Monthly Archives: March 2012

The Little Big Box @ 30

The BBC Micro weenies are getting together to celebrate the machine’s 30th anniversary this weekend as per this Register report. It is happening at ARM’s Cambridge HQ and sadly there is no way that I can be at the event. This is one of the influential microcomputers of the 1980s helping to mold many young minds into computer professionals in the subsequent years.

I cannot write enough about this amazing box that literally defined the foundation of my career and passion. The computing revolution caught on a bit late in India and this box found it’s way onto Indian shores by around 1989. I learned the magic of bits and bytes on this device starting 1990 and from that time I was hooked. The box had amazing capabilities that IMHO put it ahead of other similar devices like the Commodore64, Atari or TRS80 etc. The BBC BASIC language was quite advanced with structured programming constructs like functions and procedures, advanced control flow, recursion, variable scoping, optional strong typing and even typed pointers via indirection operators as opposed to the cumbersome PEEK and POKE of other BASIC dialects. The BASIC interpreter would even pre-parse the program into a semi-bytecode format for performance. Inline assembly support for the 6502 was also available. Around 2 years down the line when I started playing with an IBM PC-AT I’d just curse the GW BASIC with it’s primitive design.

I learned a lot on this box on my own effort which includes Data Structures and Algorithms, 3D Computer Graphics, OS fundamentals and basic Computer Architecture. The power of BBC BASIC even allowed me to implement a simple demand paging facility to overlay and load procedure blocks from floppy disk and adjusting the code segment pointers (the HIMEM and LOMEM stuff). This allowed one to write programs larger than available free memory. Today I still play around sometimes with an Emulator called BeebEm.

Lead..errr..ship Performance

Lead..errr..ship Performance
Whenever I see claims like “Breakthrough Performance” or “Leadership Performance”, or some such claims from vendors, my antennas go up and I reach for that bottle of salt. Typically these so called whitepapers or reports are full of marketing cruft carefully sidelining the real information which is also present in the report. Today I came across this report on VMware’s site: http://www.vmware.com/files/pdf/techpaper/vmw-hp-sap-vmware-performance-brief.pdf

If you go through that brief carefully you notice something strange at the very end. In the x86 space they are comparing a HP Proliant BL 460c G7 with a Fujitsu PRIMERGY RX300 S5 and show that tthe HP system scales to 32125 SAP SD users while the Fujitsu one can only scale to 16000 users. In the non-x86 space they compare with a IBM System p550 (Power6). Now I am not familiar with the specifics of IBM Power systems so, leaving that aside, let us focus on the x86 space. If we look at  the two systems and configs side by side some things become striking:

HP Proliant BL 460c G7 Fujitsu PRIMERGY RX300 S5
X5675 Westmere EP X5570 Nehalem EP
2 CPU/12 Cores/24 Threads 2 CPU/8 Cores/16 Threads
12MB Cache 8MB Cache
ESX 5.0 ESX 4.0

MS Windows Server 2008 R2

SuSE Enterprise Server 10
APP Tier: 10 Servers APP Tier: 7 Servers

Now one can’t help but say WTF! This is in no way a balanced comparison. There are too many variables here. These folks are comparing a Nehalem EP 8MB Cache with a Westmere EP 12MB Cache and more cores. The game is half over there. Next being thing in the ESX version. HP’s purported leadership performance G7 is running ESX 5.0 while the competitor’s older server is running ESX 4.0. The game is lost here. Finally what made HP run SuSE on the Fujitsu box and not Windows Server 2008 R2 ? Why is a Dell box not included in the “Leadership Performance” tests ? Do the great benchmarkers expect people reading the doc to be smoking Ganja ?

Now there is one situation where a vendor’s boasts with their latest and greatest systems compared to the competition’s older systems can hold water. This is only under the condition that the competition does NOT have a comparable system on offer. That eminently is not the case here. The comparison could have been done with a Fujitsu PRIMERGY RX300 S6 which is a similar spec Westmere EP system and should have been running Windows. Now there may possibly be some other factor, I am not aware of, that made the benchmarkers choose the older PRIMERGY system. If that is true why is that not mentioned in the document ?

Highway 1

More than a year has passed by since I last posted here and about 3.5 years have passed since I made that big decision to step out of the erstwhile SUN. What a cruise it has been on Highway 1, the highway of one’s life. While the change was painful at that time in hindsight it was the correct thing to do. I owe it to my wife and family to have supported and coaxed me in that decision without which I would not have made the job change. My wife was in fact quite fired up at that time with the way the global organization within SUN had treated me. They had almost pretended that I did not exist just like the billions of mites, and tardigrades that people will have in their backyard. All this inspite of the passionate contributions I did for Solaris/OpenSolaris and the brand building locally. In fact the entire India teams, including the India management, were treated as an army of mites.

The intervening years brought with them a host of events that shaped and influenced my life and career. More so than the previous 5 years.  Let me list the recollections below:

  1. The job change brought with it a new chapter of my career. The new job came with a bit of initial culture shock but it turned out to be highly positive  in the long run. Deep technical, challenging work, a competitive but rewarding environment and unlike SUN a distinct lack of geographical isolation. I got a deep respect from the team a lot of which came from them looking at my BeleniX work. While BeleniX and other successful marketing and brand building I did for SUN got me next to nothing there, they did help me land a great new job and also get the promotion that I was denied in SUN. I remember helping SUN marketing bag a big contract they were about to lose on technology grounds and getting no recognition or rewards out of it. Mites do not deserve recognition do they ? The change of job did teach me a lot about the adage: Getting out of one’s comfort zone. It also forced me to overcome some of my weaknesses and helped me mature as an individual in several ways. I almost started out in the new environment as a fish out of water and then learned to grow legs and run. I was no longer a mite, rather a cat among bigger cats learning and growing all the time. I also had a broader view of the technology world around me being in a multidisciplinary technology environment and developing a better, richer experience profile.
  2. The financial crash of 2008 made me panic. Did I take the right decision stepping into the financial sector as a technology analyst ? The Lehman crash really caused me sleepless nights. Even in Bangalore I could see terrible things around me. Malls empty during Christmas shopping season, people losing jobs and leaving town, people unable to pay rent, salaries reducing, and so on. Eventually the floor did not disappear under my feet but it brought with it a big realization of fiscal discipline and understanding of proper investment planning. Earlier the only things I thought of were Insurance policies and fixed deposits! To actually beat inflation and grow your money requires a lot more beyond that. I have learned money matters to a point that I actually dabble directly in the equity market today, mostly profitably.
  3. The Death of the OGB after Oracle’s acquisition of SUN was another event that I will remember. I was voted into the last iteration of the OpenSolaris Governing Board and my candidacy posting is available here: https://moinakg.wordpress.com/2010/03/09/ogb-candidacy-details/ and here are the last election details: http://hub.opensolaris.org/bin/view/Community+Group+ogb/2010. Eventually Oracle’s interaction with the OGB did not work out in the same way as had been expected and the entire OpenSolaris ecosystem was itself going moribund resulting in the OGB remaining a namesake entity meeting periodically just to go over the same things again and again. While the OGB could have re-grouped itself as a different umbrella with a new charter , that was a big call and challenge with the task of creating a new community around a complete OS platform fork which itself had little outside developer participation at that time. It was felt to be the task of a different proportion and for people with somewhat different skills than what existed within the group. It was quite controversial with a lot of different opinions and accusations flying about. However eventually it also boils down to the actual interest. Speaking of myself, full-fledged community building is mostly beyond me. I love hacking and architecting software and contributing to websites, wikis, heping out a little with some community administration tasks. I have no interest in spending half of my time in coordination activities. So eventually the OGB committed suicide and as per some, handed the goods right into Oracle’s hands. So be it. Eventually a community did form around the OpenSolaris fork called “Illumos” and good efforts of Nexenta and Garrett D’Amore.
  4. My second daughter was born in the March of 2010. She is a bundle of unbridled joy and a handful to manage. She unites the extended family in a way otherwise not seen. I am fortunate that there is very little peer rivalry between my two daughters helped partly by the fact that my elder daughter is six years older.
      
  5. My first smartphone, the HTC Incredible S is an awesome device. Bought from Flipkart in early 2011 it is rugged, lightweight, has sleek design, has a sensitive screen. These coupled with HTC’s wonderful update support make it a joy to use. It is currently running Android 2.3.5 with HTC sense 3.0 after a 3rd update. The interface is very slick and the performance has improved with this update. It has survived been thrown a few times by my younger daughter and still works flawlessly. I use it day in and day out for a variety of tasks including Gmail, camera and HD video recording, some social networking, browsing, games, turn-by-turn GPS navigation from MapMyIndia, alarms and calendaring, mobile banking, mobile stock trading and more. BTW I do not own any iDevices and have no intention to get one. If anyone gifts me an iDevice I will sell it to an iFanatic for a quick buck. To be clear the iCompany makes awesome devices which have some of the best industrial design. However I dislike their business practices, technology proprietary-ness, lockdown, hype, overpricing and their attitude towards India. I hate hype in all it’s forms. In particular I absolutely hate the hype around the iFather who is treated almost as a God by some iFanatics and media. If you have to drumbeat do so around Dennis Ritchie who’s actions defined computing in fundamental ways and changed millions of lives. iOS is a tower built on the pillars created by this man. I just hated the fact that virtually everyone at the the first DTrace conference were carrying MacBooks running iOS while we passionate OpenSolaris batch here in Bangalore SUN/community will be religiously running it on our laptops, showing it at every conference we visit and bending over backwards to make projectors work and the global org wouldn’t even notice. It Sucked Big Time, but anyway we were mites so …
  6. My First SUV in the middle of 2011 was another momentous event. I had earlier driven sedans and hatches. My previous two cars prior to this SUV were small hatchbacks. I had been eying this SUV for a couple of years till I could muster up the financial juice to actually go for one (Cars in India are twice as expensive as cars in the US for example). We typically go for long outings every 3 to 4 months on average. We travel in a group and typically have 6-7 individuals in the car including adults and children. Both my daughters like to lie down. Now you can imagine the trouble we have had with up to 5 adults and 2 children plus luggage in a small hatch! So I finally bought this 7-seater SUV. The dimensions, handling and ride of this vehicle are well balanced both for city and highway use since this is my only car for daily use as well. You can read the detailed account and review at the above link. I have already clocked more than 10,000 KMs on the ODO in less than 9 months and hope to enjoy many more miles on this sturdy beast.
  7. Booking a new Villament is the most recent big event I can note here. In fact aside from the job change this is perhaps the most significant event that has taken place with the last 3.5 years of my life. Buying real estate in Bangalore is easier said than done. Prices are through the roof and keep increasing, in fact prices here are far higher than in California! On the other hand infrastructure and civic facilities are not even a weak shadow of what is available in CA. The real estate sector is riddled with black money and corruption and speculation is the order of the day. People get cheated ever other day. Builders do not complete projects on time, or legal and ownership issues with the land arise, projects get delayed, builders take booking money from one project and launch another and so on. I was staying in a small apartment which was not sufficient considering the kids and the other family members. So I had been searching for a house in all this for close to 3 years. At the same time prices were shooting up and rental yield was also rising signaling reducing speculation and hardening of demand. Eventually I landed a reasonable deal with a builder known to be the least problematic and having several good quality completed projects in the area. After a lengthy process of verification, selling of my existing apartment and moving to a rented place I was able to go through the loan(mortgage) process and cough up the down-payment. The property buy/sell process is extremely lengthy and complex in India. The property is currently under construction. The last 4 months of my life have been utterly hectic. I am still counting the time before the big EMIs start biting!

In all these my work life had been challenging and very interesting with projects in a variety of domains from Unix to Storage to High-performance Computing. My daughters have been a joy and my wife, father in law and my Mom have been the pillars of support.