Archive for October, 2006

Sun’s Next RIF

October 27, 2006

Today at Sun we are experiencing the joy of a spam email having slipped through our defenses and made it onto a large, internal email alias. It doesn’t happen very often, but when it does I’m starting to feel we really miss an opportunity to reduce our staffing in a functional area I like to call “Clueless Idiots.” Those, of course, being the employees who are stupid enough to Reply-All with demands to be removed from the alias, sending yet more unwanted email to thousands of their colleagues.

At least we have not yet seen a barrage of email to the alias telling people to stop sending email to the alias. That’s a sure route to a veritable email blizzard.

I suppose I should add the following. I have no knowledge of any future reductions in force at Sun and hope, in fact, that based on our recent results over the last several quarters, we will not need to take any such actions in the future. But if we do, I have some nominees! 🙂

Get a clue, folks. Hit the Delete key and keep movin’.


Mac Book Pro, Part the Fifth

October 26, 2006

For those following the continuing saga of my 1.83GHz Mac Book Pro, I report that it is boxed up (again) in preparation for being sent back to Apple tomorrow for repair, because two days ago it started making a very noticeable, regular, fast, ticking noise in the area of the Delete key. Web searches indicated there is probably something wrong with one of the fans, and the Apple Care person agreed.

While Apple has the unit, I am hoping they will also look at three dark spots on the display that I’ve been living with since I got the laptop. I finally realized these are too big to be dead pixels–they look more like dirt behind the glass. Due to a mis-communication with the Apple Care person, the display didn’t get listed as a return reason, so I’ve included a note with the laptop, hoping the techs will look at this problem, too. If not, I may actually send it back again.

I reported last time that my battery was one that was recalled prior to the big Sony battery fiasco. While I must say this new battery doesn’t seem to last nearly as long as the original, on balance I’m happier if there is less chance that my laptop will spontaneously combust.

AT&T Online Vault: A Smart Move

October 26, 2006

Last month, AT&T launched an automated, network backup service for consumers called AT&T Online Vault. It transparently encrypts and backs up files from a user’s home PC and incrementally transfers them to AT&T’s secure, professionally run datacenter.

I’ve been thinking lately about the consumer desktop experience and how bad it is. And how much worse it will get as consumers continue to generate larger and larger piles of data that they actually care about with no good way to protect that data from loss. We’re talking about digital photos and, increasingly, digital video–stuff people really care about, stuff they want to keep safe for a long time, and stuff they want to migrate forward as they upgrade to new machines.

Most consumers lack the skill and patience needed to back up their machines. And this is even more true now that local disk drive sizes far outstrip the size of DVDs and CDs, making the entire process all that more ungainly. If you are thinking, “shame on them for not backing up their data if they really care about it”, then shame on you for your techo-arrogance. It’s precisely that attitude that has lead to the crap exerience our industry offers the home computer user. But I digress.

Online Vault looks like an excellent and much needed step towards improving the home computer experience. The service costs $2 per gigabyte per month with a $17.95 per month maximum. Available for Windows 2000 and XP. No Mac version currently, but Mac users have .Mac, arguably the best overall service for safely storing desktop state in the network where it belongs.

Scott Adams Has a Good Day

October 26, 2006

Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, has a condition called Spasmodic Dysphonia. For the past 18 months he’s been unable to speak, except in certain contexts. There is no known cure for this problem.

A recent post on his blog includes both a fascinating description of this condition as well as an encouraging account of something he discovered recently. Scott had a Good News Day.

Mole Madness

October 24, 2006

Yesterday was National Mole Day and I missed it! It is, of course, observed from 6:02am to 6:02pm on October 23rd (10/23). I should have celebrated with some guaca-mole. Made with some nice ripe…avogadros?

Echo Bridge and Hemlock Gorge

October 24, 2006

Hemlock Gorge is a small preserve nestled into the intersection of Route 128 and Route 9 in Newton, Massachusetts. It’s a surprisingly tranquil refuge given its location and size. And, for me, it is very convenient since I pass it on my commute to Sun each day.

In addition to the gorge itself, there are three manmade structures of interest in this small area. The old silk factory, a wonderful semi-circular waterfall, and Echo Bridge. I’ve included photos of the latter two below.

Echo Bridge is part of the Sudbury Aqueduct, which was built in the 19th century to bring water from west of Boston to the Chestnut Hill resevoir. It is currently not in active use, but is kept in reserve as an emergency water supply. I’ve read that echoes from the platform at the base of the bridge are marvelous. If so, I may post a recording at some point.

[hemlock gorge waterfall]

Waterfall at Hemlock Gorge

[echo bridge]

Echo Bridge

Suezmax Datacenters

October 17, 2006

Today’s Project Blackbox announcement got me thinking about big mobile datacenters. I’m thinking really big–like Suezmax big. What would be the total computational power of a container ship fully loaded with Project Blackbox units? I assume the ship would need a sizeable power plant for datacenter operations and propulsion. And that sea water could be used for heat exchange.

Estimates are that there are ships currently under development in the 15000 TEU (Twenty-foot Equivalent Units) range. Project Blackbox uses 1 TEU containers, so our Suezmax datacenter could include 15000 Project Blackbox units.

One could fit each container with a variety of payloads, but for the sake of our thought experiment, let’s assume we use x64 servers and that 250 four-core servers will fit in a 1 TEU container. Further, assume conservatively that these are 2.5GHz Opteron processors. Doing the math to find the floating-point capability of our Suezmax datacenter, measured in FLOP/s (floating-point operations per second): Each core is capable of 5.0 GigaFLOP/s. Each container is therefore capable of 1000 x 5.0 GFLOP/s–let’s call that 5.0 TeraFLOP/s. So our datacenter would have a peak performance rating of 15000 x 5 TFLOPs, or about 75 PetaFLOP/s. That’s well over 100 times the performance of the world’s current largest supercomputer. Not too shabby.

If instead we loaded each container with 250 Sun Fire CoolThreads T1000 servers, we’d have 8000 threads per container, for a total of 8000 x 15000 = 120 million simultaneous threads available in our Suezmax datacenter. Now that would be a web presence!

Of course this is not how one would build a datacenter of this size. But at smaller scales the virtues of mobile deployment, modularity, and customizability start to look more interesting for temporary datacenter expansions, for dropping IT infrastructure into zones of need, and for getting computation closer to data…

[project blackbox] Project Blackbox in the Sun parking lot in Menlo Park, CA.

US Population: Rolling Over Eight Nines

October 16, 2006

Remember watching the odometer on your parents’ car roll over to the next thousand or ten thousand? There was something fascinating about seeing all those nines disappear to be replaced by a string of zeroes.

According to US Census Bureau estimates, the resident population in the US will pass the 300 million mark tomorrow. You can watch those eight nines turn into a splendid row of zeroes on the Census Bureau’s POPClock, here.

MacOS Spontaneous Disk Activity

October 12, 2006

Today I noticed my Mac Book Pro (running 10.4.8) was doing a lot of disk activity with the system sitting idle. I could hear the disk accesses and the system was running noticeably slower when I tried using it.

I ran the Activity Monitor (in Utilities) and could see that two processes, mds and mdimport, where doing a lot of processing and their activity also seemed synchronized with the disk activity. With a little web searching, I found these processes do indexing for Spotlight, Apple’s spiffy new search tool in MacOS.

I also found this site that suggests the continuous disk activity could be related to a corrupt Spotlight index. The page also describes how to turn off indexing, delete the spotlight index, and restart indexing. After following these directions and waiting for the index to be rebuilt (mouse over the spotlight icon at the top right of your screen to see whether the indexer is running), my Mac is back to being its happy and reasonably quiet self (as quiet as a Mac Book Pro can be–you may have heard the stories.)

ClusterTools 7 Early Access Now Available

October 11, 2006

Early Access for Cluster Tools 7 has started and the bits are here. This is the first version of CT to include an MPI library based on Open MPI. As mentioned previously, we are in the midst of a transition from our old, proprietary implementation of MPI to an open source based model in which we contribute our resources and expertise to the Open MPI effort to leverage innovation and expertise outside of Sun. During this transition, we are willing to take some steps backwards in functionality in order to get to a better and stronger MPI position in the longer term. One such example is Open MPI’s lack of robust thread safety, a feature which our proprietary library implemented very effectively. We’ll get there, but it isn’t the highest priority feature.

The big news is that this first EA drop includes an initial implementation of uDAPL support to enable MPI to be used with Infiniband on Solaris. This first version uses send/recv semantics, with a plan to continue improving uDAPL support over the course of the Early Access program.

Remember that Early Access is more like an alpha release than a beta release: our intent is to share the early bits with you as soon as possible to allow for early experimentation and testing. If you are a Sun field person involved with HPC or a Sun customer interested in MPI, it would be great if you would put this EA release through its paces so we can identify problems you care about as early as possible.

Congratulations to the Sun ClusterTools engineering team and to the Open MPI community for getting to this milestone. Much work has gone into improving the quality and robustness of the code base, on integrating Open MPI with Sun Grid Engine, and on adding support for Infiniband on Solaris. There is a lot more work to do, but this is a great start.