Monitoring APC UPSes (about cables)

APC UPSes have a port on the back for UPS monitoring (serial, USB, or RJ45). Before you can use these ports, there is a variety of things to be aware of – things that are not all in one place.

Firstly, the USB port is not a standard USB port and should not be used as such; it requires a special cable. If you use the USB port on an APC UPS, then you will have to cycle the power on the unit to start using the serial port instead.

Secondly, the serial port also requires a special cable (the example here uses the SmartUPS 2200XL). There are two types of cables: simple signaling and smart signaling. Simple signaling cables (usually gray) work on all APC UPSes, but BackUPS units only support simple signaling. The simple signaling cables provide very few capabilities (only three settings: Battery On, Battery Low, and UPS Off) – all based on measuring pin levels on the serial cable itself. Smart signaling cables (normally black) are used for more powerful units (such as SmartUPS and others). The smart signaling cable connects the monitoring system to the UPS and provides a character interface to the unit with a large number of commands.

The Linux UPS monitoring tool nut supports smart signaling cables; you should use smart signaling cables whenever you can because of the added capabilities they allow.

IBM Introduces Power7 Blades and new AIX

IBM recently introduced Power7 blade servers to go with the Power6 and x86 blades already available. The Power7 blades come in 4-core, 8-core, or a “double-wide” 16-core configuration (with two 8-core servers tied together). However, the 4-core configuration – with four disabled cores – cannot be upgraded to eight active cores directly (the four extra cores are permanently disabled). The 16-core configuration is two Power7 blades combined together.

Also introduced was AIX 6 Express, a new (and lower cost) version of AIX for small business.

I’ve always been partial to Power since Apple started using it; it was sad to see Apple stop using the PowerPC.

AIX has never struck me as a well-regarded environment, but now IBM has made it more affordable for more folks; we’ll see how this goes. The AIX admins I knew were frequently complaining about the clustering environment (although HP ServiceGuard has lots of interesting problems too). Last time I used AIX, the printing environment was very odd, like the rest of it.

However, no UNIX can be all bad… right?

IBM Introduces Power7

On Monday, IBM introduced the Power7 processor to go up against the new Itanium Tukwila officially introduced by Intel the same day. The general consensus among those reviewing (such as CNET’s Brooke Crothers) these chips is that the Power7 is much better than the Itanium chip. Indeed, the Tukwila chip was delayed for two years.

This new Power chip will provide twice the processing power of its predecessor but with four times the energy efficiency, according to IBM. The Power7 offers eight cores with four threads each, giving 32 processing cores.

However, one notable absence is Sun: no new UltraSparc processor was announced. Of course, with Sun’s recent financial difficulties plus the buyout of Sun by Oracle, there may just be too much going on at the moment. Yet, will a new UltraSparc come too late?

In the meantime, analysts are noting the fact that Unix servers (such as those running Power7, UltraSparc, and Itanium) are declining, and that the x86 servers are increasing in power and capabilities, with the Nehalem-EX (otherwise known as Beckton) due out soon.

What this means for system administrators is that Linux on x86 could be the biggest growing career, in contrast to Unix (such as HP-UX, Solaris, and AIX).

HP Superdome and Green Computing

The HP Superdome is designed with a much different basis than most of its competition – and indeed, many computers. The design principles behind the HP Superdome lead to a lesser impact on the environment, and thus are a "greener" choice for heavy computing.

Why? The HP Superdome is designed in such a way that its pieces can be replaced as needed, and the need to replace the entire system (common with other systems, including mainframes) can be dramatically reduced. The HP Superdome is designed with at least a 10-year lifespan, meaning that it when other systems have to be replaced the Superdome will (at most) only need "refreshing" with new cells or perhaps other parts.

For example, in 2009, the original HP Superdome prototype is still running – and even has HP Integrity cells operating.

Most other systems will have to be replaced once or twice before a Superdome has to be replaced. Replacing the system generates, as a result, a certain amount of electronic waste – and a mainframe will create a large amount of waste.

This is on top of the fact that the HP Superdome uses less electricity than a mainframe. It is also possible to only use the cells that you need, leaving the others either inactive via iCap (no power) if they exist at all.

All of these facts suggest that an HP Superdome would be a good choice for green computing in contrast to its mainframe competition.

A update on the recent HP Superdome Tech Day: turns out that Jacob Van Ewyk blogged about it in a two part article (part 1 and part 2) on the blog, Mission Critical Computing. John Pickett wrote about the energy savings inherent in using an HP Superdome on the blog Legacy Transformation.

A Book Review: “Green IT”

The book Green IT: Reduce Your Information System’s Environmental Impact While Adding to the Bottom Line by Velte, Velte, and Elsenpeter is extremely interesting. Unlike some other books that might go in this direction, this is not a book of theory, nor of political change, nor of persuasion. This is a book for IT staff about how to create a “green” data center and more.

Because of the nature of IT, going “green” can mostly be summed up in one word: electricity. A vast amount of what makes an IT department “green” consists of using less electricity wherever possible. This includes such areas as the corporate data center, the corporate desktops, and much more.

However, the book also gives significant attention to the other big environmental impact of computing: paper. There are a lot of ways to reduce paper use, and this book seems to cover all of them.

The book is in five parts: part I explains why to implement conservation in IT; part II talks about consumption; part III discusses what we as IT users can do individually to help the environment; part IV covers several corporate case studies; and part V expounds on the process of becoming “green” and how to stay that way.

It would have been nice to see more information about how the authors exemplified their suggestions during the creation of the book. The only hint of any environmentally sound practices is the recycled paper logo on the back cover (100% post-consumer fiber). That leaves more questions: did they use thin clients? Did they work from home? Did they use soy ink? Perhaps lastly, where is the e-book?

There is a web site that is set up for the book, but the current breadth of the site is disappointingly anemic. Some of the best web sites for Green IT would be Dell Earth, Intel, as well as IBM’s Green IT and Energy, the Environment, and IBM web sites.

It was interesting to note that HP’s Eco Solutions web site is “heavy” compared to the others – that is, it requires much more processing power to display, and requires a lot more time to download – which translates into more power consumption to view the web site. In addition, IBM and HP are the #1 and #2 in Computerworld’s list of Top Green-IT Vendors – whereas Dell is #6… HP also topped Newsweek’s 2009 list of Greenest Big Companies in America (along with IBM, Intel, and Dell in the top 5).

Playstation 3 Compute Clusters

Have you heard about the Playstation 3 computing clusters that are starting to pop up? This is no game: it’s the real thing. Apparently the IBM Cell microprocessor (based on the Power architecture) is so powerful that it is leaps and bound above other desktop systems.

The Folding@Home protein-folding project (one I very much appreciate) uses idle computers all over the world to compute protein folding – which will aid in scientific research for cures for Alzheimers, diabetes, and others. This project came out with a client for the Playstation 3 for use in the Folding@Home project, which nodes now surpass all other computing nodes combined in sheer processing power.

On March 8, North Carolina State University announced that professor Frank Mueller had created the first academic Playstation 3 cluster (8 nodes). At the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, assistant professor Dr. Gaurav Khanna is running a cluster of eight Playstation 3s to analyze gravity waves from the stars. In Barcelona, Spain, a distributed computing project for biomedical research known as the PS3GRID uses the Sony Playstation 3 exclusively.

Terra Soft (the people behind Yellow Dog Linux, YUM, and the Briq) are now offering Playstation 3 clusters preconfigured in a 6- or 32-node cluster configuration. A single Playstation 3 with Yellow Dog Linux pre-installed is also available.

A Playstation 3 cluster built by Terra Soft was the cover story of the August 1, 2007, Linux Journal.

As might be surmised, Linux runs fine on the Playstation 3: Ravi has a fine summary of the possibilities.