Monthly Archives: November 2015

mkNowadays there is a large number of alternatives when it comes to mini-PCs, many of which are barebones that you have to assemble yourself. Of course, these fetch a lower price and are often preferred by some people. Other mini-PCs come ready-to-use with all the parts and even the operating system pre-installed. Of course, their price is higher, though not by much, something that deters some people. So, what alternative should you go for?

If you are a hard-core IT enthusiast (the type of person who would prefer Linux or some other more esoteric OS, while also do computer-related DIY projects for fun), then a barebone may be the alternative for you. Although turning a barebone into a fully functional mini-PC is no easy task, it is still manageable and may be even fun for those super geeks out there. Plus you get to choose what components to put in your machine, something that some people like to have control over.

Nevertheless, if you are not a super power-user and care more about having a fully-functional and accountable PC, then it would probably be better to invest in a ready-to-use mini-computer. Apart from the obvious plus that you can start using it right after the unboxing stage, there are a few other advantages to it as well:

  • Reliability. Of course a mini-computer assembled by professionals is bound to be more accountable than one you have built yourself. And although replacing a failed part may not be that difficult, what about the data in your machine? Without a doubt, it would be safer in a machine that's been properly experimented.
  • Warranty. If you buy a fully-functional mini-computer from a reputable brand, you will receive some sort of warranty providing you with the priceless peace of mind.
  • No compatibility issues in the hardware. Unless you are super knowledgeable about PCs, assembling a machine from a barebone is a huge liability, since some of the components may not be compatible with the motherboard, or may not perform as expected.
  • Saving time with operating system and application. Though not all fully-functional mini-PCs come with a bundle of useful application, most mini-computers come with the operating system pre-installed, saving you a lot of time.

Summing up, building a mini-computer from a barebone may appeal to some people, but oftentimes it is not worth the effort. The few dollars you may save through this route are not enough to justify the extra work such an endeavor will take, plus there is no price tag for the peace of mind that you have when opting for an out-of-the-shelf solution. So unless you are a Steve Wozniak kind of individual, it would probably be better to stick with the fully-functional mini-computers that you can find online.

w4Data Center Relocation & Moving its Associated Hardware often leads a client to a specialty data center and server moving firm, for assistance managing and executing their relocation project.

"We are looking for data center movers and/or computer equipment movers". Seems easy enough, just need to move some servers from A to B. Moving a data center seems like it's just a matter of picking things up and putting them down. This isn't the case at all and there are many considerations often left out of the thought process leading up to physical move.

The hope is that this short guide version will help to create a required level of awareness when you are physically moving your data center.

Not every company has the resources required to relocate a data center, or to physically move servers from place to place. The resources that are in place are often times working on the software, storage, DR, migration planning, checking over planning, and trying to work out the fail over bugs.

Often times the IT side of the house is presented with the task of moving the company's data center, along with keeping the current IT infrastructure in place, all while they are running day to day operations. Typically we see a couple difference scenarios when hearing from a client. Once is that the planning and testing has been happening for a period of time and they now need to figure out how to physically relocate the data center and server equipment out of the current production environment. The other times we hear from our clients are when it's dropped on their desk and the move has to be executed with no time to spare (or yesterday).

We do notice that the physical portion of relocating a data center often does get looked over, or there is a lack of focus on this area. Oversight is understandable because the focus of resources is often times on other areas planning to get all of the computer equipment moved. When it comes time to physically move network, servers, SANS, racks and such, the IT department often stops in their tracks and pauses for a moment (just staring at the equipment).

There are several logistical items to plan into your data center relocation. When you move servers don't forget the physical logistics! It isn't often that the average IT personal relocates or moves a data center.

Here is a common list of questions we think about when we are reviewing and planning for a data center move. These questions are for the physical move of the data center.

Cable management and server equipment labeling, along with hardware labeling.

  1. Are all of the network, power, fiber cables pre-labeled accurately?
  2. Are the servers, network, SANS, and computer equipment labeled?
  3. Are the destination rack elevations prepared and ready to execute?
  4. Is there a plan to label rail sets?

Labeling is one of the most important measures to keep time loss at a minimum. Label everything, and when labeling, be sure that the label is in a secure area that is easily identified when moving (and so it doesn't fall off when being packaged). Often times with rails for example, the client will opt to not have us handle this aspect. We show up and there are 150 different rail sets or various makes and models thrown into a box. This will add considerable time and frustration to your staff at the destination.

Cage screws & nuts are also another item to consider. Sometimes the staff that originally racked the server equipment may have over tightened or stripped the hardware used to secured rails, network items, and shelves. This is often an unfortunate oversight, and can quickly lead to frustration. Plan on having the appropriate tools to swiftly remove stripped or over tightened cage screws. It would also serve as a benefit to have extra cage screws and nuts handy. Do remember server cage nuts, screws, and securing hardware come in various sizes.

The quantity of server equipment being moved can determine the best course of execution when un-mounting. With a couple of racks of server equipment you may worry less about the order in which the equipment is un-mounted. If you have a multiple of data center racks and equipment, you may want to consider removing everything in an organized manner making it easier to re-mount at the destination. Tip: Always check the warranty requirements prior to removing any warrantied equipment from server racks. It may be a requirement that the equipment under warranty be removed by the warranty holder (you do NOT want to void the warranty).

Think WET NEWSPAPER! Depending on your data center or server rooms status, some of the equipment may have been spinning for quite some time, and may never have been spun down. The goal is to have a current DR plan verified and in place. When packaging data center equipment, the way in which you package and materials used to package should protect your equipment against static, shock and humidity. Effectively preserving the data center environment while transporting your data center.

Who will have the liability for moving the servers and computer equipment (the considerations)

  • This includes the physical handling of equipment
  • Transportation liability (think about if the staff were to use their own vehicle or rent a truck, if an accident was involved where injuries were reported while possessing company property and on company business)
  • Do you have multiple insurances that will cover the data center relocation from all liabilities? These insurances include but are not limited to workers comp., general liability, transportation, and cargo.

The Physical Handling

You need think about injury from the physical and lifting, and damage to equipment or data from dropping or accidents. If the company staff member is going to use their own car, a company vehicle or rent a truck, the thought process needs to consider if there were an accident. We would never want this to happen but if the staff member was transporting company property, and an accident occurred (depending on how severe), where would the liability fall? TIP: Be mindful that most buildings in which are involved in your data center relocation require a certificate of insurance showing the current insurance policy coverages.

Origin and destination building travel routes, and physical logistics also need to be looked at. Some considerations:

  1. Are there any stairs or steps involved in any of the travel routes
  2. Are there any stairs or steps involved in any of the travel routes?
  3. Are there any ramps involved in any of the travel routes?
  4. Are there any doors or thresholds that will impede travel?
  5. Are the any signs, door hardware, door handles that will impede travel
  6. Are there any height impediments that would cause you not to be able to "fit" equipment through a certain area height wise?
  7. Is there a staging area to park the transportation vehicle (off road parking or on road)
  8. Does the origin and destination have truck height loading docks?
  9. Are there truck height restrictions at the origin or destination?
  10. Are there certain delivery times required in order to deliver in the equipment?

Don't put all of your eggs in one basket! Consider your total inventory and split your load if you can. Our belief is that if you have a 53' trailer of packaged equipment, the load should be split into to 26' trucks. If there were to be a catastrophic event, this would help to minimize loss. Also depending on logistics, often time's 26' trucks are a bit easier to navigate in tight quarters and lift gates help as well.

Travel distance, time of year, traffic, road construction, and weather should also be considered when transporting/relocating a data center.

Security is a very important consideration when moving your data center (if not the MOST important). You must maintain a controlled chain of custody, and security protocol. The equipment is going to be leaving a secured environment, so the considerations on safe the keeping of data, assets, your company, its stock holders, and yourself need to be factored into the overall scheme of things. We factor in security from pre-planning, to the moment we step foot at the origin, and our safety protocols secure your assets and data all the way to completion of the relocation. TIP: If you subcontract out the transportation to a vendor, it is very likely that your equipment will be offloaded and on loaded from truck to truck (driver to driver). The personnel transferring your equipment will not have an understanding of what they are moving. The focus is typically to get it off and onto other trucks as soon as possible, and there is little to no chain of custody or care in process.

The hope of this shortened version and informal guide is that it has created a level of awareness and the additional requirements when physically moving your data center or server room.

kWhen it comes to must haves for me concerning mechanical keyboards I always recommend the MKC Zinc Gold Tone Keyset. While the set can be a bit pricy at $50 for the set of just 37 keys to me it was well worth the investment. The first benefit you get from the keys is simply the look of them. Because they arrive individually wrapped they have no scratches or blemishes on the keys. Then when you contrast the keys to the plastic ones on your keyboard these shine and reflect all the light making them look very beautiful. Then the feel of the keys is much more superior to any plastic counterpart. Although they can be a bit cold at first touch it's never an uncomfortable temperature. The smoothness of the keys also feels much nicer than plastic keys that usually are slightly textured. Even with the lack of texture your fingers don't slide all over the keys and it's still easy to use. These keys also provide a physical benefit along with an aesthetic one. Because the weight of the keys is a bit heavier than plastic keys it makes the spring in the switch easier to compress which makes it easier to type. While the effect is very minimal, it is still noticeable. It is also useful to note that I have had these keys for over a year and have never noticed any corrosion in the metal. Before buying I had read that heavy use caused some of the coating to wear off and hurt the look of the keys but this turned out to only be the case for older versions and has been much improved in newer sets which I can attest to. While metal keycaps can be a bit hard to find they tend to have a reliable supply of them available here.

Multiple times I have made mention of the customization that mechanical keyboards offer but have never gotten too specific with what you can actually do. While a very popular option is to buy complete key sets which give the whole board a matching design or theme a growing area of customization is in artisan keycaps. There are many artists that are very active in creating custom keycaps that are often one or two keys instead of whole sets. Because these keys are hand crafted and often made in small batches the value of them can be very high. Some of these single keycaps have sold for over $200 on eBay. While they aren't all such a high price the average starting price for a single key is still $25. Although the price of a single artisan key can be very close to the cost of a whole set the popularity of these keys is growing. The designs are getting more and more intricate as the artists gain more experience. In the beginning of artisan keys they were almost all just single color sculpted keys. Now many artisan keys are multiple colors in the same key and now it is common for the keys to be multiple parts and can even have moving parts. An interesting artist that is rapidly gaining popularity works under the name of "Jelly Keys" and creates unique and interesting keys by imbedding gems or plants into the resin when casting the key. Although artisan keys can be a bit expensive the offer an interesting way to spice up your keyboard with only having to change one keycap.

I've talked before on custom boards and boards that are smaller than you may ever expect to be possible. One of the most popular custom "miniature" mechanical keyboards is the Planck. Its size is what you would call a 40% keyboard. What this means is that it has no number pad, arrow keys, function keys, or even the top row of number keys. While this may sound like a keyboard lacking usability since it is "missing" keys it is actually very easy to use. It has 3 separate layers of keys that can be accessed by either holding down no special key, the upper key, or the lower key. This allows for each key to have 3 different options assigned to it. An example would be holding down the upper key then pressing "q" to get the number "1." While it can take some getting used to once you get the hang of it you can type just as fast as a regular keyboard while taking up 60% less space on your desk. Another advantage of this keyboard is that it is ortholinear which means that instead of the keys being offset from each other from one row to the next they all are in a straight line. While this aspect does also take a bit getting used to it can actually improve typing speed once you become accustomed to it. Because of its small size it is actually a reasonably priced custom board starting around $120. While most of the time it is sold as a "kit" where you are expected to assemble it yourself it can also be purchased pre-assembled.

21I've been very interested in the development of better virtual reality headsets in 2016, with the two main contestants in this tech race being Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, and until recently the race has felt dominated by the Oculus Rift. Then the Rift launched at a higher cost than expected, about the same time that HTC decided to show off their newest prototype, which was a tremendous improvement on their previous model.

So who's winning the race now? Let's start by refreshing our memory banks about both teams planned virtual reality head sets.

The consumer version of the Oculus Rift will be running a resolution of 2160 x 1200, split between 2 displays, running at 90 Hertz. Which are oriented in portrait, not landscape. These screens and their new lenses can move independently of the headset, which will allow them to accommodate better ranges.

The fit and finish of the new Oculus Rift has been greatly improved, it's lighter and feels like quality when held, which is uncommon in a light device. More fabric was added to the design and it will be washable, the foam section that touches your face can be removed from the headset and replaced if needed.

The side straps now have springs inside, which makes them more snug. And it also has a pair of on ear headphones, which have caused some controversy. With audio aficionados complaining about paying for basic headphones, when they already have quality ones. The benefits these headphones do have is they won't fall off the headset, when whipping your head around in a game.

The movement sensors have also been improved, which is obvious when trying out the head set because your boundaries are wider, and aren't breached as much. The LED layout on the headset should make it so you can be facing any direction and still be tracked by the sensor. But an improvement to the overall accuracy of the sensor design will come later, when the Oculus touch is added.

The Oculus Rift's two independent controllers (one per hand) are designed to make you feel like your VR hands are real. They even have a grip button, so when you're holding something you'll naturally be holding the controller more tightly. The thumb stick and the triggers both have special tops, and you can feel if you've lifted off of them.

Next let's talk about the HTC Vive, HTC has been more secretive in regards to their headsets, but we do know a few details. Looking at the inside of the headset will seem very similar to the Rift. 2160 by 1200 split across two screens, with the 90 Hz refresh rate.

One of the biggest improvements that HTC showed recently was improvements to the "dirty window" feel that their previous model had. It wasn't great with prototypes, but it's almost entirely gone now and looks great. The fit and finish has improved also, and it feels lighter due to improved weight distribution.

They also mounted a camera on the front, which actually has some good improvements. And their guiding system is now able to make a blue outlined grid model of any objects that are in your room, so you don't have to worry about stumbling over something.

One of the most notable improvements with this is the cat detection system, which allows you to not worry about stepping on your cat, or anything else while in VR. Unintentional bungling has been an issue, and adding the front camera is fixing this.

Prototypes also had issues with the blocking of their lighthouse sensors, either with your own body, or something else in the room, or one of the controllers could be overlapping the other which messed things up and caused controllers to error. Thankfully HTC has made their sensors better, changed the layout on the headset and done a technical upgrade to the controller, regarding how you hold it and the layout and design of its sensors.

The controller now sits in a more comfortable position in the hand, which gives developers a clearer idea of the exact orientation of your hand. And these wand like controllers also feature a ring at the end for tracking, this in combination with the improved lighthouse sensors makes a very noticeable improvement to the Vive's controller tracking.

Now how do the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive compare? This is not an easy question to answer, they're both very similar yet simultaneously fundamentally different. Their screens sound very similar on paper, but are implemented differently. Their controllers are also different, which could affect gamer's choice.

Their sensing and motion technology are very different also. While you can stand and walk around with the rift, and you can sit in one place with the HTC Vive, they're both targeting different experiences. HTC Vive demonstration games are more about free movement, while the Oculus demo is more confined (for now). And the Vive has a clear advantage by having a larger walking area.

Speaking of walking area, both have problems with constantly connected cables, but it is much more of an issue with the Vive. Being mobile and having a cable near neck height isn't great.

In Rift demos the cable is never really an issue, but in Vive demos it's common for a person to be walking around re-positioning the cable which is obviously impractical. People are working on fixing this with a backpack solution, but this still requires you to have a very powerful laptop or a very light computer which can run games at 90 FPS minimum. Which will cost extra.

So to summarize, there are still many challenges to overcome, the trick of perfecting reproduced movements and reverse motion of your own body when looking at ourselves in a virtual mirror will continue to be an issue for a while. But I'm still very excited, and hopeful about the future of virtual reality headsets, mainly because their benefits won't just be confined to gaming.