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Verizon FiOS Quantum

Thanks a lot, Verizon. Now I REALLY need to upgrade my network hardware. The new speed tiers from Verizon FiOS are pretty much amazing:

I currently have the 35/35 tier, which I don't see here...I'm wondering if it will be bumped to the 50/25 tier? I've seen downloads at 5MBps (40Mbps) already, so maybe I'll start seeing downloads hi 6.25MBps? Sweet.

Granted, I have been planning on upgrading the wireless access point for some time - it's a fairly old B/G model, and several (if not all) wireless devices in the house are all capable of N. My biggest problem, though, is the firewall. I'm stuck at 100Mbps unless I go big with something like an ASA.

Here's the scoop: http://www22.verizon.com/home/fiosinternet/plans/

Scammers phishing by text

Well, scammers have moved "up" in the world...first they were scamming by phone...now, they're using SMS\Text messages to try to get you to browse to some fake, malicious website. Here's the text I received from 321-332-5220 this morning:

Wow! My reward from BestBuy.com[.gpck.biz]! Rule number one about any email\text\anything: DON'T CLICK THE LINK. Rule #2: Don't click the link. EVER.

A quick whois shows nothing useful:

Registrant Address1:                         Attn: gpck.biz
Registrant Address2:                         Aptds. 0850-00056
Registrant City:                             Panama
Registrant Postal Code:                      Zona 15
Registrant Country:                          Panama
Registrant Country Code:                     PA

If anyone is curious what this website looks like, here you go:

And by pressing continue, you are sent here:

Then here:

...And then here:

.....

So in all reality, you will NEVER receive a Best Buy gift card, you will probably get some malware on your system, and in the end...you will just be angry.

IE Toolbar Hell

A picture is worth 1,000 words. I know of a few people that honestly do use the Google toolbar, but this is just nuts. I took a minute or two to uninstall all of these, and no this is NOT one of my systems:

Stupid drive-by-downloads. Total recipe search? Really? Because I need a toolbar for that.....

Denon AVR-2112CI Review - Networking

In an effort to replace lost functionality, I recently upgraded the AV Receiver to a network capable Denon AVR-2112CI. The full documentation is here, so I'll spare those details. Going from a receiver with no HDMI inputs to one with several was a major bonus. Plus it is network-capable, which makes it that much better.

After 2 firmware updates, everything is working great. The Pandora Radio app, internet radio, and DLNA music are great - all of this can be controlled via a web browser or even an iPhone\Android app. Here's the web interface:

It may look simple, but it works great - can you say Zone2 control from your SmartPhone while out on the porch?

The DLNA server also supports 'Play to' so you can start a stream from a Windows 7 PC with streaming turned on or push media from a DLNA capable SmartPhone (Android). It is also 100% compatible with iPod\iPhone\iPad via the front USB ports. It just works.

Fine Tuning Media Center 7 - Is it all worth it - Part 2

A while back, I had "given up" on using a Media Center PC, sold the digital cable tuner cards, and moved on to the old standby - a service provider set-top-box, hoping to use other devices and DLNA to replace some of the lost functionality. Let's just say that even with DLNA libraries, Netflix, and OnDemand...a purpose build Media Center is nearly impossible to replace...that was before I owned an XBOX 360.

Enter the Media Center Extender. It looks 100% as the Media Center app does in Windows 7 with nearly all of the same functionality.

Let me briefly describe the current setup. DLNA was being provided by a Windows 7 VM with both video and audio libraries. Being a VM, it was always up and the perfect candidate to sync with the XBOX. All networking is 1Gb so that is not an issue - though I did have to up the amount of vRAM just a bit.

Let's go back over the list:

The Pros:

  • Audio Library
    • All functionality is preserved, including sorting, album art, and even the scrolling albums covers during playback.
  • Picture Library
    • All functionality is preserved.
  • Excellent DVR
    • This could potentially be resolved with a tuner card, but would require that the Windows 7 machine be a physical PC not a VM...or use some of the network sharing capabilities of the new InifiTV card, but again this would require a physical PC.
  • Video Upconversion
    • Appears to be the same functionality.
  • Built in optical drive
    • All functionality is preserved, but limited to DVD - no BluRay here.
  • Huge PC
    • Not quite the same...but then again, it is an XBOX.....
  • Sports package
    • All functionality is preserved.

The Cons:

  • Boot time\Sleep issues
    • Resolved. The VM is always running, and the XBOX does not take long to boot, and always boots reliably.
  • Guide jump to Recorded TV
    • Have not seen this issue yet.
  • Overall remote issues
    • Does not appear to be an issue, but we'll see how this goes on.
  • No OnDemand
    • Still have the Set-top-box, so this is not an issue.
  • Hardware failure
    • Resolved just because the Windows 7 box is a VM...yes there could be host hardware failure, but that will be a much worse day than just not having Media Center.
  • Heat and Noise
    • The XBOX 360 is a bit loud and produces heat, but not quite as much as the old MCPC....but then again, so does the set-top-box.
  • Cable provider service updates
    • Does not apply as I have yet to test the DVR\Live TV functionality.

 

All told, most of the functionality is preserved through the XBOX 360 Media Center Extender. This is still NOT quite the easiest solution for most people - who has a VM host server running 24/7? Plus I still have not tested the DVR\Live TV functionality yet.

VPN Router on a Stick

Previously, when using a Cisco PIX firewall, VPN 3000 (Altiga), or other VPN hardware as an endpoint for a L2L or remote access VPN connection over the internet, 2 explicit internet facing interfaces were needed to allow internet access for these VPN connections. This was due to the fact that internet traffic would need to leave the internet interface (unencrypted).....which is the same interface that the original encrypted traffic came in on. So it was simply not possible for this traffic to use a single interface to come in encrypted and leave unencrypted...a workaround to this if 2 interfaces were not available was to use split tunneling.

What is split tunneling? It uses ACLs to specify what traffic should be tunneled and what traffic should not be sent through the VPN. So traffic destined for all of the subnets on the corporate LAN will be sent through the VPN tunnel, and all other traffic (internet traffic) will NOT be sent over the VPN. The problem with this configuration is security - a system is connected to both the 'trusted' corporate LAN and the untrusted internet. In a standard, all-traffic-tunneled VPN, all network traffic from the remote endpoint (or network) is tunneled back to the corporate LAN and further internet access is controlled.

This is no longer the case. To start, lets take a look at exactly what were talking about:

 

 

This is now possible using PIX or ASA code version 7.2 or higher and VPN client software version 5.x and later. Here's the key commands to enable this configuration:

// Command that permits IPsec traffic to enter and exit the same interface.

same-security-traffic permit intra-interface

// Forces VPN Clients over the tunnel for Internet access.

split-tunnel-policy tunnelall

// The NAT statement to define what to encrypt (the addresses from the vpn-pool).

nat (outside) 1 192.168.10.0 255.255.255.0

Note that if you have a range of IPs to be assigned to the VPN clients instead of an entire subnet, you will need to add the all of them to the nat (outside) to allow them to access the internet.

A complete configuration example is available from Cisco.com here.

Software Based Storage: Thoughts and local storage tests

It has occurred to me that all these comparisons are not exactly equal...while the VM configurations, test procedures, and testing hardware are all identical - there are certainly ways to improve performance...some methods could be applied to all comparisons (adding a storage controller card with battery-backed write cache, and several 15K SAS spindles), and some are specific to the software presenting the storage (using an SSD to house the ZIL and\or l2ARC - only applies to ZFS-based products). In reality, these tests are performed using the 'absolute worst case scenario' - who in their right mind would use a single (7200 RPM, non-enterprise) drive to house anything more than a music library?

All that said, I wanted to take the network and the 3rd party storage providers out of the question and repeat some tests using a local datastore on the ESX host. Here's what the datastore looked like during zeroing and OS install:

During install, latency stayed right around 40ms. Complete installation for 3 VMs took just under 1 hour. Here's the datastore latency during idle operation and the IOMeter test at the far right of the chart:

Latency was just under 20ms during idle. The first test was a single VM running the standard IOMeter worker as in previous comparisons:

This shows the local storage to be around 25 IOPS worse than the MS iSCSI target and a single IOMeter test. The 3 VM test shows where DAS takes a big hit:

The best average I saw during the test:

So in the end, local storage is clearly not the way to go (except in some very specific use cases, but that involves some gear that will NEVER be approved for a home lab...and nor should it be)

Windows 7 Streaming: Media on an External Drive

In an effort to preserve some functionality of not having a dedicated Media Center PC (see this post for more), I have a Windows 7 VM with media streaming enabled. What does that mean? It means that any DLNA enabled device can see my media library and stream its contents. I recently needed to add more storage space to said VM, and in doing so moved all media to the new E:\ drive. Then the problems started - I could not stream ANYTHING. No music showed up.....no pictures showed up....and only 5 videos showed up. What the heck? The only error I received when trying to stream was No files have been found on this remote library.

Keep in mind that I had configured the library to include the new paths on the E:\ drive for all of the media, so it WAS showing up in the local media library, but it wasn't streaming. So what's different? Is it a share? No- the E$ share is active, so it can't be it. Permissions? Nope...they're the same...

When all else fails, run ProcMon.

The trace on the local laptop while trying to stream showed nothing, but then on the DLNA server - it showed something quite different:

...multiple, continuous hits by wmpnetwk.exe to a 'drmstore.hds' file. Having dealt with DRM in the past, I know how picky it can be. For example, when I upgraded the processor on the MC PC, none of the recorded TV content would play - I ended up deleting a file related to DRM to resolve the issue - as DRM is tied to the processor on the system. So I did the same thing here:

...Just rename 'drmstore.hds' to .old, and let it be recreated. A few notes:

  • The entire DRM directory is hidden
  • The file will be locked when you try to delete it, so you will need to kill the wmpnetwk.exe process before you rename the file
  • wmpnetwk.exe is simply the DLNA\Media streaming process, so just restart Windows Media Player, and the process will restart

After that, you should have a new drmstore.hds file, and all files should now stream as before.

FreeNAS Performance Part 1: NFS Storage

EDIT 1/8/2013: This post should be titled FreeNAS: The performance you will get when you don't allocate enough RAM, or enough disk resources.

These results are not a true representation of what FreeNAS can do. Here's a better example: FreeNAS Performance Part 2

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One of my lab servers is up for sale HERE.

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Following the Microsoft iSCSI VS. StarWind iSCSI, I would like to also compare another option that offers FreeBSD based network storage - FreeNAS. It supports AFP, CIFS, NFS, iSCSI and has a very user friendly web GUI - further information is available here at the FreeNAS website.

Test Specifications

The same whitebox server that was used for the StarWind and Microsoft iSCSI tests was used for the FreeNAS server - 3.00 GHz Xeon, 3GB RAM, single 1GbE interface, single 80GB spindle for both the OS and NFS export.

OS Installation Performance

Let me put it this way - after 1 hour, none of the VMs had finished more than ~48% completion....Just short of 2 hours after the install was initiated, one of the VMs had successfully installed an OS, and the other 2 had failed setup with errors. Here's some of the built in reporting for FreeNAS:

And CPU utilization:

The latency for the NFS datastore is terrible:

Running IOMeter on a single VM while the other two VMs were installing the OS (Same IOMeter worker configuration as in previous tests):

Hoping to improve performance, the other 2 VMs were powered down, and the IOMeter test was run again:

The IOPS only improved by ~100 - the VM disk IO latency is still around ~1700+ ms - this is confirmed again by terrible host datastore latency - overall average write latency 100ms+ :

 

Conclusion

FreeNAS NFS storage, when configured in the same way as all previous experiments, has worse performance than local storage.

Software iSCSI Targets: Part 2B - StarWind, Multiple VMs

Part 2B: 3 VM IOMeter load on a StarWind iSCSI datastore. Same procedure as previous testing - Complete install time: 32 minutes, 39 seconds - 3.5 minutes faster than the Microsoft iSCSI target software. Here's the setup:

Here's the CPU\RAM of the iSCSI server during OS install:

Just as previously, RAM is allocated to cache and CPU is heavily utilized. Here is the network utilization during OS install:

The utilization graph looks strikingly similar to the MS iSCSI target install, however, utilization goes over 30% at a few points. During the major portion of OS install - CPU utilization is high, as is the underlying physical disk queue length. This shows me that a faster disk subsystem would improve performance even further.

And a brief view of network utilization during VMWare tools install on all 3 VMs:

 

Deduplication and Thin Provisioning

StarWind clearly has the advantage here. Not only is the LUN thin provisioned, but it is also deduped once data is written. The deduplication engine works inline, so as data is being written, it is deduped - with a 4K size, it is very effective. All 3 VMs should be taking up nearly 27GB of space - but as you can see, they are not - only about 8.69GB of used space. This yields a 3.15:1 dedupe ratio - which is what I would expect for 3 mostly identical servers.

 

*Note: Each VM should be taking up about 9.13GB however, there is likely some block redundant data within the IOMeter test files on each VM.

 

Performance - Single VM IOMeter, 2 VMs Idle

Again, the StarWind iSCSI target showed far better performance than the Microsoft software target:

I also tested rebooting one of the idle VMs while this test was running - as expected the IOPS dropped down to the 300 range, and response time went up. The physical disk queue also jumped - again showing this as a limitation (reboot initiated at 11:09 AM).

 

All 3 VMs running IOMeter

With all 3 VMs running an IOMeter worker, the performance is still very good. Keep in mind that the IOMeter test files are 500MB - the 3 combined likely fit in the StarWind cache helping the test along. Only 2 of the 3 VMs shown:

The network utilization as the 3 tests are started:

 

Conclusion

The StarWind iSCSI target software has several clear advantages over the Microsoft solution - performance advantages including high-speed RAM cache, thin provisioning, deduplication...with a high-performance disk subsystem that includes controller-based RAM cache as well as faster physical spindles - a major performance boost can be had. Additionally, aggregating network links and adding more RAM to the cache can produce a powerful, fast and efficient software based iSCSI storage solution.