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Friday, August 3 2007

Lots of Construction on Campus

The Super-Tent/IT Pavilion/Big Top/Big House fronts on the main RU parking lot, at the other end of which is the 66th St Gate. Except that after we moved in, they walled in the lot and started digging:

Parking Lot and Super-Tent

They still haven't started on Smith Hall, though, which makes me wonder why we couldn't still be in a proper building now. In the meantime, the main campus entrance and driveway are closed, along with the parking lot, under which a new electrical vault will be built. Getting around campus is much more complicated now than 6 months ago. This is especially true for IT, moving equipment around the tent, as the pathways and steps around the periphery don't quite work for carts.

Our new main data center is nearing completion. It was previously our backup/disaster recovery site, so needed a lot of build-out to fit the rest of our servers. The swap from the older/smaller UPS system to the newer/larger one will be tricky, as several live servers will be switched over while running. Later we get to swap systems end-for-end across campus, so the primaries are in the primary DC, once their current location becomes the DR site. Needless to say, most of our systems are not redundant, so there will be a bunch of minor disruptions.

Stu Cohnen

Stu, who is overseeing the build-out of what will largely be 'his' DC, showed me why Cat6A cabling is so much thicker (and thus harder to work with) than old-school Cat5 UTP ("Unshielded Twisted Pair") -- the internal copper wiring is twisted around itself many more times to reduce interference, and the whole thing is cradled by a plastic framework shaped like a plus sign. This framework is twisted as well, so as the Cat6A cables lay next to each other in cable trays, the individual conductor strands don't align with neighboring Cat6A cables, again helping to avoid signal transference between what should be independent connections. The idea is that in 10 years, when everybody is demanding 10GE connections, we'll be able to simply re-patch uplinks into 10GE switch ports as needed. Otherwise the rewiring would be painful for individual machines, and impossibly disruptive to do in bulk.

Unfortunately, the heavier-duty Cat6A is also heavier and bulkier, thus significantly harder to work with and slower to run. Each of the 24 new 42U racks is getting 48 runs, from 2 1U patch panels in each rack, back to 6 patch panels (96 connections) in each of the new network racks, where switches and other Cat5-based gear, such as terminal servers and KVM switches, will go. This is new 1,152 runs in addition to the slightly older stuff at the South end of the room, which is still our DR site during this construction.

My question is: How long will it be before we need more than 48 connections in a rack? Our non-blade Linux servers tend to have 3 Cat5 connections: Ethernet, serial console, and KVM; Windows systems don't need serial consoles, so they get 2. A rack of 1U Linux servers maxes out at 40 1U servers and 120 Cat5 connections, which just won't fly here. 8 2U Linux servers (24 connections) and 12 Windows servers (another 24 connections) fill a rack, meaning as time goes on and we are again someday tight for space, we might run out of network connections sooner. At that point we could put a KVM server in every third rack and reclaim a lot of cabling for Ethernet, but it violates our model of having everything run patched to the switch racks. We'll see what the world looks like when we actually get there...

I discovered yesterday that they're also simultaneously digging up the driveway between Founders Hall and Flexner -- not sure why, but it looks like pipe-laying for plumbing.

Trench between Founders and Flexner Update According to Stu, this is actually conduit for electrical wiring, from the vault under our parking lot up through to an electrical switching station in Flexner.

Many more RU photographs are up at http://www.reppep.com/~pepper/album/ru/

Friday, April 27 2007

Super-Tent Move Has Begun

The IT Office staff has moved, along with management. Most of the UNIX Systems Group moves Tuesday. It's not a happy thing, although we're hoping for mitigating factors.

Just in time too -- this place is falling apart around our ears. A heavily used door is broken, the bathrooms are broken (broken toilets, a flood, and an ant colony). The copier broke and has been left behind. The new bathrooms have no urinals; we'll see if that has a significant impact on cleanliness.

Furnishings are not great; the monitor arms don't quite fit under the tasks lights, the new locks are different than the old ones, so while we had the same key for desk/cubbies/pedestal before, the old pedestals can't be keyed the same as the new desks/cubbies. I've been offered a new pedestal, so I wouldn't have to carry more keys, but the new ones are smaller...

We're refusing furniture to have more floor space, and various things are now inconveniently farther away.

We're out of boxes already, and I haven't packed up (although I have gotten rid of some stuff).

Hopefully Monday will be less busy than today, so I can pack!

Our office, from above

Tuesday, April 17 2007

Super-Tent move begins in 10 days

My group is currently scheduled to move on May 1, and it looks like the Super-Tent will be ready. It isn't yet, but they're pretty close. This week I learned about VESA monitor mounts. VESA has a series of (poorly named) standards for monitor mounting; both my Samsung monitors use a 100x100mm VESA mount, and (with a small adapter) my new Apple 23" display does as well. I have a VESA mount of some sort on order, but have not been able to find out what they actually purchased yet.

I am now wondering if I would've been better served by a taller monitor, instead of the widescreen aspect ratio, but it doesn't seem like our space will be so tight that this is going to be important. Fortunately, even though I am using different displays, they are both silver, both 1200 pixels high, and both use the same VESA mount, so I should be fine.

The Mac Pro arrived today, and it does seem substantially snappier, although it's the "low-end" Mac Pro (4 2.66GHz Xeon cores), compared to the original fastest PMG5 (2x2GHz G5s).

I have already salvaged the 120gb drive from my old 700MHz Microway Linux machine; nothing else was worth keeping, although it was a fine Linux test box for several years. I got rid of the Sun Blade 100 (500MHz), which was invaluable for testing (and net installing) Solaris 8-10, even though it never got much TLC. I've tentatively decided to keep the Windows Dell, as much so I can test p2v conversions as because I haven't yet installed the Remedy "Action Request" (help-desk ticketing) client in a Parallels VM yet.

I've seen my RHEL5 VM fail to respond to input on the MacBook Pro a few times, so if that continues to be a problem I'll switch to the VMware "Fusion" beta. I very briefly played with several of the VMware pre-built "appliances", but for my work it's as valuable to run through the installer as to actually log in, so I will be installing Solaris 10 x86 (my first x86 Solaris install) tomorrow under Parallels.

With the frosted glass (still under paper) the partitions are taller than I expected, and the 4-person cubes are larger than I expected, but there is still going to be a major lack of privacy. With 60+ people in the tent and HVAC turned on, it is also likely to be quite noisy. We'll know soon!

Our cube, from above

And my current office; the new Mac Pro & 23" CD are on the right; the old PMG5, 19" Samsung & Apple 17" LCD are on the left (all going away). The Windows Dell is out of sight on the right floor. Ironically, I will actually have boxes for the two nicest/most expensive pieces of equipment because they're new -- assuming I don't give up and throw the boxes out in frustration at the crowding first.

[My current (old) cube](http://www.reppep.com/~pepper/album/ru/super-tent-20070417/Pages/21.html "My current / old cube"

I installed several hundred megs of patches, am right now copying over my MP3s, and am now installing XCode (should be standard on Mac Pros!) to install Fink next.

Thursday, March 22 2007

Super-Tent Approaches

People are also calling it the Pavilion and the Big Top (I like Big House), and we're now supposed to move in April 27th (previously it was set for March 15th, but I guess we're not going to make that one). Last week, moving boxes showed up in our current office -- that wasn't encouraging.

We're discussing steps to alleviate the crunch, like swapping out desktops for laptops and virtual machines, but I'm somewhat surprised there's no big movement in this direction. Personally, I'm hoping to get rid of 3 desktops and upgrade a laptop. Mac Pro octo (when released) should be a dandy VM host too.

It would be helpful if we could do some telecommuting, but I'm not sure if the Powers That Be will allow it. We'll have to see how bad the crowding and noise are -- the real experience may change everyone's thinking (or it might not be too bad, but that's a lot to hope for). The partitions certainly were higher than I expected, and the cubes less tiny, although if we double up, they will be very cramped. On the bright side, I hear the city will only give a 5-year permit for the tent, which is better than I expected. It's not a good thing when you're relieved at only spending 5 years in a large semi-permanent "building" with outside bathrooms. But hey, at least we'll have good connectivity. Oy vey!

Anyway, new pics are up.

Upstairs cube farm

Saturday, February 24 2007

Super-Tent Purgatory

Tent & Cars

I had a conversation with a co-worker about our new space. We're moving into the Super-Tent in March, and the construction on Theobald Smith Hall (where we're being kicked out of for the gut renovation) is supposed to finish in 2011. There's been no discussion about where IT will go after we move out of the Super-Tent, except that we're not moving back, because Smith (and Flexner) will be all open-bay lab space (no administrative departments allowed).

We all assume Flexner will start as Smith is winding down, so if Smith takes 4 years, Flexner might take 3 (until 2014). At that point, Bronk is going to look quite old and unloved (as it already does, actually), so that's 2017. RU IT is over 60 people now, so by then we should be 80+, and the University is extremely unlikely to have a nice space to put a group of 80+ people (we're currently in 5 locations in 4 buildings, spanning 5 blocks).

So perhaps in 2017 (barring major construction delays, and we all know all construction finishes on time, right?!?), the University will be trying to figure out what to do with 80 people, who are less important than any lab.

At this point, I have to think they'll wait to think about it (as they waited to give us new space, or renovate our existing space for a few years). Perhaps 3 years later the City will finally make them remove the tent (which is not approved as a permanent structure, of course), so around 2020, I expect RU to be scattering the IT department across campus again. Maybe we can find the 13th Colony!

Note: Bathrooms will be outside -- outhouses are so retro!

Check out my Super-Tent photos and the RU article on the construction plans.

Thursday, January 11 2007


The building I work in at The Rockefeller University is almost a hundred years old. It has a history of important science and medicine performed within its walls, and is thus a national historic landmark. On the other hand, it's in awful shape. The University cannot replace it, so they have decided to gut our building (Theobald Smith Hall) and the adjacent Flexner Hall; the buildings will then be completely rebuilt internally, and converted to open lab space.

The renovations and landscaping are expected to take several year, at which point IT won't be moving back, because the buildings will be only for labs, so we'll get put somewhere else. Unfortunately, IT does not get good offices. We are currently scattered across several floors of 3 buildings, with servers in 4 rooms across 3 buildings -- and insufficient environmental support for all our equipment. Construction always takes longer than planned, and it seems likely they will renovate another building after our two are finished, which means the space crunch will continue longer.

The immediate impact: in the early spring we will be moving to a new temporary structure (the "Super-Tent" -- "it's not a tent!"). It's being assembled right now, two stories tall. It will be real office space, but it's going to be crowded and noisy. I hope it has sufficient heating, cooling, power, and networking, but we can't know yet. Here's a picture of the "Super-Tent" under construction: