VMware Cloud Goes Down

Yet more woes for Cloud suppliers, this time VMware it appears an initial outage was fixed and then whilst the company was trying to figure out a procedure of how to prevent the outage occurring again in the process of doing that someone triggered a bigger outage. I just spotted this in Network World:

VMware causes second outage while recovering from first

This all goes to show that cloud systems are just as likely to be affected by human error as stand alone IT systems, another reason that they should be approached with caution and not accepted as the answer to all your IT problems. 

The words “snake oil” come to mind!!



What happens to data when your cloud provider evaporates? – Computerworld

Finally I think the rest of the industry is catching up with me!

What happens to data when your cloud provider evaporates? – Computerworld

This is what worries me about people who hurtle headlong into new technologies before they are mature and tested. Over the years I have learned in IT to wait and see if the concept really makes sense before adopting it. 

I really believe that the “cloud” is a bad idea the way it is currently implemented. Judging by the above article a few others are beginning to realise that as well.


Now it’s Amazon’s EC2 that proves my point!!

In my continuing rant about keeping away from the cloud, Amazon have just proved my point as their EC2 cloud storage system went down taking a number of web sites with it.  This outage was covered on Network World:


As you can see from the text, supposed safeguards that clients paid extra for where their website or application was hosted in what are termed “multiple availability zones”, did not survive this outage. The idea being that if you application or site is in more than one of these zones if a failure occurs in one zone the other ones you are in will take over keeping you running.  This however has proven to be no protection in this instance as people in multiple zones went down.

Again I would say that this is not just an Amazon issue I am sure all other cloud vendors could be hit in a similar fashion.  Systems in my experience can never escape from unexpected cascading events.

If you watch the video on the page linked to above, the concept of having your applications or sites spread across multiple cloud vendors was raised and the other big issue with current cloud services raised its head that of interoperability between different vendors.  If they used a standards based cloud operating system then you could theoretically have two vendors hosting your application or sites and if one goes down the other takes the strain, but I think this is a long way off. I would imagine this would be horrendously expensive as well which would put me off it even if it were possible.

My advice, stay well clear of cloud services until a mature standard emerges and unless you are a monster organisation that needs and can afford this kind of stuff possibly never use it.  Keep it all under your own control so that in the event of a disaster the person who it matters most to is in charge of getting you back up and running not some 3rd party monster that sees you as a small fish in its big pond.


Dust–PC Killer

I recently did an overhaul on one of my client’s PCs and as usual found a load of dust inside the machine. (It’s very important that I state up front that this is true of pretty much every PC I open up and have a look in, not just this particular client’s machine).

Most PCs get clogged with dust as quite rightly users do not want to have to take a screwdriver to their PCs, most being worried that they might damage the PC or get electrocuted.  I would certainly recommend that you leave the cleaning of your PC to  professional like me, but I would say that wouldn’t I. If you must do it yourself, make sure that you do the following:

  1. Disconnect the power – VERY IMPORTANT.
  2. Disconnect the PC from all devices like monitor, printer, keyboard and mouse.
  3. Get the machine into a place where you have plenty of light and easy access with a vacuum cleaner.

Before you get the PC case off, make sure you know what screws have to be removed or other connectors and make sure you keep them safe in a small container (you don’t want to suck them up into the vacuum cleaner!).

When you get the case open be aware that you must not hit any of the components inside with the vacuum nozzle as you may damage the PC. Also make a note of any connector wires inside the case then if you do dislodge anything you will know where to put it back. If in doubt take a picture with your digital camera before starting.

The areas to concentrate on are the fans and any grilles that protect the fans, also anything that has a set of cooling fins will inevitably be clogged up.

If you do this sort of cleaning about once every 6 months and each month just remove any dust from the external case vents without opening the case, you will probably extend the life of your PC by many years.

More Extensive Dust Removal

When doing an overhaul of a PC I take it to the next level and I certainly DO NOT recommend that end users attempt this unless they are familiar with constructing PCs as it involves removing the CPU fan and other case components.

As you will see from the pictures below, the client’s case had managed to gather quite a bit of dust from around its cooling fans and cooling fins:


This PC is a Shuttle model and because these are relatively compact designs, keeping dust at bay is a bigger concern with them as there is a more cramped interior as compared with a larger desktop tower case. As you can see from the image above, the area around the CPU was a place where dust had collected.  The CPU cooling vanes and fan had been removed already for this shot.

Other areas that had collected dust were as below:


The fan above is the main fan that pulls cool air from outside the case over the cooling fins that are attached to the CPU.

In the following picture you can see how dust has collected on the grille over the fans that extract hot air from inside the case to the outside world.


The following image shows the vents on the power supply and again dust can be seen building up on the vents and if you look carefully on some of the components inside the power supply. Another client who had the same model as this lost his PC when the power supply overheated and packed up.


How to Rectify This

The first step was to remove the CPU cooling fan and vanes. Once removed I was able to get the CPU out and give that a clean as well as removing the dust on the motherboard with the vacuum cleaner.  I then removed the old CPU thermal paste cleaned the surfaces and replaced with all new compound.

When I built these PCs about 4 years ago, I tended to be a bit over zealous with thermal paste. Nowadays I tend to put a bit less on, as the whole point of thermal paste is to make an air free bond between the CPU cooler and the top of the CPU. Too much paste will have the same effect as having an air gap.

If you just attached the cooling fins without using paste the small microscopic scratches in the surfaces would allow an air gap between the vane and the CPU.  The paste ensures that all heat from the CPU gets directly to the vanes with no loss during transfer caused by minute air gaps.

Once the CPU and vanes were cleaned and all dust blown from the vanes (I use an old tooth brush to get the really stubborn stuff), the assembly was put back in the case.

I also removed all fans and grilles and gave them a good going over with the vacuum cleaner and also used some General Purpose cleaner and a tissue to carefully wipe collected dust off the fan blades.  You must be very careful when doing this not to damage the blade or throw the fan off alignment as the whirring noise it will cause will drive you mad.

You can see the before and after on the main CPU fan:





There is still some really difficult to get at stuff near the centre of the fan but the main stuff has been removed off the vanes.

Below is the before and after shots of the main CPU cooling vanes:




As you can see the airflow now is not being impeded by the clogged dust.

The Benefits of Having This Done

Clearly  this is a bit of a job to do, but I think it is well worth it in these times of saving every penny. I reckon paying me for a couple of hours work cleaning and thus removing the danger of losing your PC due to overheating is worth it. Also you have the added benefit that because the cooling effect of the vanes and fans is improved the heat sensors will detect this and not need to force the speed of the fans up to compensate. This means a much quieter PC.

I often notice client’s machines are a lot noisier then they were, where the client may not.  This is because the client has not noticed the very gradual change over time, whereas I do as I have probably not not seen the machine since I supplied or built it.

So Siv’s rant of the day, keep your vents clean and periodically send the machine to your friendly neighbourhood IT guy to get it cleaned!!


The Cloud–An Example Of My Distrust of Cloud Computing

Following on from my previous rant about Cloud Computing and why I am not enamoured with it, today we have the news that Google managed to trash about 150,000 accounts (initially it was reported as 500,000 but then got revised down, probably after they found the backup and restored 350,000 of them)?

See the details here:




I don’t wish to bludgeon Google, I am sure Microsoft and Yahoo and others have had similar problems with their cloud based services as well, but it does illustrate the point I was making in my earlier blog post that you are risking a lot by placing your stuff into the cloud alone as you are totally reliant on the cloud provider not to lose your stuff.

I am sure that Google will have backups and get it all back, but this occurred on Sunday 27th February 2011 and we are now at Tuesday 1st March and not all accounts are restored yet so imagine if this had been a business cloud service that went down on a Monday and you can do no work until Wednesday afternoon?? I think the boss would be pulling his/her hair out by now!

Grab from Google showing the current status after some accounts lost.
Screen Grab From Google After Google Mail Accounts Lost

I rest my case.


The Cloud–What do I think?

The problem with the cloud from my perspective is that you are giving away control to a service provider.  That in itself isn’t too bad, I give away control of this website to my hosting company and so far it has been up and running with little problems over the years. So why is using the cloud any different to that. Well, the big difference is that if you are using the cloud for your business and you hang up your own IT for it, then you have put all your eggs in that provider’s basket.

I remember not so long ago there was a service called Google Video Store, loads of people paid for movies that they could download and play on their own PC. Because the movies were DRM (Digital Rights Management) protected, you could play them as long as Google’s DRM server could be contacted and your account verified as active. When Google pulled the plug unexpectedly as the service presumably wasn’t making money and the big studios were as usual shying away from internet downloads, the end users were left with movies they had paid for but now couldn’t play as the DRM server was gone.


To me this is the big problem with any cloud service, if the provider goes bust, or just decides they don’t want the service any more you could find yourself high and dry. If this is your IT system, who’s going to explain to the boss that your staff cannot do any work because:

    1. All your data is gone, locked away on the hard disk of a server in Texas that the administrators of your now defunct cloud service provider are selling off to pay creditors.
    2. You only have web enabled dumb PCs that can only run a web browser based Operating System.
    3. It will cost £X million and 10 days to put back your long gone IT infrastructure.

Internet Connection – As well as the above, on a day to day basis you may have the problem that if your local ISP goes down and you can’t access the internet your staff can’t do any work, at least at the moment if the net goes down your staff can still use their PC to do useful work whilst the internet connection is sorted.

Security – Another worry from my perspective as an IT consultant is security of your data. Who is to say that some unscrupulous employee at the cloud hosting company isn’t selling your trade secrets to either your competitors or some foreign power like China who will take what you have done and sell it at a price that puts your company out of business. Worse still what if the Cloud company itself is unscrupulous, we have seen so called good companies like Microsoft, Google and Facebook do some pretty iffy things with user data over the years?


Performance – I cannot imagine yet doing stuff like CAD or Video editing over a web link. It’s possible if the cloud is behaving like a Terminal Services session and all your dumb terminal is doing is relaying what’s happening on the remote server, even then I think the capabilities of servers will have to improve dramatically for that sort of work to be done with significant amounts of end users.

I think that the  whole idea of using the cloud to do everything is too simplistic. A better idea is to use it for the things it is good at, providing a location for data that is accessible from anywhere in the World and as a secondary backup to your main IT, so that if you are working remotely and need access to your company resources you can get to them.

To me you can get all this now by installing your own copy of Windows Small Business Server and configure it for remote access. Immediately you have all the benefits of the cloud (perhaps not the scalability where a cloud provider can give you instant access to more storage and computing power) but you have all the main benefits like working on your data anywhere in the world as long as you have an internet connection and all the benefits of it being on your premises and under your control.