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DNS, Lots of IPs, and Postal

I decided to start work on repeating the tests for my 2006 OSDC paper on Benchmarking Mail Relays [1] and discover how the last 15 years of hardware developments have changed things. There have been software changes in that time too, but nothing that compares with going from single core 32bit systems with less than 1G of RAM and 60G IDE disks to multi-core 64bit systems with 128G of RAM and SSDs. As an aside the hardware I used in 2006 wasn’t cutting edge and the hardware I’m using now isn’t either. In both cases it’s systems I bought second hand for under $1000. Pedants can think of this as comparing 2004 and 2018 hardware.

BIND

I decided to make some changes to reflect the increased hardware capacity and use 2560 domains and IP addresses, which gave the following errors as well as a startup time of a minute on a system with two E5-2620 CPUs.

May  2 16:38:37 server named[7372]: listening on IPv4 interface lo, 127.0.0.1#53
May  2 16:38:37 server named[7372]: listening on IPv4 interface eno4, 10.0.2.45#53
May  2 16:38:37 server named[7372]: listening on IPv4 interface eno4, 10.0.40.1#53
May  2 16:38:37 server named[7372]: listening on IPv4 interface eno4, 10.0.40.2#53
May  2 16:38:37 server named[7372]: listening on IPv4 interface eno4, 10.0.40.3#53
[...]
May  2 16:39:33 server named[7372]: listening on IPv4 interface eno4, 10.0.47.0#53
May  2 16:39:33 server named[7372]: listening on IPv4 interface eno4, 10.0.48.0#53
May  2 16:39:33 server named[7372]: listening on IPv4 interface eno4, 10.0.49.0#53
May  2 16:39:33 server named[7372]: listening on IPv6 interface lo, ::1#53
[...]
May  2 16:39:36 server named[7372]: zone localhost/IN: loaded serial 2
May  2 16:39:36 server named[7372]: all zones loaded
May  2 16:39:36 server named[7372]: running
May  2 16:39:36 server named[7372]: socket: file descriptor exceeds limit (123273/21000)
May  2 16:39:36 server named[7372]: managed-keys-zone: Unable to fetch DNSKEY set '.': not enough free resources
May  2 16:39:36 server named[7372]: socket: file descriptor exceeds limit (123273/21000)

The first thing I noticed is that a default configuration of BIND with 2560 local IPs (when just running in the default recursive mode) takes a minute to start and needed to open over 100,000 file handles. BIND also had some errors in that configuration which led to it not accepting shutdown requests. I filed Debian bug report #987927 [2] about this. One way of dealing with the errors in this situation on Debian is to edit /etc/default/named and put in the following line to allow BIND to access to many file handles:

OPTIONS="-u bind -S 150000"

But the best thing to do for BIND when there are many IP addresses that aren’t going to be used for DNS service is to put a directive like the following in the BIND configuration to specify the IP address or addresses that are used for the DNS service:

listen-on { 10.0.2.45; };

I have just added the listen-on and listen-on-v6 directives to one of my servers with about a dozen IP addresses. While 2560 IP addresses is an unusual corner case it’s not uncommon to have dozens of addresses on one system.

dig

When doing tests of Postfix for relaying mail I noticed that mail was being deferred with DNS problems (error was “Host or domain name not found. Name service error for name=a838.example.com type=MX: Host not found, try again“. I tested the DNS lookups with dig which failed with errors like the following:

dig -t mx a704.example.com
socket.c:1740: internal_send: 10.0.2.45#53: Invalid argument
socket.c:1740: internal_send: 10.0.2.45#53: Invalid argument
socket.c:1740: internal_send: 10.0.2.45#53: Invalid argument

; <<>> DiG 9.16.13-Debian <<>> -t mx a704.example.com
;; global options: +cmd
;; connection timed out; no servers could be reached

Here is a sample of the strace output from tracing dig:

bind(20, {sa_family=AF_INET, sin_port=htons(0), 
sin_addr=inet_addr("0.0.0.0")}, 16) = 0
recvmsg(20, {msg_namelen=128}, 0)       = -1 EAGAIN (Resource temporarily 
unavailable)
write(4, "\24\0\0\0\375\377\377\377", 8) = 8
sendmsg(20, {msg_name={sa_family=AF_INET, sin_port=htons(53), 
sin_addr=inet_addr("10.0.2.45")}, msg_
namelen=16, msg_iov=[{iov_base="86\1 
\0\1\0\0\0\0\0\1\4a704\7example\3com\0\0\17\0\1\0\0)\20\0\0\0\0
\0\0\f\0\n\0\10's\367\265\16bx\354", iov_len=57}], msg_iovlen=1, 
msg_controllen=0, msg_flags=0}, 0) 
= -1 EINVAL (Invalid argument)
write(2, "socket.c:1740: ", 15)         = 15
write(2, "internal_send: 10.0.2.45#53: Invalid argument", 45) = 45
write(2, "\n", 1)                       = 1
futex(0x7f5a80696084, FUTEX_WAIT_PRIVATE, 0, NULL) = 0
futex(0x7f5a80696010, FUTEX_WAKE_PRIVATE, 1) = 0
futex(0x7f5a8069809c, FUTEX_WAKE_PRIVATE, 1) = 1
futex(0x7f5a80698020, FUTEX_WAKE_PRIVATE, 1) = 1
sendmsg(20, {msg_name={sa_family=AF_INET, sin_port=htons(53), 
sin_addr=inet_addr("10.0.2.45")}, msg_namelen=16, msg_iov=[{iov_base="86\1 
\0\1\0\0\0\0\0\1\4a704\7example\3com\0\0\17\0\1\0\0)\20\0\0\0\0\0\0\f\0\n\0\10's\367\265\16bx\354", 
iov_len=57}], msg_iovlen=1, msg_controllen=0, msg_flags=0}, 0) = -1 EINVAL 
(Invalid argument)
write(2, "socket.c:1740: ", 15)         = 15
write(2, "internal_send: 10.0.2.45#53: Invalid argument", 45) = 45
write(2, "\n", 1)

Ubuntu bug #1702726 claims that an insufficient ARP cache was the cause of dig problems [3]. At the time I encountered the dig problems I was seeing lots of kernel error messages “neighbour: arp_cache: neighbor table overflow” which I solved by putting the following in /etc/sysctl.d/mine.conf:

net.ipv4.neigh.default.gc_thresh3 = 4096
net.ipv4.neigh.default.gc_thresh2 = 2048
net.ipv4.neigh.default.gc_thresh1 = 1024

Making that change (and having rebooted because I didn’t need to run the server overnight) didn’t entirely solve the problems. I have seen some DNS errors from Postfix since then but they are less common than before. When they happened I didn’t have that error from dig. At this stage I’m not certain that the ARP change fixed the dig problem although it seems likely (it’s always difficult to be certain that you have solved a race condition instead of made it less common or just accidentally changed something else to conceal it). But it is clearly a good thing to have a large enough ARP cache so the above change is probably the right thing for most people (with the possibility of changing the numbers according to the required scale). Also people having that dig error should probably check their kernel message log, if the ARP cache isn’t the cause then some other kernel networking issue might be related.

Preliminary Results

With Postfix I’m seeing around 24,000 messages relayed per minute with more than 60% CPU time idle. I’m not sure exactly how to count idle time when there are 12 CPU cores and 24 hyper-threads as having only 1 process scheduled for each pair of hyperthreads on a core is very different to having half the CPU cores unused. I ran my script to disable hyper-threads by telling the Linux kernel to disable each processor core that has the same core ID as another, it was buggy and disabled the second CPU altogether (better than finding this out on a production server). Going from 24 hyper-threads of 2 CPUs to 6 non-HT cores of a single CPU didn’t change the thoughput and the idle time went to about 30%, so I have possibly halved the CPU capacity for these tasks by disabling all hyper-threads and one entire CPU which is surprising given that I theoretically reduced the CPU power by 75%. I think my focus now has to be on hyper-threading optimisation.

Since 2006 the performance has gone from ~20 messages per minute on relatively commodity hardware to 24,000 messages per minute on server equipment that is uncommon for home use but which is also within range of home desktop PCs. I think that a typical desktop PC with a similar speed CPU, 32G of RAM and SSD storage would give the same performance. Moore’s Law (that transistor count doubles approximately every 2 years) is often misquoted as having performance double every 2 years. In this case more than 1024* the performance over 15 years means the performance doubling every 18 months. Probably most of that is due to SATA SSDs massively outperforming IDE hard drives but it’s still impressive.

Notes

I’ve been using example.com for test purposes for a long time, but RFC2606 specifies .test, .example, and .invalid as reserved top level domains for such things. On the next iteration I’ll change my scripts to use .test.

My current test setup has a KVM virtual machine running my bhm program to receive mail which is taking between 20% and 50% of a CPU core in my tests so far. While that is happening the kvm process is reported as taking between 60% and 200% of a CPU core, so kvm takes as much as 4* the CPU of the guest due to the virtual networking overhead – even though I’m using the virtio-net-pci driver (the most efficient form of KVM networking for emulating a regular ethernet card). I’ve also seen this in production with a virtual machine running a ToR relay node.

I’ve fixed a bug where Postal would try to send the SMTP quit command after encountering a TCP error which would cause an infinite loop and SEGV.

Links April 2021

Dr Justin Lehmiller’s blog post comparing his official (academic style) and real biographies is interesting [1]. Also the rest of his blog is interesting too, he works at the Kinsey Institute so you know he’s good.

Media Matters has an interesting article on the spread of vaccine misinformation on Instagram [2].

John Goerzen wrote a long post summarising some of the many ways of having a decentralised Internet [3]. One problem he didn’t address is how to choose between them, I could spend months of work to setup a fraction of those services.

Erasmo Acosta wrote an interesting medium article “Could Something as Pedestrian as the Mitochondria Unlock the Mystery of the Great Silence?” [4]. I don’t know enough about biology to determine how plausible this is. But it is a worry, I hope that humans will meet extra-terrestrial intelligences at some future time.

Meredith Haggerty wrote an insightful Medium article about the love vs money aspects of romantic comedies [5]. Changes in viewer demographics would be one factor that makes lead actors in romantic movies significantly less wealthy in recent times.

Informative article about ZIP compression and the history of compression in general [6].

Vice has an insightful article about one way of taking over SMS access of phones without affecting voice call or data access [7]. With this method the victom won’t notice that they are having their sservice interfered with until it’s way too late. They also explain the chain of problems in the US telecommunications industry that led to this. I wonder what’s happening in this regard in other parts of the world.

The clown code of ethics (8 Commandments) is interesting [8].

Sam Hartman wrote an insightful blog post about the problems with RMS and how to deal with him [9]. Also Sam Whitton has an interesting take on this [10]. Another insightful post is by Selam G about RMS long history of bad behavior and the way universities are run [11].

Cory Doctorow wrote an insightful article for Locus about free markets with a focus on DRM on audio books [12]. We need legislative changes to fix this!

Scanning with a MFC-9120CN on Bullseye

I previously wrote about getting a Brother MFC-9120CN multifunction printer/scanner to print on Linux [1]. I had also got it scanning which I didn’t blog about.

found USB scanner (vendor=0x04f9, product=0x021d) at libusb:003:002

I recently upgraded that Linux system to Debian/Testing (which will soon be released as Debian/Bullseye) and scanning broke. The command sane-find-scanner would find the USB connected scanner (with the above output), but “scanimage -L” didn’t.

It turned out that I had to edit /etc/sane.d/dll.d/hplip which had a single uncommented line of “hpaio” and replace that with “brother3” to make SANE load the driver /usr/lib64/sane/libsane-brother3.so from the brscan3 package (which Brother provided from their web site years ago).

I have the following script to do the scanning (which can run as non-root):

#!/bin/bash
set -e
if [ "$1" == "" ]; then
  echo "specify output filename"
  exit 1
fi

TMP=$(mktemp)

scanimage > $TMP
convert $TMP $1
rm $TMP

Final Note

This blog post doesn’t describe everything that needs to be done to setup a scanner, I already had part of it setup from 10 years ago. But for anyone who finds this after having trouble, /etc/sane.d/dll.d is one place you should look for important configuration (especially if sane-find-scanner works and “scanimage -L” fails). Also the Brother drivers are handy to have although I apparently had it working in the past with the hpaio driver from HP (the Brother device emulates a HP device).

HP ML350P Gen8

I’m playing with a HP Proliant ML350P Gen8 server (part num 646676-011). For HP servers “ML” means tower (see the ProLiant Wikipedia page for more details [1]). For HP servers the “generation” indicates how old the server is, Gen8 was announced in 2012 and Gen10 seems to be the current generation.

Debian Packages from HP

wget -O /usr/local/hpePublicKey2048_key1.pub https://downloads.linux.hpe.com/SDR/hpePublicKey2048_key1.pub
echo "# HP RAID" >> /etc/apt/sources.list
echo "deb [signed-by=/usr/local/hpePublicKey2048_key1.pub] http://downloads.linux.hpe.com/SDR/downloads/MCP/Debian/ buster/current non-free" >> /etc/apt/sources.list

The above commands will setup the APT repository for Debian/Buster. See the HP Downloads FAQ [2] for more information about their repositories.

hponcfg

This package contains the hponcfg program that configures ILO (the HP remote management system) from Linux. One noteworthy command is “hponcfg -r” to reset the ILO, something you should do before selling an old system.

ssacli

This package contains the ssacli program to configure storage arrays, here are some examples of how to use it:

# list controllers and show slot numbers
ssacli controller all show
# list arrays on controller identified by slot and give array IDs
ssacli controller slot=0 array all show
# show details of one array
ssacli controller slot=0 array A show
# show all disks on one controller
ssacli controller slot=0 physicaldrive all show
# show config of a controller, this gives RAID level etc
ssacli controller slot=0 show config
# delete array B (you can immediately pull the disks from it)
ssacli controller slot=0 array B delete
# create an array type RAID0 with specified drives, do this with one drive per array for BTRFS/ZFS
ssacli controller slot=0 create type=arrayr0 drives=1I:1:1

When a disk is used in JBOD mode just under 33MB will be used at the end of the disk for the RAID metadata. If you have existing disks with a DOS partition table you can put it in a HP array as a JBOD and it will work with all data intact (GPT partition table is more complicated). When all disks are removed from the server the cooling fans run at high speed, this would be annoying if you wanted to have a diskless workstation or server using only external storage.

ssaducli

This package contains the ssaducli diagnostic utility for storage arrays. The SSD “wear gauge report” doesn’t work for the 2 SSDs I tested it on, maybe it only supports SAS SSDs not SATA SSDs. It doesn’t seem to do anything that I need.

storcli

This package contains both 32bit and 64bit versions of the MegaRAID utility and deletes whichever one doesn’t match the installation in the package postinst, so it fails debsums checks etc. The MegaRAID utility is for a different type of RAID controller to the “Smart Storage Array” (AKA SSA) that the other utilities work with. As an aside it seems that there are multiple types of MegaRAID controller, the management program from the storcli package doesn’t work on a Dell server with MegaRAID. They should have made separate 32bit and 64bit versions of this package.

Recommendations

Here is HP page for downloading firmware updates (including security updates) [3], you have to login first and have a warranty. This is legal but poor service. Dell servers have comparable prices (on the second hand marker) and comparable features but give free firmware updates to everyone. Dell have overall lower quality of Debian packages for supporting utilities, but a wider range of support so generally Dell support seems better in every way. Dell and HP hardware seems of equal quality so overall I think it’s best to buy Dell.

Suggestions for HP

Finding which of the signing keys to use is unreasonably difficult. You should get some HP employees to sign the HP keys used for repositories with their personal keys and then go to LUG meetings and get their personal keys well connected to the web of trust. Then upload the HP keys to the public key repositories. You should also use the same keys for signing all versions of the repositories. Having different keys for the different versions of Debian wastes people’s time.

Please provide firmware for all users, even if they buy systems second hand. It is in your best interests to have systems used long-term and have them run securely. It is not in your best interests to have older HP servers perform badly.

Having all the fans run at maximum speed when power is turned on is a standard server feature. Some servers can throttle the fan when the BIOS is running, it would be nice if HP servers did that. Having ridiculously loud fans until just before GRUB starts is annoying.

IMA/EVM Certificates

I’ve been experimenting with IMA/EVM. Here is the Sourceforge page for the upstream project [1]. The aim of that project is to check hashes and maybe public key signatures on files before performing read/exec type operations on them. It can be used as the next logical step from booting a signed kernel with TPM. I am a long way from getting that sort of thing going, just getting the kernel to boot and load keys is my current challenge and isn’t helped due to the lack of documentation on error messages. This blog post started as a way of documenting the error messages so future people who google errors can get a useful result. I am not trying to document everything, just help people get through some of the first problems.

I am using Debian for my work, but some of this will apply to other distributions (particularly the kernel error messages). The Debian distribution has the ima-evm-utils but no other support for IMA/EVM. To get this going in Debian you need to compile your own kernel with IMA support and then boot it with kernel command-line options to enable IMA, in recent kernels that includes “lsm=integrity” as a mandatory requirement to prevent a kernel Oops after mounting the initrd (there is already a patch to fix this).

If you want to just use IMA (not get involved in development) then a good option would be to use RHEL (here is their documentation) [2] or SUSE (here is their documentation) [3]. Note that both RHEL and SUSE use older kernels so their documentation WILL lead you astray if you try and use the latest kernel.org kernel.

The Debian initrd

I created a script named /etc/initramfs-tools/hooks/keys with the following contents to copy the key(s) from /etc/keys to the initrd where the kernel will load it/them. The kernel configuration determines whether x509_evm.der or x509_ima.der (or maybe both) is loaded. I haven’t yet worked out which key is needed when.

#!/bin/bash

mkdir -p ${DESTDIR}/etc/keys
cp /etc/keys/* ${DESTDIR}/etc/keys

Making the Keys

#!/bin/sh

GENKEY=ima.genkey

cat << __EOF__ >$GENKEY
[ req ]
default_bits = 1024
distinguished_name = req_distinguished_name
prompt = no
string_mask = utf8only
x509_extensions = v3_usr

[ req_distinguished_name ]
O = `hostname`
CN = `whoami` signing key
emailAddress = `whoami`@`hostname`

[ v3_usr ]
basicConstraints=critical,CA:FALSE
#basicConstraints=CA:FALSE
keyUsage=digitalSignature
#keyUsage = nonRepudiation, digitalSignature, keyEncipherment
subjectKeyIdentifier=hash
authorityKeyIdentifier=keyid
#authorityKeyIdentifier=keyid,issuer
__EOF__

openssl req -new -nodes -utf8 -sha1 -days 365 -batch -config $GENKEY \
                -out csr_ima.pem -keyout privkey_ima.pem
openssl x509 -req -in csr_ima.pem -days 365 -extfile $GENKEY -extensions v3_usr \
                -CA ~/kern/linux-5.11.14/certs/signing_key.pem -CAkey ~/kern/linux-5.11.14/certs/signing_key.pem -CAcreateserial \
                -outform DER -out x509_evm.der

To get the below result I used the above script to generate a key, it is the /usr/share/doc/ima-evm-utils/examples/ima-genkey.sh script from the ima-evm-utils package but changed to use the key generated from kernel compilation to sign it. You can copy the files in the certs directory from one kernel build tree to another to have the same certificate and use the same initrd configuration. After generating the key I copied x509_evm.der to /etc/keys on the target host and built the initrd before rebooting.

[    1.050321] integrity: Loading X.509 certificate: /etc/keys/x509_evm.der
[    1.092560] integrity: Loaded X.509 cert 'xev: etbe signing key: 99d4fa9051e2c178017180df5fcc6e5dbd8bb606'

Errors

Here are some of the kernel error messages I received along with my best interpretation of what they mean.

[ 1.062031] integrity: Loading X.509 certificate: /etc/keys/x509_ima.der
[ 1.063689] integrity: Problem loading X.509 certificate -74

Error -74 means -EBADMSG, which means there’s something wrong with the certificate file. I have got that from /etc/keys/x509_ima.der not being in der format and I have got it from a der file that contained a key pair that wasn’t signed.

[    1.049170] integrity: Loading X.509 certificate: /etc/keys/x509_ima.der
[    1.093092] integrity: Problem loading X.509 certificate -126

Error -126 means -ENOKEY, so the key wasn’t in the file or the key wasn’t signed by the kernel signing key.

[    1.074759] integrity: Unable to open file: /etc/keys/x509_evm.der (-2)

Error -2 means -ENOENT, so the file wasn’t found on the initrd. Note that it does NOT look at the root filesystem.

References

Basics of Linux Kernel Debugging

Firstly a disclaimer, I’m not an expert on this and I’m not trying to instruct anyone who is aiming to become an expert. The aim of this blog post is to help someone who has a single kernel issue they want to debug as part of doing something that’s mostly not kernel coding. I welcome comments about the second step to kernel debugging for the benefit of people who need more than this (which might include me next week). Also suggestions for people who can’t use a kvm/qemu debugger would be good.

Below is a command to run qemu with GDB. It should be run from the Linux kernel source directory. You can add other qemu options for a blog device and virtual networking if necessary, but the bug I encountered gave an oops from the initrd so I didn’t need to go further. The “nokaslr” is to avoid address space randomisation which deliberately makes debugging tasks harder (from a certain perspective debugging a kernel and compromising a kernel are fairly similar). Loading the bzImage is fine, gdb can map that to the different file it looks at later on.

qemu-system-x86_64 -kernel arch/x86/boot/bzImage -initrd ../initrd-$KERN_VER -curses -m 2000 -append "root=/dev/vda ro nokaslr" -gdb tcp::1200

The command to run GDB is “gdb vmlinux“, when at the GDB prompt you can run the command “target remote localhost:1200” to connect to the GDB server port 1200. Note that there is nothing special about port 1200, it was given in an example I saw and is as good as any other port. It is important that you run GDB against the “vmlinux” file in the main directory not any of the several stripped and packaged files, GDB can’t handle a bzImage file but that’s OK, it ends up much the same in RAM.

When the “target remote” command is processed the kernel will be suspended by the debugger, if you are looking for a bug early in the boot you may need to be quick about this. Using “qemu-system-x86_64” instead of “kvm” slows things down and can help in that regard. The bug I was hunting happened 1.6 seconds after kernel load with KVM and 7.8 seconds after kernel load with qemu. I am not aware of all the implications of the kvm vs qemu decision on debugging. If your bug is a race condition then trying both would be a good strategy.

After the “target remote” command you can debug the kernel just like any other program.

If you put a breakpoint on print_modules() that will catch the operation of printing an Oops which can be handy.

Yama

I’ve just setup the Yama LSM module on some of my Linux systems. Yama controls ptrace which is the debugging and tracing API for Unix systems. The aim is to prevent a compromised process from using ptrace to compromise other processes and cause more damage. In most cases a process which can ptrace another process which usually means having capability SYS_PTRACE (IE being root) or having the same UID as the target process can interfere with that process in other ways such as modifying it’s configuration and data files. But even so I think it has the potential for making things more difficult for attackers without making the system more difficult to use.

If you put “kernel.yama.ptrace_scope = 1” in sysctl.conf (or write “1” to /proc/sys/kernel/yama/ptrace_scope) then a user process can only trace it’s child processes. This means that “strace -p” and “gdb -p” will fail when run as non-root but apart from that everything else will work. Generally “strace -p” (tracing the system calls of another process) is of most use to the sysadmin who can do it as root. The command “gdb -p” and variants of it are commonly used by developers so yama wouldn’t be a good thing on a system that is primarily used for software development.

Another option is “kernel.yama.ptrace_scope = 3” which means no-one can trace and it can’t be disabled without a reboot. This could be a good option for production servers that have no need for software development. It wouldn’t work well for a small server where the sysadmin needs to debug everything, but when dozens or hundreds of servers have their configuration rolled out via a provisioning tool this would be a good setting to include.

See Documentation/admin-guide/LSM/Yama.rst in the kernel source for the details.

When running with capability SYS_PTRACE (IE root shell) you can ptrace anything else and if necessary disable Yama by writing “0” to /proc/sys/kernel/yama/ptrace_scope .

I am enabling mode 1 on all my systems because I think it will make things harder for attackers while not making things more difficult for me.

Also note that SE Linux restricts SYS_PTRACE and also restricts cross-domain ptrace access, so the combination with Yama makes things extra difficult for an attacker.

Yama is enabled in the Debian kernels by default so it’s very easy to setup for Debian users, just edit /etc/sysctl.d/whatever.conf and it will be enabled on boot.

Riverdale

I’ve been watching the show Riverdale on Netflix recently. It’s an interesting modern take on the Archie comics. Having watched Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space when I was younger I was anticipating something aimed towards a similar audience. As solving mysteries and crimes was apparently a major theme of the show I anticipated something along similar lines to Scooby Doo, some suspense and some spooky things, but then a happy ending where criminals get arrested and no-one gets hurt or killed while the vast majority of people are nice. Instead the first episode has a teen being murdered and Ms Grundy being obsessed with 15yo boys and sleeping with Archie (who’s supposed to be 15 but played by a 20yo actor).

Everyone in the show has some dark secret. The filming has a dark theme, the sky is usually overcast and it’s generally gloomy. This is a significant contrast to Veronica Mars which has some similarities in having a young cast, a sassy female sleuth, and some similar plot elements. Veronica Mars has a bright theme and a significant comedy element in spite of dealing with some dark issues (murder, rape, child sex abuse, and more). But Riverdale is just dark. Anyone who watches this with their kids expecting something like Scooby Doo is in for a big surprise.

There are lots of interesting stylistic elements in the show. Lots of clothing and uniform designs that seem to date from the 1940’s. It seems like some alternate universe where kids have smartphones and laptops while dressing in the style of the 1940s. One thing that annoyed me was construction workers using tools like sledge-hammers instead of excavators. A society that has smart phones but no earth-moving equipment isn’t plausible.

On the upside there is a racial mix in the show that more accurately reflects American society than the original Archie comics and homophobia is much less common than in most parts of our society. For both race issues and gay/lesbian issues the show treats them in an accurate way (portraying some bigotry) while the main characters aren’t racist or homophobic.

I think it’s generally an OK show and recommend it to people who want a dark show. It’s a good show to watch while doing something on a laptop so you can check Wikipedia for the references to 1940s stuff (like when Bikinis were invented). I’m half way through season 3 which isn’t as good as the first 2, I don’t know if it will get better later in the season or whether I should have stopped after season 2.

I don’t usually review fiction, but the interesting aesthetics of the show made it deserve a review.

Storage Trends 2021

The Viability of Small Disks

Less than a year ago I wrote a blog post about storage trends [1]. My main point in that post was that disks smaller than 2TB weren’t viable then and 2TB disks wouldn’t be economically viable in the near future.

Now MSY has 2TB disks for $72 and 2TB SSD for $245, saving $173 if you get a hard drive (compared to saving $240 10 months ago). Given the difference in performance and noise 2TB hard drives won’t be worth using for most applications nowadays.

NVMe vs SSD

Last year NVMe prices were very comparable for SSD prices, I was hoping that trend would continue and SSDs would go away. Now for sizes 1TB and smaller NVMe and SSD prices are very similar, but for 2TB the NVMe prices are twice that of SSD – presumably partly due to poor demand for 2TB NVMe. There are also no NVMe devices larger than 2TB on sale at MSY (a store which caters to home stuff not special server equipment) but SSDs go up to 8TB.

It seems that NVMe is only really suitable for workstation storage and for cache etc on a server. So SATA SSDs will be around for a while.

Small Servers

There are a range of low end servers which support a limited number of disks. Dell has 2 disk servers and 4 disk servers. If one of those had 8TB SSDs you could have 8TB of RAID-1 or 24TB of RAID-Z storage in a low end server. That covers the vast majority of servers (small business or workgroup servers tend to have less than 8TB of storage).

Larger Servers

Anandtech has an article on Seagates roadmap to 120TB disks [2]. They currently sell 20TB disks using HAMR technology

Currently the biggest disks that MSY sells are 10TB for $395, which was also the biggest disk they were selling last year. Last year MSY only sold SSDs up to 2TB in size (larger ones were available from other companies at much higher prices), now they sell 8TB SSDs for $949 (4* capacity increase in less than a year). Seagate is planning 30TB disks for 2023, if SSDs continue to increase in capacity by 4* per year we could have 128TB SSDs in 2023. If you needed a server with 100TB of storage then having 2 or 3 SSDs in a RAID array would be much easier to manage and faster than 4*30TB disks in an array.

When you have a server with many disks you can expect to have more disk failures due to vibration. One time I built a server with 18 disks and took disks from 2 smaller servers that had 4 and 5 disks. The 9 disks which had been working reliably for years started having problems within weeks of running in the bigger server. This is one of the many reasons for paying extra for SSD storage.

Seagate is apparently planning 50TB disks for 2026 and 100TB disks for 2030. If that’s the best they can do then SSD vendors should be able to sell larger products sooner at prices that are competitive. Matching hard drive prices is not required, getting to less than 4* the price should be enough for most customers.

The Anandtech article is worth reading, it mentions some interesting features that Seagate are developing such as having 2 actuators (which they call Mach.2) so the drive can access 2 different tracks at the same time. That can double the performance of a disk, but that doesn’t change things much when SSDs are more than 100* faster. Presumably the Mach.2 disks will be SAS and incredibly expensive while providing significantly less performance than affordable SATA SSDs.

Computer Cases

In my last post I speculated on the appearance of smaller cases designed to not have DVD drives or 3.5″ hard drives. Such cases still haven’t appeared apart from special purpose machines like the NUC that were available last year.

It would be nice if we could get a new industry standard for smaller power supplies. Currently power supplies are expected to be almost 5 inches wide (due to the expectation of a 5.25″ DVD drive mounted horizontally). We need some industry standards for smaller PCs that aren’t like the NUC, the NUC is very nice, but most people who build their own PC need more space than that. I still think that planning on USB DVD drives is the right way to go. I’ve got 4PCs in my home that are regularly used and CDs and DVDs are used so rarely that sharing a single DVD drive among all 4 wouldn’t be a problem.

Conclusion

I’m tempted to get a couple of 4TB SSDs for my home server which cost $487 each, it currently has 2*500G SSDs and 3*4TB disks. I would have to remove some unused files but that’s probably not too hard to do as I have lots of old backups etc on there. Another possibility is to use 2*4TB SSDs for most stuff and 2*4TB disks for backups.

I’m recommending that all my clients only use SSDs for their storage. I only have one client with enough storage that disks are the only option (100TB of storage) but they moved all the functions of that server to AWS and use S3 for the storage. Now I don’t have any clients doing anything with storage that can’t be done in a better way on SSD for a price difference that’s easy for them to afford.

Affordable SSD also makes RAID-1 in workstations more viable. 2 disks in a PC is noisy if you have an office full of them and produces enough waste heat to be a reliability issue (most people don’t cool their offices adequately on weekends). 2 SSDs in a PC is no problem at all. As 500G SSDs are available for $73 it’s not a significant cost to install 2 of them in every PC in the office (more cost for my time than hardware). I generally won’t recommend that hard drives be replaced with SSDs in systems that are working well. But if a machine runs out of space then replacing it with SSDs in a RAID-1 is a good choice.

Moore’s law might cover SSDs, but it definitely doesn’t cover hard drives. Hard drives have fallen way behind developments of most other parts of computers over the last 30 years, hopefully they will go away soon.

Censoring Images

A client asked me to develop a system for “censoring” images from an automatic camera. The situation is that we have a camera taking regular photos from a fixed location which includes part of someone else’s property. So my client made a JPEG with some black rectangles in the sections that need to be covered. The first thing I needed to do was convert the JPEG to a PNG with transparency for the sections that aren’t to be covered.

To convert it I loaded the JPEG in the GIMP and went to the Layer->Transparency->Add Alpha Channel menu to enabled the Alpha channel. Then I selected the “Bucket Fill tool” and used “Mode Erase” and “Fill by Composite” and then clicked on the background (the part of the JPEG that was white) to make it transparent. Then I exported it to PNG.

If anyone knows of an easy way to convert the file then please let me know. It would be nice if there was a command-line program I could run to convert a specified color (default white) to transparent. I say this because I can imagine my client going through a dozen iterations of an overlay file that doesn’t quite fit.

To censor the image I ran the “composite” command from imagemagick. The command I used was “composite -gravity center overlay.png in.jpg out.jpg“. If anyone knows a better way of doing this then please let me know.

The platform I’m using is a ARM926EJ-S rev 5 (v5l) which takes 8 minutes of CPU time to convert a single JPEG at full DSLR resolution (4 megapixel). It also required enabling swap on a SD card to avoid running out of RAM and running “systemctl disable tmp.mount” to stop using tmpfs for /tmp as the system only has 256M of RAM.