Processor evolution, will history repeat itself?

It is interesting to see what is going on in the industry with regard to the development of CPUs. In particular, the first dual core smartphones are being released right now and there are even quad core CPUs expected later this year. The latter is quite interesting because it appears it can already beat a 2GHz desktop processor of only a couple of years ago. In addition NVidia is predicting a 75 fold increase in smartphone compute power within only a couple of years.

The demoes are quite impressive. At least they show typical single-core applications such as web browsers utilizing all cores and actually accelerating the experience. Of course, not all processor cores run at their maximum frequency all the time, but that is not that important since what counts is the end user experience. Also, this raises other interesting issues. For instance, will these mobile phone processors surpass desktop processors in performance? And if so, will mobile OSes such as Android and iOS be competing directly with current desktop and laptop systems with windows and linux?

How about Intel, will they be able to catch up with their smartphone atom processor? I would expect so of course given the large number of smart people they employ and their research budget (nothing can compete with that). And, how about the technology of these smartphone processors entering in the regular desktop and server domain?

Wait! This happened before when Core 2 Duo replaced Pentium D using the architecture from Pentium M processors. So there, mobile technology (laptops) entered the desktop domain. Will the same happen again with smartphone processors? I sure hope so because that will lead to more low power (quiet) servers and will be good for the planet as such. So let’s hope that history will repeat itself.

“All of this has happened before, and it will all happen again.” — Peter Pan — Battlestar Galactica

Posted in Devops/Linux | 1 Comment

Bad quality scales superlinearly

Take any given production process and assume it is not producing good enough quality let’s call it ‘crap’ to make it a bit more expressive. Now, ask yourself what happens if you scale this process by adding more workers and machines/material. Well? Continue reading

Posted in Misc, Process/WoW | Leave a comment

Looking back on the Nokia N97

I went to the phone shop today to get ale newer SIM card because it could have been the cause for my reception problems in Switzerland some time ago (so customer service told me). So I told the guy in the shop about this and after taking a short look at my phone he said: “well, I think it might just as well been the phone itself”. I asked “really?” and he said “Well, name me one problem and the Nokia N97 has it, these phones are really problematic.”.

And come to think of it, I think he is right about this. Just listing the problems I had with the phone produces an impressive list:

  • Reception problems: Other phones (also other Nokias) have reception while the N97 has lost it.
  • Poor keyboard: Indeed the keyboard took a lot of getting used to.
  • Unusable GPS reception: GPS reception quality was bad enough to be unusable for car navigation (even after the hardware fix).
  • Scratching lens: The lens has tendency to scratch easily because of the lid.
  • Battery life and life span: The battery often dies during one day of use. Also, I am now at my third battery.
  • Slow operating system: The N97 just gets slower and slower over time (unacceptable as I know that OSes exist that in fact get faster the longer you have them turned on).
  • Outlook incompatibility: Some repeating appointments in outlook can simply not be entered in the calendar application.
  • Bad screen connector: After 1.5 years the connector got unreliable. I am now using scotch tape to make sure I cannot open the phone in an attempt to keep it working a bit. Now using google calender to enter most of my appointments.
  • Unusable as a phone: After ending a call, you always lose control over it because the screen goes black and the phone doesn’t respond to anything for at least 10 seconds.

So indeed a big list. Now what should I do with the my N97 once I get my new phone? Please leave a comment on this post. I will then film the winning suggestion with my new phone and post the result on youtube.

Posted in Fun, Misc | 1 Comment

KVM Setup Overview

The server has been running stable now for quite some time in the new setup with several virtual machines providing the actual functionality using Kernel Virtual Machine.

The setup is as follows. The host (falcon) is running a linux server and runs 3 virtual machines: shikra, sparrow, and windowsxp. These virtual machines are all running using KVM. The windowsxp VM is switched off most of the time and only runs when I need it. Its main purpose is that it contains some licensed software that cannot be transported to another windows installation because of licensing reasons.

The shikra image is basically the old server minus minus the continuous integration and maven functionality. Every linux virtual machine provides two network interfaces, one bridged interface for the outside world and one NAT interface for pure host-VM and VM-VM communication. The latter interface is mainly used for backups because in that case it is useful to minimize impacts on the external network interfaces. Sparrow is dedicated to automated builds and it provides the nexus repository for RPM generation. Having this functionality separate from the core server (shikra) is desirable so that automated builds cannot functionally impact shikra.

From the internet, all SSH traffic is forwarded to the host so I can always get into the server, even if a VM is having problems, and HTTP, HTTPS, IMAPS, and SMTP traffic is routed directly to shikra.

In the future I want to generalize this setup a bit more, by creating a separate VM for mythtv functionality. Also, I am considering to create a separate, very small, VM for just the reverse proxy.

As part of this setup I had to automate some tasks for starting up and shutting down VMs. This is provided by the kvmcustom package (see the yum repository) . Also see the post about automated management of this yum repo.

Posted in Devops/Linux | 1 Comment

Two worlds meet (1): Automated creation of Yum Repos with Maven, Nexus, and Hudson

This is the first of a series of blogs titled ‘Two worlds meet’ talking about how two technologies can be used together to solve a problem. Mostly one world will be linux or more specifically a virtualized linux setup using kernel virtual machine, with the other world being java.

In this blog I will be looking at automated creation of a yum repository using maven, nexus, and hudson. First however, some background is needed. Some time ago I bought a new server with more than sufficient resources to run multiple virtual machines. The aim there was to do some separation of concerns having virtual machines with different purposes and also be able to run conflicting software. Doing that introduces a whole new problem of maintaining the software on these virtual machines. Of course, I use a standard linux distribution such as opensuse but I still have some custom scripts that I need and want to have available on all VMs.

Using the standard linux tooling an abvious method is to just create my own Yum repository to publish my own RPMs in and then add that Yum repo as a channel in all of my VMs. Of course, the challenge is then to easily and automatically create such a YUM repository. Fortunately, since I am working quite a lot with Java and Maven (earning a living with it basically), there is a quite easy solution with a nice separation of concerns.

The ingredients of this solution are:

  • maven for building the rpm using the maven rpm plugin
  • the maven release plugin for tagging a released version of the RPM, stepping its version, and publishing it into a maven repository
  • a maven repository such as nexus for publishing RPMs into
  • hudson for detecting changes and automatically updating/building the Yum repository upon changes to the RPMs.

In addition, some basic infrastructure is needed such as:

  • a version control system such as subversion
  • apache for providing access to subversion and for serving the Yum repo to all VMs
  • an application server such as glassfish for running hudson and nexus

This may seem like a lot of infrastructure, but before I started I already had most of this except for the nexus maven repository, so all in all the effort for this solution was quite limited.

The main new ingredient of the solution is the script to create the Yum repository from the nexus repository. This script exploits the fact that nexus stores its repositories in a standard maven directory structure (an approach using REST web services is also possible):



# Create the repo directory
rm -rf $YUM
mkdir -p $YUM
mkdir -p $YUM/noarch

# Find the RPMs in the nexus repository and use hardlinks
@ to preserve modification times and avoid the overhead of
# copying
for rpm in $( find $REPO -name '*.rpm' )
  echo "RPM $rpm"
  ln $rpm $YUM/noarch

# createrepo is a standard command available on opensuse
# to create a Yum repository
createrepo $YUM

# sign it
gpg -a --detach-sign $YUM/repodata/repomd.xml
gpg -a --export F0ABC836 > $YUM/repodata/repomd.xml.key

# sync the results to their final destination to make them
# available
rsync --delete -avz $YUM/ /data/www/http.wamblee.org_yum/public

Using this approach it is really easy to update an RPM and make it available on all my VMs. The procedure is basically as follows:

  • edit the source of the RPMs and check in
  • Now tag it and step the versions using:
    mvn release:prepare
  • Deploy the just tagged version to the nexus repository:
    mvn release:perform
  • Some time later the Yum repository has been automatically updated by hudson based on the contents of the nexus repository
  • On a specific VM simply use a standard update using
    zypper up

    Note that this may require an explicit

    zypper refresh

    to make sure that zypper sees the latest versions of all RPMs. Autorefresh will also work but might require some more time before zypper sees the latest versions.

Therefore, in the end a really simply procedure to quickly make RPMs available on all VMs and also make sure each version is properly tagged in subversion. The only issue is that hudson will always run on every SCM change, so not only when an RPM is released but I consider that a minor issue.

The YUM repo is here.

An example pom is below:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<project xmlns="" xmlns:xsi="" xsi:schemaLocation=" ">
    <description>KVM guest support</description>
                    <copyright>Apache License 2.0, 2010</copyright>
                    <packager>Erik Brakkee</packager>

Posted in Devops/Linux, Java, Software | 15 Comments

Flexible JDBC Realm for Glassfish

Approximately three years a go I started the development of a simple JDBC based security realm for Glassfish. The reason was that I was migrating from JBoss to glassfish and was running into problems with one application. That application simpy stored authentication data (user, group, password digests) into a database. I had been relying on a simple configuration for this on JBoss but ran into limitations of JDBCRealm on Glassfish. Therefore, I made my own realm. It is now being used at several places already. With version 1.1 I consider this security realm feature complete. More info is at the web site.

Posted in Java, Software | 4 Comments

Move to Maven 3

Today I moved all my projects to maven 3.  The claim is that maven 3 is downwards compatible with maven 2, but have a look at the compatibility notes. The issues I ran into were:

  • Parent resolution: Parents are no longer resolved as part of the build cycle. Instead a parent POM must either be in the parent directory or <relativePath> must be specified for the parent POM. In one project I was referring to a parent two levels up. Simply corrected this by referring to the direct parent. The advantage of this new Maven rule is that it will allow module builds without having to always build the parent first.
  • Maven site support: This was more major. I had to follow instructions at the plugin site to get it working again. This change also breaks compatibility with maven 2 so projects that have a maven site will only build with maven 3 now.
  • Legacy-style repo support: I had one dependency for toplink-essentials that was resolved from a maven 1 project. This dependency was located in a specific test project. To solve this, I excluded this project from the build. Result of this is that I still have toplink-essentials support for my JPA testing framework, but the tests are no longer run automatically. Is there anyone still using toplink essentials? Anyway, I intend to run a local artifactory repo in the near future so then I can add this test project again because artifactory can provide a maven 2 interface for a legacy repo.

Another issue I had was that the maven site plugin with maven 3 requires a lot more memory on a multi-module project than with maven 2. I worked around this by invoking the separate maven site generations in the multi-module project individually. This not only reduced memory requirements but also speeded up the build considerably.

It is important for me to keep memory requirements low because I  have to take into account that I might someday need to run the server virtual domains on a system with much lower memory. That would be in the case of hardware problems.

There definitely needs to be a redesign of the maven site plugin to make it more usable for multi-module builds.

Posted in Java, Software | Leave a comment

New Server Setup is Complete!

Over the past weeks I have spent huge amounts of time in setting up the new server, making sure that I preserve the complete functionality that I had before. My aim was to take my old server (i.e. server installation) which is 32 bit and run that one as one of the guests on the new server (64 bit) with the guest upgraded to 64 bit as well.

Experimentation with KVM

This turned out to be no easy task. For one, I had to do a lot of experimentation with KVM do get to know it and do benchmarking to determine what the server setup should be like. This was done on the laptop. Then the parts for the server arrived and then I had to assemble it. This was in fact easier than I thought, but this also involved a lot of stability testing with in particular trying to determine whether or not I had a cooling problem (turned out everything was cool from the start).

PCI Passthrough of the TV card

Then the next phase of the server setup started and I tried to use PCI passthrough of my wintv PVR-500 card to a VM, which failed horribly because of shared IRQs. I even ordered and tried out other TV cards that were based on USB. The first card I ordered did not work because it turned out it had hardware that was not supported (this was unexpected since the card was listed as supported but the manufacturer changed the hardware specs without changing the product number).  Then I got one that actually worked, including USB passthrough to the guest. However, that resulted in jerky video and audio because, as it turns out, KVM only supports USB 1.1 which is too slow for this. Looking around a little it  turns out that in virtualization USB 2.0 is still hot and usually found only in commercial offerings. I even tried Xen again but quickly gave up on that because of its huge complexity.

Stability Problems

To make progress I decided I might just as well run the old server non-virtualized and use KVM to add other guests on top of that. So I setup the server in this way and installed it in the server rack. Then, the next problems occurred. The server didn’t even survive one night of running a backup and was dead in the morning. The next attempt at a backup also failed. Then I looked into the BIOS event log and I saw loads of messages occurring (at least 20 per hour). This was no good, but with help of customer support from supermicro a new firmware install for the IPMI and BIOS removed most of the events.

Still I got a lot of events, mostly about fans, which was no good. Then I remembered that I had used linux fancontrol to control fan speed. But as it turned out this resulted in conflicts with the IPMI which was also monitoring fan speed. Disabling the fan control again provided a great improvement but still events occured a couple of times per day. A closer look revealed that this occurred at exactly 10 minute boundaries which as exactly the interval with which I was monitoring the system using linux sensors with the w83795 driver. As it turns out, it is impossible to read sensor settings concurrently and this resulted in strange fan readings at some points in time. Disabling the sensors style monitoring fixed that problem as well. So after all of this I had a stable server.

PCI Passthrough Solved

Then, still not satisfied with the crummy server setup with the old server running as host and not as a guest, I was discussing my issue with people on the KVM mailing list. Luckily that provided some suggestions on how to solve it. It turnes out that shared IRQs between the ivtv driver and USB and serial ATA were the cause of the problem. However, it is possible to unbind USB PCI devices in linux and using this I could remove shared IRQ conflicts between ivts and USB. This resulted in a succesful PCI passthrough of on of the tuners on the PVR-500 card but not the other one because of a shared IRQ with ATA.

Again a number of days later I got the idea to look at SATA configuration in the BIOS and it turns out I could configure AHCI or Intel RAID instead of the default SATA and that effectively removed the conflicts with ATA resulting in a succesful PCI passthrough of both tuners on the TV card. So, after all of this I could run the old 32 bit server purely virtualized.

Other Challenges

However running a virtualized server provides some challenges such as automated start, stop, network configuratino, firewalling, and backup. Backup in particular was a challenge because it is impossible to add a new disk to a running server and I wanted to reuse my existing backup solution. To do this, USB was not a solution because of the limitations with 1.1. Luckily howeve iSCSI works quite well and provided exactly what I needed. The only thing was that the linux community apparently changed their minds on the iscsi target implementation so I had to get to no tgtd instead of iscsi-target. Even though that one was designed to be easier to configure the command-line was still challenging enough so I wrote some scripts to make it even easier for myself.

The End

So now I have everything running the way I wanted to from the start. Feels good!

Posted in Devops/Linux, Software | Leave a comment

Sticky 911! Making it easy to quickly and reliably boot your linux OS from USB or CD/DVD

I have been isolinux in the past to boot my server. In fact, it used to be the only way to boot it because somehow my BIOS did not recognize the RAID card. That problem was solved later by a newer BIOS, but still there was a need to be able to boot the system when the boot sector was lost or to repair or restore things.

To solve this I had a boot cd under version control but still maintenance of the boot cd was a nightmare. One problem was the short names required by isolinux which resulted in initrd names such as ‘rd111p’ and linux kernel names such as ‘l111p’. Not really convenient if you just wnat ot be sure the the version you have on your isolinux CD/DVD is the same as the one you have installed. A typical vmlinuz name is much more descriptive such as vmlinuz-

In addition, it was quite a hassle to always burn a new CD/DVD every time there was a kernel update. So I decided to kill two birds with one stone and automate the whole process and in addition provide support for booting from USB (the new server supports it).

This resulted in a new ‘project’ which I call sticky911. The idea is simple, provide an XML based configuration of your system, eliminate duplication as much as possible and check the hell out of it, so that in the end you have a ‘first time right’ bootable USB stick or CD/DVD based on isolinux.

Posted in Devops/Linux, Software | 2 Comments

Java? Java bien, merci!

This is how anyone’s first French lesson should start!

Posted in Java, Software | Leave a comment