Tuesday, February 9, 2010

My Home Network

I often get asked by other people: "How many computers do you have at home?". Because I'm an IT professional, the question is sometimes asked along with a rhetorical answer of: "Probably 10", and other times it is asked with genuine interest. I typically begin by laying out the purposes of my technology use at home to help people understand my setup.

I've maintained a home network since my early days of college. 386 and 486 linux based computers running file shares for roommates as well as dial on demand modem and subsequent dsl Internet connections. There has always been a dual purpose of legitimate utility as well as the learning / hobby aspect. This really hasn't changed much today - just the requirements.

Technology changes, life changes, requirements change. Today I have a family, limited spare time, a home, and demanding professional career. And so my requirements have naturally evolved. Low maintenance is a must due to time constraints. Space needs are high due to volumes of pictures and video of family, images of virtual machines for testing Mobility and connectivity around the home for the work and recreational needs of my family. Backup of all those precious digital memories and information. Of course efficient use of electricity and space.

Low maintenance to me at home comes from a few things. Largely this involves controlling the sprawl devices that I need to do upkeep on - consolidation. At one point I had several older computers doing various tasks, each consuming power and requiring periodic attention - those are gone, replaced by one central modern workstation. I've also recently replaced a "sensitive" MythTV based computer with a DVR from the cable company - a huge win on all fronts. Sensibly configured DHCP, DNS and file shares make connecting and sharing easy and reliable.

So what makes up my home network? At the computing center is a home built workstation. An overclocked Intel Quad core based system currently running 4GB of RAM, Windows 7, VMware Workstation with two 1TB Seagate 7200 RPM Sata drives in a RAID 1 configuration. The ASUS motherboard was not well supported by a Linux distribution that would reliably run VMWare Server 2.0, so the Windows 7 x64 route was taken. The Windows 7 x64 install is minimal and is really only there to run VMware Workstation. Inside VMWare Workstation I run at times a multitude of virtual machines. One always on instance is a CentOS guest that is my file server. For "portability" sake this is great as I can move it across hardware without issue and my file shares and Amazon Jungle Disk backup setup never changes. I maintain a Microsoft Technet subscription so I often boot up several other instances for testing various configurations. I also build up test VMware vSphere environments. In the near future I'll be adding 8GB of RAM to this system since 4GB really limits my testing capabilities. A few years ago, I 'finished' the basement of my home. During the project I installed several network drops that run back to a 10/100 switch that lives in an old rack in my storage room. Also in that rack is my cable modem and Linksys wireless G router. There are two systems in retirement there as well - a SGI Indigo2 (R6000) and a SGI Indy system. I spent a good number of years in an SGI equipment based engineering department and love the hardware. At the time it was light years ahead of anything available. I have a very inexpensive Samsung color laser printer attached to a wireless print server for printing from anywhere in the house. My wife and I have two fairly old Dell laptops that are almost nothing more than thin clients and serve their purposes well since all heaving lifting is done on the workstation via RDP, ssh, etc.

So it comes down to: Only 1 primary system(on a UPS) that is always on to do the heavy lifting and run virtualization to contain / isolate the "complicated" parts, along with a few peripheral devices for mobile access and output. This configuration suits my family's and my needs both for personal and work use - how about yours?


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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Disk Space Cleanup in Windows Server 2008

I've recently began setting up and working with Windows Server 2008 based (not R2) systems. After the initial install and full round of patches I was a bit surprised at the amount of consumed disk space. It turns out the c:\Windows\winsxs folder was over 10GB in (apparent) size! Gone are the days of being able to go into c:\Windows folder and deleting the $Uninstall folders to get that space back - assuming you didn't want to uninstall any of those patches. I'd like to point out that this folder should not be tinkered with haphazardly. Many of the items in it are hard links out to many critical OS files and rampantly deleting them will make you sad.

I ran across this article explaining the winsxs folder's purpose and subequently its size. It boils down to all the different installed / installable components(aka the good old i386 folder) of the OS are kept there along with patch backups. The arguments are for reliability and availability for things like removing patches, or adding features and roles without need the OS media.

A bit of searching turned up the built in Windows Component Cleanup (compcln.exe) tool which will do some patch cleanup for you. I got back around 1.7GB which was nice but still not enough for my liking. The next bit I turned up was this article by John Daskalakis explaining howto manually delete some of the larger sub-folders. Following that article I was able to reclaim another ~800MB.

Another folder that deserves attention, and is consistent with Window XP and Server 2003, is the C:\Windows\SoftwareDistribution\Download folder. If you have applied all available updates, this can be safely deleted by:
1) Stopping the Windows Update Service
2) Deleting the folder
3) Starting the Windows Update Service.
I reclaimed about 1.2GB from this.

All said and done almost 4GB of space reclaimed and no issues with the system. I still wasn't very comfortable with the overall amount of free space on the system drive so I had so I added 10GB and extended the volume to a total of 40GB (gotta love virtualization).

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