Thursday, June 30, 2011

Home Storage Project (Part 3: See previous posts for context)

Small update on this project:

1) Its been more than 6 months now since the Home NAS based on the Atom processor is running - no crashes so far, the box occupies only a tiny bit of space under my desk, and is very power-efficient.

2) Midnight runs of rsync every day back-up the NAS disk to an external USB drive.

3) The backup shares of Music, Videos, Photos are streamed through DLNA to my LG Blu-Ray Player in the living room.

No more multiple copies of photos, documents etc on laptops and home desktops and wondering which one is the latest one. All files live on the NAS head, are available on all machines, and are backed up every night.

The only missing piece now is backing up critical data to the cloud. Currently, my approach is fairly ad-hoc - photos that I upload to flickr and documents that I save in Google docs get saved in the cloud. Need a more comprehensive solution...

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Home Storage Project - Part 2: (See previous post for context)

Minor updates to the setup on top of what was described in the previous post:

1) Chose to run Fedora Core on the NAS head instead of Ubuntu Live. The Live USB was at too much risk of being knocked off and I am more comfortable with FC distribution.

2) Re-partitioned the 1.5TB internal hard drive and installed Fedora on one partition, and the rest is for data. So no live USBs hanging around.

The Atom based NAS head is now up and running and serving files to all laptops in the home. I plan to attach the external USB hard drive also to the NAS box, and use it as a daily rsync backup from the internal hard drive.

The big P4 desktop (older NAS box) is now powered off and booted up only when required as a regular desktop.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Home Storage Project - Part 1:

Up until now, I have been using my old P4 desktop running FC11 and an external 500G USB drive as a NAS server serving files to all my home machines. It has been an ok solution so far, but has 2 obvious problems that I had been postponing addressing so far.

1) BACKUP: There is no RAID or backup configured. My backup method is completely ad-hoc. Every once in a while, I hook up another hard drive to the P4 desktop (this hard drive is a laptop internal drive with a SATA to USB connector that converts it to an external drive), and rsync the files off to it. Works, but clearly nowhere near ideal.

2) GREEN COMPUTING: The P4 FC11 desktop is primarily used as a NAS head, hence is on 24/7; clearly not a green answer because of the power-hogging P4.

Recently, I decided it was time to address the problems, and look for a better home NAS solution. After researching different options online, I have settled on the following:

1) Have a separate dedicated NAS box that runs 24/7 and is power efficient.
2) Backup the NAS disks to a separate server that is turned on just for the backup.

For (1), there were several home NAS boxes available from Linksys, Netgear, etc, but none of them really hit the sweet spot in terms of extensibility, features, power consumption, and cost. Plus, with a closed NAS box, you don't get access to the shell on the NAS box (atleast not an unrestricted shell), and that is an irritant!

Finally, after discussions with Brian, Anshul, and Shashi, and sufficient amount of online searching, I decided to just assemble a low-power headless NAS, and run Ubuntu/FC11 on it, and set it up as a samba share for other laptops/desktops at home to mount from. There are several low-power mini-ITX motherboards available built around the Intel Atom. Unlike the first generation Atom boards, the new ones have a chipset that is low-power (NM10) too in addition to the sub 10 watt cpu, so the entire board can run between 15-20 watts idle, and possibly close to 30w when spinning disks during backup or heavy NAS access.

Here are the specs for the board, hard disk, and case, in case anyone is researching a home NAS setup.

Intel D510 motherboard:

WDC 1.5G Caviar Green hard disk:

Chenbro mini-ITX case:

In the final configuration, I have ubuntu booting from a USB stick, and the 1.5 TB hard disk is used for data and serves as the samba store shared over the network.

For backup, the P4 desktop that runs Win7/WinXP or FC11 is powered up periodically for rsync.

Next step is to add cloud backup to complete the picture.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Its been six months since my last post. I had ended that post with the comment "Back at home, as I pen this blog, I am already dreaming up of the rest of the hikes that Geeta and I would like to do this summer. Its just a simple matter of execution ;) "

And I am delighted to write that we did quite okay on the execution front - quite a few hikes and many more exciting trips this summer, all thanks to Geeta's initiative.

Summer of '07 - Point Reyes, Yosemite, Chicago, Napa Valley, Grand Teton, Yellowstone, Las Vegas.

Its been a blast!

Sunday, April 01, 2007

After a week of rain (cant complain though, need more of those to keep the drought away), the skies opened up on the weekend, and it was beautiful weather in the bay area. Temperatures in low 70's, and miles of visibility if one could get out of home and up in the mountains! Geeta was visiting Mom-Dad in India, JC came up with some lame excuse like tennis practice, Darya was working that weekend, Priya-Praveen were shopping, and Shash-Niti were working, and so it was Carl, Mana, and myself who set out on a hike into Marin County, a nature lover's paradise few miles north of San Francisco.

The hike started from Stinson Beach, and covered a loop of three trails - Matt Davis all the way up Mount Tamalpais, and then Steep Ravine and Dipsea to get back to the beach from up above. The total hiking distance was 7.3 miles with 1600' elevation change, a reasonably tall order for all three of us since none of us had hiked in quite some time. I was a bit apprehensive, since I was the one who had picked the trail, and Carl and Mana were relying on my judgement! Haa! They will know better next time :)

The first hour and half was tough, as the hike quickly climbed up from the ocean through the forest, with the switchbacks alternating between views of the mountain on one side and the waters of the Pacific on the other. The fantastic views, and idle chat about adventures in grad school, movies, and books kept us going as we negotiated the steep gradient of the hill. After about 2 hours, the climb eased up and from then on, it was a reasonably easy walk all the way. The last mile up was through gently sloping grasslands covered with wildflowers of all sizes and colors, and Mana was able to identify most of them. Or she was making up the names, but neither Carl nor I could contest - we had no clue! ;)

The view from the top was well worth the climb- San Francisco bay, the city skyline, and the Golden Gate Bridge on one side, and Stinson beach and the wide open Pacific on the other. Apparently, on a clear day, one can see as far as the Fallaron Islands, but none of us knew where the islands were, so cant really testify to that. It was very calm and peaceful up there, and we spent a good solid half hour just sitting and munching on snacks and contemplating! Carl showed his geekiness by trying to text-message Darya as soon as he saw a cell tower climbing up into the sky in the distance. :)

After conquering the peak, we set out climbing down the Steep Ravine and Dipsea trails back towards the trailhead. Finally, after 4 1/2 hours from starting the hike, we were back at the trailhead, famished and a bit tired, but all happy and smiles from the enjoyable hike. The next hour was spent hogging on hot dogs, veggie burgers, and fries. So much for burning 700 calories on the hike! :) Overall, an excellent day and agreement all around that it was better than sitting in front of the idiot-box at home. Check out a few snaps at

Back at home, as I pen this blog, I am already dreaming up of the rest of the hikes that Geeta and I would like to do this summer. Its just a simple matter of execution ;)

Saturday, March 10, 2007

After two years of buying the book and displaying it proudly on my bookshelf, I finally got around to reading it - The Fabric of Reality, by renowned theoretical physicist David Deutsch.

The Grand Unified Theory (GUT) has been the holy grail for physicists for some time now - the goal being to come up with a single theory that encompasses everything from particle physics and electromagnetics, all the way to gravity and relativity. However in this book, David Deutsch postulates that to understand the Fabric of Reality, we need more than just the GUT. In his mind, the 4 main pillars to understand the ultimate truth (if there is such a thing!) are - quantum physics, epistemology, evolution, and theory of computation.

Of these 4 strands, Theory of Computation was the one of which I could understand the most, followed by quantum physics, then evolution, and epistemology in that order. Quantum computers, can potentially in the "near" future, render present day cryptography useless since they might be able to speed up factorization and discrete log from exponential to polynomial times. In such a world, new ways to do cryptography would depend on finding problems that are computationally infeasible for even quantum computers to solve. The more interesting question seems to be - can we some day build a machine that makes it possible to solve problems that are not in the repertoire of the Universal Turing Machine?

Overall, this book is quite heavy reading. I have gotten through about half of it, and I think the best way to do justice to the book would be to join a book club where everybody reads a certain chapter in a week and then discusses it in detail. Most of the theories/arguments are fairly tough to understand (well they had better be, they are explaining the fabric of reality!) and it would help to bounce some brain photons with more astute readers.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

The weather was fabulous over President's Day weekend in and around the Bay area. Perfect weather for getting away from work and the dreaded weekend Todo lists! So Geeta and I made a last minute hotel booking and headed out to Napa for some tasting and repleshining of our wine stock.

Day one was the usual - driving up highway 29 from Napa to Calistoga making multiple stops at wineries along the way. We visited Artesa, V. Sattui (free wine tasting and you cant buy their wines from the grocery store!), Mondavi, and Sterling Vineyards. Artesa and Sterling are slightly away from highway 29 and nestled up a little in the mountains, so the view of the valley from here is quite beautiful. The wine tour at Mondavi vineyard turned out to be extremely informative and fun. Our guide was a interesting guy- biochemist and a geologist by training with a great passion for winemaking! So apart from seeing the huge steel vats, and the oak barrels, and learning about the fermentation process and how the red wine get its color, we picked up some useful tidbits about the soil and rock structure in Napa, how it differs from Sonoma and why the reds from the valley are famous, while the Northwest (Oregon and Washington) is more popular for its white wines. The tour ended with tasting of 3 wines and an introduction to the sniff, swirl, sip art of wine tasting. We also stocked up our wine cellar (read 6 bottle wine rack) with half-a-dozen of some good affordable wines.

Highlight of day two was more wine tasting (surprise surprise!) and a tandem cycle ride through the vineyards! Sweet!!!! We rented a tandem bike from Yountville, and did a 13 mile loop through some interior roads that winded through the beautiful Napa countryside. After I got kicked a couple of times on the rear side by Geeta reminding me that this is a tandem bike, and I cannot stop or start pedalling at will (why not?), we started making some forward motion on our bike :). Biking on countryside roads in sunny weather through wine country! Priceless!