A Look Inside Webster’s Lab – September 2017
September 26, 2017
This is the 7th major update to Webster’s Lab since I started this website in November 2008. This write-up will attempt to include more detail that you have asked for.
I got my start in Information Technology (IT) in September 1977 working as an IBM Mainframe computer operator. I knew no one who had one of those toy “personal computers” (PC). I worked with the real thing and was taught to scoff at the little toys. After all, who needed their own computer when they had us mainframers to tell them what to do when they could do it, and how often they could do it. All for a very nice fee.
That all changed when I received an insurance settlement in 1985 and bought my first personal computer. For only $3,500.00 in August 1985 ($8,000 in 2017 dollars), I got:
- IBM AT computer running an Intel 80286 processor at 6MHz
- 128K RAM
- 1.2MB Floppy
- IBM PC DOS 3.1
There were no serial or parallel ports. There was no video card or monitor. There was no hard drive. There was no additional software or accessories.
I found a steal on a 30MB hard drive for only $800. So I bought two! I also upgraded the RAM on the motherboard to 512K and added an expansion card with another 512K for a total of 1MB of RAM, a serial port, and a parallel port. For video, I added a Hercules graphics card and a Princeton amber monitor specific for the graphics card. For software, I bought the original Norton Utilities 1.0 on a red 360K flippy disk (you had to remove and flip the floppy over to read the second side) and the typewritten instructions (done by Peter Norton’s wife on a manual typewriter). I then bought dBase II, Microsoft Assembler/Basic/C/COBOL/Fortran compilers, Turbo Pascal, Lotus 123 (do you know what the 1 and 2 and 3 meant?), an Okidata dot matrix printer that printed an amazing 80cps, WordPerfect, an 80187 math coprocessor, and maybe a few other minor items. When all was said and done, I had spent $9,000 ($21,000 in 2017 dollars). That is when I left trying to become a full-time professional tuba player and switched to really trying these “toy” computers for real.
A year later we moved to Texas and I got out of mainframes and moved to do this PC stuff full-time. Another year later, I was offered a job in Arkansas and off we went so I could do programming full-time. I used UPS to ship that IBM AT computer from Texas to Arkansas and UPS damaged the computer. I took that insurance check and upgraded all the computer stuff again. I bought an AST Premium/286 computer that ran at a blistering 10MHz and it had a whopping huge 80MB hard drive.
From 1987 to 1998 as I worked on people’s computers, I would stock up on old pieces and parts and use those to build “lab” computers so I could work on learning to program networking and multiple-user aware software.
I believe everyone should have a lab even if it consists of free virtualization software running on a laptop with minimal RAM. Even a simple lab setup will allow you to install and test software to enhance your skills and knowledge. My current lab is the continued growth of the first lab I started in 1998 to study for Microsoft NT4 certification exams. That original lab consisted of separate physical servers and workstations for installing all the various Microsoft, Novell, and Linux operating systems.
One lesson learned in the lab still is a vivid memory. When I was studying for the NT4 certification exams, one item that was tested was the ability to print from an NT4 server to a *nix-based printer. I built a Red Hat Linux 5 computer and attached an HP LaserJet printer to it. I then learned to configure printing in Linux and then how to attach to that printer from the NT4 server. Once I could duplicate the process and become comfortable with it, I got a call from a customer who needed to do just that. They needed to print from their NT4 server to an old SCO Unix box with a monster dot matrix printer attached. I had a friend who did nothing but SCO Unix so we worked together and had the customer printing in short order. That one learning experience impressed upon me the value of learning, learning for certifications, the value of lab experience, and the importance of always continuing to learn, lab and experiment.
As of September 2017, there are now six physical servers running either XenServer or vSphere that allow me to install and run many different operating systems. The equipment in the lab consists of:
- 1 Synology NAS DS1515+ with four spinning disks and one SSD for cache
- 1 Synology NAS DS1817 with eight 1TB SSDs
- 2 Western Digital 6TB External USB hard drives
- 1 Ubiquiti 48-port Managed Switch
- 1 NetGear 16-port Managed 10Gig switch
- 6 Lab Servers
- 1 Writing PC
- 1 MacBook Pro
- 2 Windows 10 Laptops
- 1 Microsoft Surface Pro 4
- 1 Apple iPad Pro 10.5 inch
- 1 iGel UD3 Thin Client
- 1 iGel UD Pocket
In previous articles on my lab setup, I had several large tower servers. My local utility has gone to time-of-day billing which made it expensive to run the servers during the day. Plus, the servers generated LOTS of heat. I sold all the old servers and PCs and replaced them all with small form factor computers. I also renovated my office closet and turned it into a “server room”. I had two dedicated 20amp circuits and outlets run and an additional A/C vent runs into the new server room.
Most of this lab equipment is not free. iGel sent me two evaluation pieces for the lab and some money comes from donations. All donations made for the scripts are used for lab equipment.
Synology NAS #1:
Synology DS1515+ NAS (not a current model now).
I upgraded the RAM to 6GB and installed four Western Digital 2TB Enterprise drives (Model WD2003FYYS) in RAID-0 configuration and added an SSD for disk cache as seen in Figures 1 and 2.
Why RAID-0? This is a lab and I favor speed over safety. All contents on the NAS are backed up to a 6TB external USB drive daily. If the RAID dies, it is really no big deal.
This NAS is used for backups and my ever-growing ISO repository.
This NAS has four NICs that are grouped in a bond for performance as seen in Figure 3.
Synology NAS #2:
Synology 1817 NAS.
This NAS was upgraded to 8GB RAM and has eight Crucial MX300 1TB SSDs configured in RAID-0, as shown in Figure 4.
The NAS has two 1Gb network ports that are not used.
There are tw0 10Gb network ports configured in a bond for performance, as shown in Figure 5.
Western Digital 6TB External USB Drives:
With all the stuff that is now stored on the two Synology devices, I needed to make sure everything on them was backed up.
The two WD 6TB drives are configured to use the Synology Hyper Backup utility to back up all shared folders and LUNs on a daily schedule.
Ubiquiti 48-port Managed Switch:
I ran out of ports on the previous HP unmanaged switch so, on the advice of Jarian Gibson, I bought the UniFi Switch 48.
The switch configuration is shown in Figure 6.
NETGEAR 16-port Managed 10Gb Switch:
One of the newest additions to the lab is a NETGEAR XS716T 10Gig switch. I had started talking to Shawn Bass and Jarian Gibson about 5 years ago about acquiring a 10Gig switch. It was just too expensive then as the least expensive 10G switch on Newegg.com was $5000. This NETGEAR switch was less than $900, a huge price drop.
This switch has really sped things up in the lab. Four of the lab servers have 10G NICs along with the Synology 1817 NAS. My Writing PC also has 10G NICs and it is also connected to this switch.
The switch configuration is shown in Figure 7.
Both switches, the two NAS units, and their 6TB external drives are shown in Figure 8.
The blue cables are 1Gb connections, the white cables are 10Gb connections and the two green cables are the uplinks to the Internet router and the Writing PC.
Lab Server Group 1:
The new lab servers were ordered from TinkerTry.Com/WiredZone.com. I e-mailed Bruno at WiredZone, gave him my specifications and he custom built the servers for me. If you are interested, contact:Bruno
(888) 343-1311 ext 222
The new servers run XenServer 7.2 in headless mode.
- 5028D-TN4T Mini Tower Intel Xeon processor D-1541 8-Core System-on-Chip
- 64GB DDR4 PC4-19200 (2400MHz) 288-pin RDIMM ECC Registered
- Dual 10 GbE
- Dual 1 GbE
- Intel 520 Series 120GB SSD (reused from a previous server)
- Quantity 2 – Intel 520 Series 240GB SSD (reused from a previous server)
All VMs run from local SSD since I never use XenMotion. The 10 GbE ports are bonded for VMs and the 1 GbE ports are bonded for management.
I run my permanent VMs on XenServer as shown in Figure 9.
Lab Servers Group 2:
These two servers were also purchased from Bruna at WiredZone.com.
The two servers in group 2 system components are:
- 5028D-TN4T Mini Tower Intel Xeon processor D-1567 12-Core System-on-Chip
- 64GB DDR4 PC4-19200 (2400MHz) 288-pin RDIMM ECC Registered
- Dual 10 GbE – one for iSCSI storage and one for VM traffic
- Dual 1 GbE – bonded for management
- Quantity 2 – Crucial M500 2.5″ 120GB SSD CT120M500SSD1 7MM SATA3 6Gb SSD (reused from old server)
- Quantity 2 – Crucial MX300 2.5″ 525GB SSD CT525MX300SSD1 7MM SATA3 6GB SSD (reused from old server)
All servers run in headless mode. Both servers run vSphere 6.5 U1.
The VMware licenses come courtesy of VMware’s Guru Licensing program that VMware now also makes available to CTPs.
Sorry if I offend my XenServer friends but I find vSphere and VAAI compatible storage (Synology is) to be MUCH faster at creating Machine Catalogs than XenServer. In order to get work done in the lab, I simply MUST use vSphere for creating my Machine Catalogs. In my simple testing, vSphere 6.x was a minimum of 8 times faster than XenServer 7.x at creating the machines for a catalog.
Lab Servers Group 3:
I bought two Intel NUCs specifically for testing PVS Accelerator with XenServer 7.1 at the time. These now run XenServer 7.2.
- Intel Core i7-6770HQ 2.6 – 3.5 GHz Quad-Core Processor
- Intel Iris Pro Graphics 580
- 32GB DDR4-2133MHz SODIMM Memory (2 x 16GB)
- Sandisk 1TB M.2 SSD
- Samsung 850 EVO – 250GB – M.2 SATA III Internal SSD
I added the additional 250GB SSD so later I can play with Nutanix Community Edition as it requires two drives in the system.
The three groups of servers, the two NAS units, the two external drives, and switches share four APC XS 1500 UPS. Every piece of matching equipment is plugged into a different UPS.
Figure 10 is a picture of the servers as best as I can get a picture in the confined space of the “server room”.
The “server room” is now so crowded with six servers and four UPSes that it was hard to get an overall picture. Figure 11 is the best shot I could get.
This computer is used for doing customer work, writing articles, answering questions on Experts Exchange, studying for certification exams, and running XenCenter and vSphere client to connect to the lab servers. This computer was bought from TinkerTry.
- SYS-5028D-TN4T / SUPER Mini Tower Intel Xeon processor D-1540 8-core
- 64GB DDR4 PC4-17000 (2133MHz) 288-pin RD
- SAMSUNG Hard Drive 1TB SSD SATA 6Gb/s 2.5in
- Visiontek 7750 3M 2GB DDR3 4K – UHD 3 monitors
I added the following:
- Three ASUS PB278Q 27″ monitors
- Crucial MX300 1TB SSD
- Crucial MX300 240GB SSD
- Western Digital 2TB external USB3 drive
- Logitech Wireless MK710 keyboard and M705 mouse
- Mpow wired headset
The software used on this computer:
- Microsoft Windows 10 Pro x64
- Adobe Acrobat DC Professional
- Beyond Compare
- Devolutions Remote Desktop Manager
- Dropbox [Update: I now use Citrix ShareFile]
- Notepad++ (what I use for all my PowerShell scripting)
- Office 2016 and Visio 2013
- PerfectIt Pro 3 (My most important writing tool)
- VMware Workstation 12.5
- vSphere web client (YUCK!!!)
Dropbox is what I use to share PDFs and PowerShell scripts. [Update: I now use Citrix ShareFile]
OneNote is used as my repository of notes, links, and info I need from any device.
NeatDesk is a wonderful scanner. I use it to scan all my receipts and legal papers. It scans fast and is 99.999% accurate even with business cards and double-sided documents. I do not use NeatCloud as I think it is just way too expensive.
PerfectIT is my most favorite utility. It forces consistency on long documents. I don’t write without it.
A recent addition to the lab is a Realspace Magellan Performance Electric Height-Adjustable Wood Desk. This desk allows me to have preset sitting and standing positions. This allows me to not sit on my big fat lazy butt all day long. Simon doesn’t like it because he can no longer get behind the monitors and lay on the cables.
Almost every customer’s Citrix Farm I have worked on since 2008 has Mac clients. I was tired of having to tell customers that I knew nothing about Macs. In January 2009, I finally bought a 15” MacBook Pro and loved it. In October 2010, I upgraded to a 17” MacBook Pro. In July 2012, I upgraded to a 15” MacBook Pro with Retina Display, 16GB RAM, and 768GB SSD. I rarely use this device any longer. It is now used mainly for my huge iTunes music collection and testing customer issues with the Mac Receiver.
The software currently being used:
- OS X 10.13 (macOS High Sierra)
- Citrix Receiver for Mac V12.7
- Microsoft Office 2016
Windows Laptop #1:
I bought this little laptop just to use for PowerPoint presentations. It runs Windows 10, PowerPoint 2010, and nothing else. I bought it at a close-out sale at a local electronics store.
- ASUS X202E
- Intel Core i3 1.8GHz processor
- 4GB RAM
- 11-inch Touchscreen
- 500GB hard drive
- Enough battery life to last for about 7 hours
Windows Laptop #2:
I bought this laptop to allow me to do Active Directory, Group Policy, and scripting work at customer sites.
- Dell Precision M4800
- Intel Core i7-4800MQ Processor (quad-core, 6MB cache, 2.7Ghz)
- 32GB RAM
- 500GB Solid State Hybrid drive
- Crucial M500 1TB SSD
- Crucial 240GB mSATA SSD
The main software is Notepad++, VMware Workstation 12.5, and Office 2016.
Apple iPad Pro:
This is an iPad Pro 10.5 inch, 256GB 4G/WiFi model. Mainly used for Twitter, Facebook, Netflix, email, and testing for customers.
Microsoft Surface Pro 4:
Learning to really like this device. 8GB RAM and 256GB storage. Runs Windows 10 and Office 2016. Mainly used for OneNote, drawing, and writing notes.
From left to right, Figure 14 is a picture of the iPad, laptop 1, iGel UD3, Surface Pro 4, and laptop 2.
Before you leave, I have one other picture for you. Everyone who follows me on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook should know about my bud Simon (Sir Simon of Searcy is his registered AKC name). Simon is a hardcore extreme daddy’s boy! He wants to be with me almost all of the time. He sits on my desk and moves from left to right to left to middle to right repeated all day long. He is constantly laying his head down on my mouse, on my keyboard and every time he moves, his hips hit the power switch on a monitor and turn it off. As much as I love that boy, he can make it hard to get work done at times. So I finally rearranged my office and have given him his own table. I put his pillow and blanket on the table and now he is happy and should no longer get in the way of my productivity.
Well, Simon is no longer happy. I moved his table to the opposite wall in the lab and Simon is so OCD he is VERY upset about the move.
Simon is a Bichon Frise (aka Chick Magnet) and will be 12-years old on Halloween 2017.