Sunday, October 14, 2007

Lazy Disks: Another "Good Enough" IT Solution

Practicality abounds in IT shops these days; first, we had the realization that 99.9 uptime was good enough for most business applications, preventing us from overspending on hardware. Now several vendors have taken this thinking into the data storage arena, and it's reducing costs and energy consumption dramatically.

That's good, because power consumption for data storage will exceed that of all other equipment by next year.The technology is called MAID (massive array of inactive disks), a rather oxymoronic name. But the technology is sound; it's based on the simple idea that the majority of data doesn't need to be accessed immediately. For example, data that experiences high activity (e.g. real time stock quotes) would require high performance storage, but data that does not experience high activity (e.g. the 1997 corporate report) can reside on lower performance and more power efficient storage. MAID takes advantage of this and turns disks off that are not in use, then powers them back on when an application needs access to dormant data. Think of it as a giant spare closet filled with stuff that you only use occasionally like winter clothes, suitcases, unicycle, etc.

Savings are big - coupled with removing duplicate data (the typical organization may have between 10 and 30 copies of the same data) , a MAID can reduce data storage energy consumption by as much as 50 percent. That's good news for data centers, most of which are already at capacity, and
increasingly legislated.:: Greener Computing :: Green Data Project

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Tin Whiskers Out With The Claws, Bricking Satellites and Pacemakers

There's something sprouting in every electronic device that you own, and it's not in the oh-happy-garden let's-pick-the-fruit kind of way. In fact, this little something could very well end up bricking your device. They are called tin whiskers, and they pop up without warning from tin solder and finishes deep inside electronics.

While scientists debate their cause, they agree on one thing: small amounts of lead mixed with the tin prevent the whiskers from forming. Lead, however, is a serious health concern, and last year Europeans barred the toxic metal from most electronics. Similar measures are being considered or are already in place in other countries, including Japan, China, South Korea, Argentina, Australia and the United States. Some have likened the situation to a Y2K sort of scenario; since they take years to develop, you might just finishing paying off that HDTV before it goes belly-up.

Clearly, the whiskers are more than a nuisance. In the 1980s, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recalled some pacemakers because of a high failure rate caused by tin whiskers. The whiskers took out a satellite in 1999, causing 40 million pagers to stop working and halting ATMs nationwide. Seven nuclear power plants have been temporarily shut down after tin whiskers triggered false alarms and NASA, who has their own database of whisker-related failures, discovered millions of tin whiskers in an electronic box that controls the space shuttle Endeavour's engine.

Many types of electronics are exempt from the law (military, medical devices, etc.), and exemptions are also granted when alternatives to the hazardous materials don't exist yet. But it's getting harder to buy the leaded parts as manufacturers react to the environmental legislation. It's a tough measure; was the EU too hasty? :: Yahoo

Make Your Own Keyboard

File this one under the Keatsian department of "a thing of beauty is a joy forever." Much like these wondrous Russian computer cases, Hacoa is now soon-to-be-offering a do-it-yourself keyboard kit to the masses. The kit allows the purchaser to cut the keys from a plank of wood and assemble the pieces themselves; it's $300.

Till now,
Hacoa has typically crafted each keyboard by hand, churning out the sum total of one keyboard per day. But in an effort to lighten the company’s labor load, boost production, and probably increase profits, they are going to let the purchaser do some of the cutting and assembling at home. The kits come in maple or walnut, and include a USB keyboard base, a wooden plank with the beginnings of keys hard-carved into it, connectors for attaching the finished keys to the keyboard base, a saw, sandpaper and other tools.

Available online around October 18. Much like the bamboo mice and monitors, we are talking statement here; get it, build it, and pop it in your place of business, along with (of course) a framed plaque detailing the process: Pink Tentacle