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Original author: 
Sean Gallagher


NSA Headquarters in Fort Meade, MD.

mjb

One organization's data centers hold the contents of much of the visible Internet—and much of it that isn't visible just by clicking your way around. It has satellite imagery of much of the world and ground-level photography of homes and businesses and government installations tied into a geospatial database that is cross-indexed to petabytes of information about individuals and organizations. And its analytics systems process the Web search requests, e-mail messages, and other electronic activities of hundreds of millions of people.

No one at this organization actually "knows" everything about what individuals are doing on the Web, though there is certainly the potential for abuse. By policy, all of the "knowing" happens in software, while the organization's analysts generally handle exceptions (like violations of the law) picked from the flotsam of the seas of data that their systems process.

I'm talking, of course, about Google. Most of us are okay with what Google does with its vast supply of "big data," because we largely benefit from it—though Google does manage to make a good deal of money off of us in the process. But if I were to backspace over Google's name and replace it with "National Security Agency," that would leave a bit of a different taste in many people's mouths.

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Aurich Lawson / Thinkstock

The corporate data center is undergoing a major transformation the likes of which haven't been seen since Intel-based servers started replacing mainframes decades ago. It isn't just the server platform: the entire infrastructure from top to bottom is seeing major changes as applications migrate to private and public clouds, networks get faster, and virtualization becomes the norm.

All of this means tomorrow's data center is going to look very different from today's. Processors, systems, and storage are getting better integrated, more virtualized, and more capable at making use of greater networking and Internet bandwidth. At the heart of these changes are major advances in networking. We're going to examine six specific trends driving the evolution of the next-generation data center and discover what both IT insiders and end-user departments outside of IT need to do to prepare for these changes.

Beyond 10Gb networks

Network connections are getting faster to be sure. Today it's common to find 10-gigabit Ethernet (GbE) connections to some large servers. But even 10GbE isn't fast enough for data centers that are heavily virtualized or handling large-scale streaming audio/video applications. As your population of virtual servers increases, you need faster networks to handle the higher information loads required to operate. Starting up a new virtual server might save you from buying a physical server, but it doesn't lessen the data traffic over the network—in fact, depending on how your virtualization infrastructure works, a virtual server can impact the network far more than a physical one. And as more audio and video applications are used by ordinary enterprises in common business situations, the file sizes balloon too. This results in multi-gigabyte files that can quickly fill up your pipes—even the big 10Gb internal pipes that make up your data center's LAN.

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About a year and a half ago, I researched the state of routers: about as unsexy as it gets but essential to the stability, reliability, and security of your Internet connection. My conclusion?

This is boring old plain vanilla commodity router hardware, but when combined with an open source firmware, it is a massive improvement over my three year old, proprietary high(ish) end router. The magic router formula these days is a combination of commodity hardware and open-source firmware. I'm so enamored of this one-two punch combo, in fact, I might even say it represents the future. Not just of the everyday workhorse routers we all need to access the Internet – but the future of all commodity hardware.

I felt a little bad about that post, because I quickly migrated from the DD-WRT open source firmware to OpenWRT and then finally settled on Tomato. I guess that's open source, too many choices with nobody to really tell you what's going to work reliably on your particular hardware. But the good news is that I've been running Tomato quite happily with total stability for about a year now – primarily because it is gloriously simple, but also because it has the most functional quality of service (QoS) implementation.

Tomato-qos

Why does functional Quality of Service matter so very much in a router? Unless you have an Internet connection that's only used by your grandmother to visit her church's website on Sundays, QoS is the difference between a responsive Internet and one that's brutally dog slow.

Ever sat in an internet shop, a hotel room or lobby, a local hotspot, and wondered why you can't access your email? Unknown to you, the guy in the next room or at the next table is hogging the internet bandwidth to download the Lord Of The Rings Special Extended Edition in 1080p HDTV format. You're screwed - because the hotspot router does not have an effective QoS system. In fact, I haven't come across a shop or an apartment block locally that has any QoS system in use at all. Most residents are not particularly happy with the service they [usually] pay for.

When I switched from DD-WRT and OpenWRT to Tomato, I had to buy a different router, because Tomato only supports certain router hardware, primarily Broadcom. The almost universal recommendation was the Asus RT-N16, so that's what I went with.


Asus RT-N16

And it is still an excellent choice. If you just want a modern, workhorse single band wireless N router that won't break the bank, but has plenty of power and memory to run Tomato, definitely try the Asus RT-N16. It's currently available for under $80 (after $10 rebate). Once you get Tomato on there, you've got a fine combination of hardware and software. Take it from this SmallNetBuilder user review:

I'm a semigeek. Some of the stuff on this site confuses me. But I figured out enough to get this router and install Tomato USB. Great combination. Have not had any problems with the router. Love all the features that Tomato gives me. Like blocking my son's iPod after 7 PM. Blocking certain websites. Yeah, I know you can do that with other routers but Tomato made it easy. Also love the QoS features. Netflix devices get highest bandwidth while my wife's bittorrent gets low.

Review was too heavily slanted against the Asus software, which I agree is crap. I bought the router for its hardware specs. Large memory. Fast processor. Gigabyte lan. 2 USB ports.

What's not to love? Well, the dual band thing, mainly. If you want a truly top of the line router with incredible range, and simultaneous dual band 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz performance bragging rights, fortunately there's the Asus RT-N66U.

Asus RT-N66U

This is, currently at least, the state of the art in routers. It has a faster CPU and twice the memory (256 MB) of the RT-N16. But at $190 it is also over twice the price. Judge for yourself in the SmallNetBuilder review:

As good as the RT-66U is, our wireless performance results once again show that no router is good in every mode that we test. But that said, the Dark Knight clearly outperformed both the NETGEAR WNDR4500 and Cisco Linksys E4200V2 in most of our two and three-stream tests. And it's the only router in recent memory able to reach to our worst-case/lowest-signal test location on the 5 GHz band, albeit with barely-usable throughput. Still, this is an accomplishment in itself.

If you're going to spend close to $200 for a wireless router, you should get a lot for your money. The Dark Knight seems to deliver wireless performance to justify its high price and has routing speed fast enough to handle any service a consumer is likely to have, even our friends in Europe and Asia.

Its only weakness? Take a guess. Oh wait, no need to guess, it's the same "weakness" the RT-N16 shared, the sketchy Asus firmware it ships with out of the box. That's why we get our Tomato on, people! There is complete and mature support for the RT-N66U in Tomato; for a walkthrough on how to get it installed (don't be shy, it's not hard) Check out Shadow Andy's TomatoUSB firmware flashing guide.

Does having nice router hardware with a current open source firmware matter? Well, if your livelihood depends on the Internet like mine does, then I certainly think so.

Internet-serious-business

At the very least, if you or someone you love is also an Internet fan and hasn't given any particular thought to what router they use, maybe it's time to start checking into that. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go donate to the Tomato project.

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McGruber writes "The Wall Street Journal is reporting that tech interns are in high demand in the Bay area. According to the author, 'Technology giants like Google Inc. have been expanding their summer-intern programs, while smaller tech companies are ramping up theirs in response — sometimes even luring candidates away from college.' Meanwhile in NYC, CIOs lament that they are unable to retain 20-something techies according to a report in Network World. Says one CIO, 'It puts us in a really uncomfortable position to have this kind of turnover because knowledge keeps walking out the door. We invest in training people and bringing them up to speed to where they need to be, and boom they're gone. That has been my biggest struggle and concern.' It's the pay, stupid!"

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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