for you to watch at no cost.

Feel free to follow along on Twitter and ask your questions – tag with the hashtag #TFD22 and the delegates will try to relay your questions to the presenters.

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).

Upgrading the HPE Microserver Gen 8 and putting it into service

A year and a half after my original write-up of the Ivy Bridge-based Gen8 Microserver, I’m finally doing a last round of pre-launch updates and documenting the upgrades I made.

You can read the original write-up (as updated to December 2018) here: Warming up the HP Microserver Gen8 and PS1810-8G switch

More links at the end of this post. Pricing has been updated as of 2019-08-15, but is still subject to change without notice.

Where do we start?

The HPE Microserver Gen8 as I received it had the Intel Pentium G2020T processor, a dual core, dual thread, 2.5 GHz processor with integrated Intel HD Graphics. For an ultra-low-end workgroup or SOHO server, that’s not too bad, and it’s better than the Celeron G1610T option.

gen8-cpus

Stock processor options for the HP Microserver Gen8

But since we’re not worried about the warranty and do want a bit more power, we looked at the following options for a CPU upgrade.

Xeon Processor CPU speed C/T TDP Integrated graphics? eBay price/link
August 2019 (December 2018)
E3-1230 v2 3.30 – 3.70 4/8 69 No 49.00 (was 75.00)
E3-1260L (v1) 2.40 – 3.30 4/8 45 HD2000 34.30 (was 57.00)
E3-1265L v2 2.50 – 3.50 4/8 45 HD2500 99.00 (was 100.00)

Since we didn’t have a use case in mind for this, we went for the E3-1265L v2 processor. CPU speed is reasonable, power is within the envelope for this system’s cooling capacity, and the price didn’t turn out too bad (although it was almost twice as much a year and a half ago).

The system arrived with 16GB of memory, which is the maximum supported with this generation of processor and a two-DIMM-slot motherboard (the CPU will handle 32GB but no more than 8GB per DIMM, and the Memphis Electronics 16GB DDR3 DIMMs require a newer generation of CPU).

The system also shipped with a single 500GB SATA drive and three empty trays for expansion, connected to the onboard B120i storage controller. There’s a low profile slot at the top suitable for an optical drive, or a hard drive carrier. According to the specs, the first two bays are 6gbit SATA and the last two bays are 3gbit SATA. You can add a P222 Smart Controller to provide battery-backed cache and expanded RAID options; these can be had for as low as $25 on eBay.

I installed a 32GB Micro-SD card for OS boot. Like the previous Microservers, the Gen8 offers an internal USB port, but Gen8 adds a MicroSD slot which may be less likely to snap off during maintenance. If I were running a heavy duty Windows or Linux server on this machine, I’d probably either put an SSD on a PCIe carrier card or use the optical drive SATA connector on the board to mount a boot drive in the optical bay. But for VMware or appliance-type platforms, or for light use Linux, the MicroSD should be enough.

Bringing the Microserver Gen8 up to date

One of the first things I do when building or populating a system is to upgrade any applicable firmware on the system. This could include the lights-out management, the system BIOS itself, drive controllers, optical drives, etc.

This gets complicated with HPE gear, as they decided to restrict all but “critical” BIOS update to customers with active support contracts or warranties. There are dubious workarounds, but it’s more of a pain than for any other mainstream vendor. Luckily (and I say that sadly), some of the critical vulnerabilities around Intel microcode in the past year led to the most recent Microserver Gen8 BIOS being considered critical.

So I gathered the latest BIOS, the ILO 4 firmware for out-of-band management, and the latest firmware for the PS1810-8G switch that this system will be connected to. (Unlike the computer systems, HPE’s networking gear carries a lifetime limited warranty and free access to firmware updates.)

With the switch connected to our upstream POE switch and the Microserver’s three network ports (two gigabit LAN, one ILO) connected to the switch, I upgraded the firmware on all three components and installed CentOS 7 from the latest ISO image via external USB flash drive. Additionally, I got a free 60-day trial license for ILO 4 Advanced from HPE.

One quirk I ran into was with regard to the .NET-based remote console and Chrome browser. In short, it doesn’t work unless you install a plugin to handle the .NET launching. I didn’t want to bother with Java either, so I accessed ILO from Microsoft Edge and used the .NET option from there.

Where do we go from here?

In the near term, I’m planning to install the Aquantia AQN-107 10GBase-T/NBase-T adapter and use it to test a couple of new devices in the home lab. Linux with iPerf or the like should be a good endpoint, and with a Thunderbolt 3-to-NBase-T adapter and an economical NBase-T/10G switch to work with, it should be compact and functional.

Longer term, with the former VMware “$25 server” being converted to EdgeLinux (from the makers of the Antsle servers we wrote about here and here), I will probably have this box serve as my in-home vSphere / ESXi system.

There’s a very small chance that I’ll break down and get the new Gen10 machine, but with as many spare computers as I have in the home lab now, it’s not a high priority.

What have you done with your Microserver recently? Share in the comments, or join the conversation on Facebook or Twitter.

For more information on the Microserver Gen 8 (especially around expandability):

HomeServerShow.com has an exhaustive page on Gen8 upgrades and other features and functions.

ServeTheHome has their release-time update on the Gen8 system here: HP ProLiant Microserver Gen8 Updated Specs and Pricing

And if you want the latest and greatest, the Microserver Gen10 came out a year ago with AMD Opteron X3000 processors.

Test-driving third party optics from StarTech in the RSTS11 labs

Disclosures at the end, as usual.

This fall John Obeto asked if I’d be willing to try out some third party optical modules in some of the varied and random switches I have around the rsts11 home lab. Always willing to help a friend and try some new gadgets, I accepted the challenge. Today I’ll give you an idea of why you might consider third party optics for your switching, why you might not, and how the compatible modules from StarTech.com impressed me.

2018-12-01 14.02.27WHAT ARE OPTICAL MODULES?

First, a word on optical modules. For decades, switch manufacturers have made two kinds of ports on their switches, a fixed port and a modular port. Fixed ports were long popular on line cards, where you wanted to get 24-48 (or more) optical ports for fiber cabling into a small amount of space, and you knew your customer was not going to change their optical requirements on the fly.

Modular (or “pluggable”) ports, however, made it possible to sell switches at a lower initial cost and allow the uplinks to be populated later. It also enabled customers to use different connection lengths and media with the commensurate power considerations.

In Gigabit Ethernet (and 1/2/4 gigabit Fibre Channel), the standard has been the Small Formfactor Pluggable, or SFP, module. About the size of a AA battery or a small USB flash drive, it connects to a small blade port inside the switch, and “translates” the connection to short (SR), long, (LR), or extended/extreme (XR) range optics, or even to 1000Base-T copper.

For 10 Gigabit Ethernet (and 8/16 gigabit Fibre Channel), the standard is an extension of the same module called SFP+. Many installations within a rack or in adjacent racks will use copper SFP+ cabling (with no fiber involved), sometimes called Direct Attach Copper or DAC cabling. Continue reading

Experimenting with Intel Optane at home with the Intel NUC 7th Generation PC

Welcome back to rsts11 for the summer. We’ve got a lot to cover in the next few weeks.

I haven’t really done a build report in a while, so when I realized I was getting double-dinged for high power usage, I started looking around for ways to save power. One was my desktop PC, which while very nice (with 8 dimm slots and lots of features I don’t use), is using around 250-300W for a 3rd gen core i7 processor.

I decided, based on availability and curiosity, to build out a 7th gen Intel NUC (Next Unit of Computing) PC, which conveniently supports Intel Optane memory. You can read a lot about the Optane technology, but in this application it’s a turbo-charged cache for internal storage. The newer NUCs support it in place of a more conventional m.2/NVMe SSD (used alongside a 2.5″ SSD or HDD), and of course you can use it as an overpriced SSD if you don’t want to use the Optane software.

See my earlier post about an Intel NUC for use with VMware. That NUC is currently running Ubuntu and Splunk for training in the home lab.

I’ll take you through the build manifest and process, and then we’ll look at benchmarks for five configuration permutations.

Build manifest and current prices (July 6, 2018)

  • Intel NUC (NUC7i7BNH) tall mini PC, $450 at Amazon
  • (Optional: NUC kit with preinstalled 16GB Optane module, $489 at Amazon)
  • Intel Optane Memory flash module (16GB $34 – $39 at Amazon, 32GB $58 for Prime members or $72 otherwise at Amazon)
  • Crucial CT2K16G4SFD824A 32GB DDR4 memory kit is currently $310 (it was $172 when I bought it a year and a half ago, ouch).
  • HGST Travelstar 7K1000 1TB 7200rpm SATA drive is $57.
  • Seagate FireCuda 2TB SSHD is $92, with the 1TB version available for $60.
  • Keyboard, mouse, USB flash drive for Windows install, and living room television with HDMI were already in house, but if you’ve read this far, you probably have them and/or know how to choose them. After installation you can use a Logitech Unifying device or a Bluetooth device, but for installation I’d suggest a USB cabled device.
  • Windows 10 Professional can be had for $150 give or take. The actual software can be downloaded from Microsoft but you will need a license key if building a new system without entitlement.

You’re looking at about $1,000 for the full system at today’s prices. If you don’t need 32GB of RAM, stepping down to 16GB should save you at least $100. Continue reading