Quick Blurb

NAS Migrations 2013

For years I used a Windows Server 2008 for my home files, having TechNet I used Windows Server 2008 and then later 2008 R2. While this was nice, it was using software RAID and a random assortment of drives that were cloning (RAID 1 style) between themselves. I originally went with this for the ease that Windows brings to things, but in the end with it mainly being a file server it just sat there initialized.

Fast-forward to this November, with space running out, I decided it was time to get a new system and replace the aging AMD Windows Server.

I wanted a RAID 5 or 6, so that I was not losing as much space as the RAID 10s that I had been using. I also wanted the system to be less maintenance than a Windows Server that needs patched every month. Recently I had heard good things about FreeNAS (freenas.org), from reddit.com/r/homelab; after seeing all the features of ZFS, I decide on a RAID 6, with ZFS. This is also known as a RAIDZ-2.

At first I looked at HP Microservers, http://www8.hp.com/us/en/products/proliant-servers/product-detail.html?oid=5379860 – !tab=features, yet after looking at what you got for the price, decided I wanted to build the new system myself.

The first challenge was finding a small case, that could hold the amount of hard drives I wanted, at least 5, without having a large footprint. After some searching I came across the LIAN LI PC­Q25B, http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16811112339, while not a cheap case, it offered a 5 hard drive tray and at the same time was not that large. This suited my purposes nicely.

Next I had to find which CPU I wanted; since I was hoping to keep the cost of the system down I looked at the AMD processors available. I was disappointed to see how cheap Intel processors were beating or matching far more expensive AMD chips. AMD would throw items in to sweeten the deal such as a decent GPU on the chip. However this was a NAS, I did not need all that extra stuff that would just sit there using power.

My final selection was an Intel Pentium G3220, http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16819116950; this part offers decent performance, and is the latest Haswell chip. This would allow me to upgrade the system down the road if need be. The part is also the latest socket, meaning that it could handle the larger memory sizes available, while I could use the MicroATX board the case required.

I threw in 16GB of ram (if you haven’t looked ZFS eats memory, you need about 1GB of memory per TB just to idle), and 5 – 3TB hard drives. I got the hard drives from different batches, so if something similar to Seagate’s 7200.11 drive failure happened again (http://www.theinquirer.net/inquirer/news/1050374/seagate-barracuda-7200-drives-failing) I would be protected.

Now that you know the hardware I will talk a little about the experience I have had with FreeNAS. The system is easy to install and has a nice interface. Using ZFS and the terminology they use takes a little getting used to, but the wiki can clear up a lot about what the different options do. I started the box on 9.1.0 and have updated to the latest 9.2.1; you can do updates through the web interface, and in the short time they have fixed a lot of little bugs, cleaned up the interface, as well as added new features. A nice new feature is the ability to make “Jails” of any Linux variety. These are hypervisor level VMS that can run on the system at little cost. I tend not to use them because when I use a VM to develop I tend to need a decent amount of memory, and my FreeNAS with ZFS uses 12GB of the 16GB doing nothing. But a nice feature non-the-less. FreeNAS also has some plugins that are a few clicks away; I installed Plex so I could stream media easily over the home network. FreeNAS uses Jails to run its plugins, creating a separate VM for each, this allows for security between your hosts data, and your plugins.

In the end, I am very happy with the box and its performance; my roommate and myself have been able to sustain 100MB/s writes to the box.

A quick side note, Plex is also a fantastic piece of software. You load it on a PC or NAS, point it at your media and sit back. It scans through all your media and gets all the metadata automatically. Then you can stream with the web interface, or through a DLNA device in your network. There are also iPhone and Android apps that let you stream without setting up weird port forwarding: just a very slick and well working product.

Java Windows Shortcut Library (Parsing and Creating!)

Recently I have been working on a project that involves extracting a bunch of files from zips. The problem I faced was all the shortcuts within the zips were hard coded to locations, making it impossible for me to move the extracted zip data to wherever I may want. I wanted a native library that could read and modify Windows Shortcuts so I could drop my zip data anywhere; my project is in Java, and its instant cross compatibility was needed. I know all my clients have Java installed, so that made its dependency not a issue. After looking around on the internet and finding several options, including the popular https://github.com/jimmc/jshortcut. Now the downside the this popular jShortcut library is you need a DLL, why you need a DLL to write a binary file, I am not sure. More specifically, you need a DLL for your PCs instruction set, ick! After searching the far reaches of github, and getting to the end of my rope I found https://github.com/kactech/jshortcut, written 5 years ago, and not really popular on github I thought I would give it a try. IT’S AMAZING! With no dependencies, and just a single include, you can write, modify, and create new Windows Shortcuts! There is example code included, and it couldn’t be easier to use. I just wanted to make sure anyone who has had the same problem knows about this great library.

How To Remove Branding From a Dell OEM Server

NOTE: This is for Dell OEM systems only, run at your own risk.

Recently I have RMAed motherboards for non-branded Dell servers. The problem I ran into is I was getting branded system boards back when I had originally had non-branded. The non-branded BIOSes would just be blank with a progress bar instead of having the Dell logo. I ended up spending more time and energy talking to Dell again trying to get boards to my specifications. I was told by several Dell engineers that unfortunately there was no way to fix this other than the factory setting the board up.

Well they were wrong, and because I didn’t find this anywhere online I am going to detail the instructions. Note: this is ONLY for people who need to un-brand systems from Dell, I have done this with 12th Generation servers and nothing else.

  1. Remove the old motherboard, and install the new motherboard into the chassis
  2. Now the first thing Dell training says is to set the service tag on the system now, DO NOT DO THIS YET
    • If you set the service tag, the unbranding tool will not work. If you have already set the service tag, more than likely by booting to DOS and using ftp://ftp.dell.com/utility/asset_a209.com, then you can still fix this. Boot back to DOS and use the tool again, except with “asset_~1 /s /d”. This is an undocumented feature that will remove the service tag of the box.
  3. Start up any version of Windows that is at least Windows Vista loaded. I used Windows 8 because you can get a 90 day evaluation for free. And that is enough for me to do what work I need done on the box before handing it over.
  4. Go to Support.Dell.com, and look up the box by the service tag to get to the OEM support site. If you don’t have the service tag, look up the generic version and get the url, currently for a R720 it looks like this http://www.dell.com/support/troubleshooting/us/en/04/Product/poweredge-r620. Now if you replace “poweredge” with “oth” you get the oem version. So http://www.dell.com/support/troubleshooting/us/en/04/Product/oth-r620”.
  5. Go to Drivers and Downloads, and find the download for “Identity Module”, I had to switch the OS selector to “Windows Server 2008 x64” to find it. Then hit “Download File”
  6. Now it will offer ~3 different files, one will be similar to “R620_Identity-Module_Application_WCPFW_WN32_1.01_A00.EXE”, stating “Identity-Module_Application”, download this file.
  7. Run this in Windows, it will ask if you are sure and just say yes. It can take up to 5 minutes, MAKE SURE NOTHING INTURUPTS THE SERVER IN THIS TIME.
  8. Reboot the server, and it will come up with the branding again, then it will give a special message once it gets past post similar to “modifying branding”
  9. The system will reboot again, and the branding is gone
  10. Now go into the DOS bootable drive, USB works well, and set the service tag for the system.

Now your OEM box that was impossible to unbrand has been unbranded.

Home Repairs and Nest

A little different than the normal tech posts I do, I am going to talk about the week of repairs I have done on my parents house. I came home from college, to find many little items needing fixing around the house. Including the broken dishwasher, now back in January I had a broken drier that after a afternoon with a voltmeter I found the broken part and fixed.

Dishwasher

Being that the dishwasher is over 10 years old with no warranty on it, I thought I would attempt repairs before telling the parents we need a new one. The system was not draining, so I got out the wet dry vac and cleaned all that out. Thats when I learned that it also was not filling and the circulation motor was not working. I am now much more informed of the entire system of my model dish washer, to say the least. I have found in repairing these appliances, and other installations such as the Nest, taking a lot of photos with my phone along the way helps; for if I have to recall which wire goes where, a photo is a life saver.

First I wanted to fix the motor because it smelled like it was burning itself out trying to work. It turned out that several whole almonds had made their way down into the drive of the circulation motor and were causing it to not spin. After several minutes with a screw driver they were removed and the motor was working again. Next water was not entering the system, I ended up replacing the intake valve using my local appliance store (marcone.com, I mention the name simply because of the great service they gave me). The final touch that got the machine working was filling the bottom with a gallon of water and a splash of vinegar. Now the machine is working and running several cycles to make sure it will stay happy for the foreseeable future. The last part I need comes in tomorrow, it is the “non-return intake valve”; a part that makes sure water that is expelled from the system does not return. The old one disintegrated over time.

Nest

Now that we don’t have to clean dishes from hand, I got a new toy for the house. The house was built in 1945, the land used to be a victory garden, and has used the same thermostat for the last 20 years. The house has a heat pump, as well as a oil burning furnace; for this house the furnace is much more efficient on a dollars basis. The problem with ever replacing the thermostat to a new model was that with the two stage heating we didn’t know which models would work with all the settings the old thermostat had. After going through the compatibility checker on the Nest website it said our system would work. And I took it upon myself to try a self installation. In theory the Nest should save power (the internet seems to say it can go up to 20%) as well as give us more convenient control over the system.

Below are some photos of the old Honeywell thermostat, before I did anything I cut power to the house to make sure nothing was live. As I removed the plate of the old thermostat, the wires were clearly labeled. The Nest came with stickers to put on each wire while disconnecting them. Then I just had to put the Nest base in, put all the wires in the holes and turn the power back on. Some of my wires did not have matching places to put them on the new system, but after a quick Google search, I found answers on Nest support forms. The setup was fairly simple, yet I had to go in and tell it what the different wires did and what heating/cooling systems the house had. Over all the setup was not too difficult, just a little nerve racking changing the center for climate control in the house.

The Nest rebooted several times with updates once on the Wifi. One feature my father was insistent on was that it never activate the old heat pump and always use the oil furnace, the online Nest tool let me change this setting easily. So far the system has worked well, but with it being around 70F most of this week we have yet to give it that much to do. If this system works well we may exchange other thermostats in the house for Nests as well. The newer part of the house has radiant heating and in theory Nest knows how to handle that efficiently. I will post some updates as time goes on, I am interested to see how Nest does with the big old house, and the power bill; once it gets up and running it gives power reports for the house, these will be interesting to see.

WQL, SQL Queries for Windows Backend (Part 1)

If you have been writing web apps for a while, or other apps you more than likely have used SQL. SQL allows you to query a database and interact with your applications data. Instead of trying to find a users profile, what if we wanted to find out what a user was printing on their local machine? If there was an easy interface for that, it could make programming for a platform like Windows a lot easier. Well Microsoft years ago added this ability to Windows; the technology is called WQL. This was added with the other components of WMI (Windows Management Instrumentation) at Windows ME. For Windows 9x and NT you can download the WMI core. This article will be a brief over view of what it can do and how you can play around with it.

First like when we looked at LDAP, we want a tool that will let us quickly play around with what is available, and then code that into our application. The tool I use is WMI Explorer, http://www.ks-soft.net/hostmon.eng/wmi/, it provides a easy interface to look at all the data available. With the WMI core it works with everything back to Windows 95! You can download and run the program for free, no installation required. Once open, there is a upper portion of the window that lists all the spaces you can access, these would be the ‘tables’ in SQL. Depending on your version of Windows, there will be separate options available. I have used this interface before for network cards (6to4 Cleaner) and printers.

WMI Explorer

WMI Explorer

For this example I will go over to the Win32 framework and access the Win32_Printer ‘table’. I get a list of printers the machine has installed, as well as attributes to each of these printers. Any administrator, or any program attempting to manager printers (I say attempting because printers can he a horrible experience) information – like what port the printer is using – is here, in addition what type of connection this machine has to the printer. At the bottom of the Window there is a Query that is building as you select different fields. This query can be moved into a application later to get the same data in code. WMI Explorer also allows for a user to write Queries directly without this interface; that is the second tab at the top of the window.

One downside I have found in using WMI is the setup process time, in C#/.NET using WMI is easy, but it takes time to start accepting queries. About a year or two ago I was working on querying network card information on Windows Vista. The first call could take a few seconds to respond, after that first call it would speed up, this is just something that has to be accounted for in the applications design. I found running WQL queries in a separate process, and starting them as soon as possible would allow the process to finish before the user needed the data.

I just wanted to get everyone started looking at what is available, in a later article I will go into more depth about programming with this and how you can interact with this data in a C#/.NET program.

LDAP Authentication RPI Tutorial (Part 1)

After writing about how to use CAS with PHP, I thought I would write a post about how to use LDAP(Lightweight Directory Access Protocol) at RPI but these methods can be used anywhere. LDAP is a protocol to query user databases, this is a protocol that can be sed along with Active Directory, or another directory system for computers and user accounts. This protocol is widely used to allow different applications to interact with your user database. Here I will be showing how to implement search with LDAP to a web application. This guide will be using LDAP with PHP, this requires the LDAP module to be enabled within PHP; that will be the purpose of this article, then the next one will discuss how to actually query LDAP.

LDAP Linux (Debian/Ubuntu) Install

Linux is easy to get LDAP working with PHP, as long as you have a standard installation of Apache, with PHP 5 working.

  1. Install the LDAP module onto the machine, using either aptitude or apt-get
    • “sudo aptitude install php5-ldap”
    • OR “sudo apt-get install php5-ldap”
  2. PHP should now be able to use LDAP, if it is not working yet, you will need to restart Apache.
    • “sudo service apache2 restart”

LDAP Windows (XAMPP) Install

Xampp for Windows comes with LDAP, but there is a bug in their implementation and a file needs to be copied before LDAP will work. I am going to use “C:\xampp”, the default directory for Xampp in this example.

  1. Go into the PHP folder, C:\xampp\php\
  2. Edit the file “php.ini” with any text editor
  3. Find the line “;extension=php_ldap.dll”, and remove the semi-colon. “extension=php_ldap.dll”
  4. Now if you were to reboot Apache it should be working, but its not! Why not? There is a missing DLL. You need to
    copy libsasl.dll from c:\xampp\php\libsasl.dll to C:\xampp\apache\bin\.
  5. Now restart Apache

LDAP Search

Now that PHP can search LDAP we are going to want to start creating queries in PHP; but it is much easier to tweak the search in the command line, and then put that query into PHP. The following are steps that can be taken on a Linux computer (again Ubuntu/Debian) to install and use a ldap command line search.

  1. First we need to install the OpenLDAP utilities that will give us the “ldapsearch” command
    • “sudo aptitude install openldap-utils”
    • OR “sudo apt-get install openldap-utils”
  2. Now we are making our query
    • First we add the command, then enter the host you are searching, tell the server to try simple anonymous authentication. Next give the server a base to start the search (I am using RPI specific domain components), finally we have to give the heart of our search. I am looking for any Unique ID (username) that starts with “berk”, and ends with anything “*”.
    • ldapsearch -h “ldap.rpi.edu” -x -b “dc=rpi, dc=edu” “uid=berk*”
    • Now this gives one result, and this can be used to see what data will be returned from this server. You can also try “ldap1.server.rpi.edu” this returns a entirely different list of variables, and sometimes more users.
    • If you are interested in researching this command more, die.net has a great resource. http://linux.die.net/man/1/ldapsearch
    • Troubleshooting: For those of you here at RPI trying to follow this guide specifically, if you do not get any results or a error connecting, RPI firewalls the LDAP servers heavily. I have found a lot of the time I have to be in the VCC to make this work, you can also VPN in, then your network connection is within the VCC and it will work. I have VPNed in, while on campus in the Union to get LDAP to work.

UPDATE: I added a little about what LDAP is

Adding Strict Standards, (Or Removing)

I have been developing on a Debian Apache system for a long time, for one of the projects I have been working on I had to run on a Windows Server. After installing XAMPP I noticed that by default, XAMPP sets the developer settings of Strict Standards. Meanwhile the Linux system didn’t have that enabled. I went out wanting to set the Linux server to have the Strict settings to force me to code properly. I found many places that would tell me how to disable strict standards (because users found it bothersome), but after a little searching I didn’t find a clear guide so I thought I would write one for PHP5.

  1. Find “php.ini”
    • Windows (XAMPP): The file is kept under C:/xampp/php/php.ini
    • Linux: For php5 (at least in debian) /etc/php5/apache2/php.ini
  2. Open the file and scroll to;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;
    ; Error handling and logging ;
    ;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;
  3. The line you want to edit iserror_reporting =…
  4. Copying the line below will enable strict settings, while other combinations listed below will enable different values.
    • Development Value: E_ALL | E_STRICT

My Linux box configured itself as  “error_reporting = E_ALL & ~E_DEPRECATED”, which is the standard for production.

Here is the description that comes with php.ini,

;Default Value: E_ALL & ~E_NOTICE
; Development Value: E_ALL | E_STRICT
; Production Value: E_ALL & ~E_DEPRECATED
; http://php.net/error-reporting