Cisco Catalyst 3550 Fan Mod

First of all, the usual warning: I take no responsibility for any harm done to yourself or your equipment if you decide to take my lead and mod the fan on your switch. It’s your fault for listening to some guy on the Internet you’ve never met.

A little while ago I acquired some old 3550 switches from a friend, and I haven’t used them much because they’re horrifically loud. Recently though, I decided to try and make them quiet enough to leave on in the living room. While I didn’t succeed, I made enough of a difference that I thought it might be worth sharing.

Please note that this mod isn’t going to work if your switch is a) under warranty; b) installed in an equipment rack with hot/cold aisles; or c) you don’t like taking the cover off equipment that has 240v inside.

Basically, the gist is this: The fan inside the switch has a cover on it. By removing half of the cover (the half that isn’t attached to the fan motor) and then mounting the fan upside down, you reduce the vibrations of the fan’s casing. Please also note that the outlet fan is thus turned into an intake fan; it takes cold air from the back of the router and blows it over the power supply unit.

The finished fan installation. Much quieter!

Research on the Internet (#cisco on Freenode and some forums) led me to decide that complete removal of the fan wasn’t an option, due to the switch overheating. I then wanted to replace the fan with a quieter computer fan, but the connector, though the same, is wired differently. Though I own (and can operate) a soldering iron, I’m also quite lazy. Turning the fan upside down (as suggested by a friend) was much easier!

Update 2011-08-17: I initially tried this with my non-PoE switch. Today I tried this with my PoE switch and tested it running a few PoE devices. It quickly overheated, so I don’t recommend this with the PoE (inline power) models.

The Ten Commandments of Computer Backups

I recently put a lot of thought into how I perform my computer backups. I’m one of those people that, while I would only be mildly pissed off by the failure of a hard drive, would be quite angry at myself if I lost even the merest hint of data that I wanted to keep. I used to perform my backups manually, using the Windows backup utility to back data up onto an external hard drive. It worked fine most of the time, but it definitely had process defects… the largest of which being, I had to remember to do it. It required my interaction to succeed (because I had to plug the drive in) and this meant there was always a human element involved. And humans are lazy.

So I set about designing myself the ultimate foolproof backup system. There would be multiple storage media, there would be encryption, there would be checks and validations and several custom-written applications. Then I started thinking, “what exactly am I protecting myself against?” It’s a good question. Here’s the list I came up with:

  1. I need my data to be safe from storage media failure. This may mean a single backup DVD being unreadable, or maybe my primary hard disk drives it’s head into the sand.
  2. I need my data to be safe from the failure of every drive of a particular type, simultaneously. It happens more than you would think, and the consequences usually aren’t pretty (whole RAID arrays failing, with all their ‘safe’ data, usually makes people a bit upset).
  3. I need to make sure my data can’t be stolen. If it is stolen (or people I don’t want reading my data try to do so) then it should appear as meaningless gibberish.
  4. I need my data to be safe from being corrupted while in storage, or while being transferred between storage devices.
  5. My data needs to be safe from theft or fire, which could mean every storage device in a particular location is unusable.
  6. My data needs to be safe from natural disasters, which could take out an entire city or state. Unlikely, but it’s the kind of thing most people don’t plan for.
  7. I need to be able to search for data that I’ve accidentally deleted, and I need back.
  8. If my data is anywhere not under my direct control, I need to be able to trust the people who do control them.
  9. I have to assume that if my backup hasn’t been tested (i.e. I haven’t tried to restore from it) then the backup isn’t any good.
  10. Finally, I shouldn’t have to do anything… computers should be smart enough these days to back themselves up.

That was all I could think of, though I’m sure there are additional points (leave a comment or email me, please!). Then I figured out what I had to do in order to prevent these situations from happening.

  • Points one and two are the easiest to solve, and are really what most people think of when they think of “backup” plans. The solution is simple: keep your data on multiple storage media, and those different storage media should be different types.
  • Point three is pretty simple to solve: encrypt everything you can possibly encrypt. This also partially side-steps point eight, because if your data is encrypted, you don’t have to trust them to not read it, you only have to trust them to not delete it. And you don’t need to trust them to not delete it if you’ve got the data in multiple locations (i.e. somewhere not under their control).
  • Point four can be partially solved by taking checksums of the data (which can be done at the same time it is encrypted). If a checksum doesn’t match, something has gone wrong and should be tried again or looked at by a human. There is the issue of what happens if the original data is corrupted. I put this in the too-hard basket for now, though the use of a RAID array can reduce the likelihood of this.
  • Points five and six are closely related, and also solved together. Every good backup plan should make use of off-site backups, where a copy of data is kept away from the original. Point five might mean keeping a copy in another building (or in my case, at my parent’s house a few kilometres away). Point six means I might consider going further. Ideally I’d like to store a copy of my data on another continent, just in case of nuclear war. If I survive, my data should too.
  • Point seven means I should be creating archives of data, so that copies of old files are kept so that I can go back in time. I would like to be able to choose copies from every day for a week, then every week for a year. After a year, I’m probably not going to remember that I once had a file.
  • Points nine and ten are quite possibly the trickiest. To solve them, I have to write automatic scripts to do all these backup tasks, then write automatic scripts to try recovering from the data and make sure it’s in perfect state. I also need to do this manually, just in case my scripts stop working (it is a computer, after all).

So there was my analysis of the backup problem done. Now for the design stage. My current working computer systems consist of a laptop (running Windows 7), a desktop (dual-booting Windows 7 and Debian GNU/Linux), and my home server (which runs Debian GNU/Linux). So I chose to do the following:

  • I decided that, since it was turned on all the time, my home server would be the primary location for all my treasured data. Every other location for my data would feed off that. My laptop and my desktop will be synchronised to my server using software such as rsync running on a very frequent schedule. Ideally I will code a switch into the script on my laptop that does syncs less often when I’m not at home, to avoid wasting bandwidth. This will give me three or four working copies of my data, depending on how implementation goes.
  • My server has two hard drives, and I’m going to use this to my advantage. The first hard drive has my primary working copy of data, and the second drive is where the backups go. So I’ll write another script that will take my working copies from my first hard drive, perform archival on them (using tar), encrypt them and checksum them (using encryption that money can’t buy) and copy them to my second hard drive. This gives me the ability to go back in time through my data, if need be. At this stage there are some things I won’t backup, either for legal reasons (I’m fairly sure the MP3 backups of my music collection shouldn’t be stored off-site under Australian law) or for practical reasons (videos are just too large to transfer off-site over the Internet).
  • I still haven’t solved the problem of off-site backups. To solve this, I’m planning to make use of Amazon S3, which is a cloud backup solution offered by everybody’s favourite friendly forgettable online book store, Amazon. Because my data has now been encrypted, I don’t have to trust them at all. I can just copy it across, mark it as being invisible to the wider world, and forget about it. I will also take up an offer from my friend Jamie to store my data on his NAS, which gives me another off-site backup location. I’m in Tasmania, Jamie is in Queensland, Amazon is in the U.S.A., and my data is safe.
  • I’m also planning to fit my server with a DVD burner and write a script that backs up my most crucial data (such as financial information and treasured memories) onto a DVD every week or so. Encrypted, of course. The only problem is that I need to remember to go and change the DVD over every week.
  • Finally, I have to write scripts to occasionally check the consistency of my data, so that nothing suffers from bit rot.

I haven’t completed the process of implementation yet (in fact I’ve hardly started). Already though, I feel safer knowing that I’ve thought about the process of storing my data, and that makes me feel a lot safer. Most people don’t think about backups until it’s too late, and perhaps maybe they should.

30 Days of Geek #16: First computer you’ve ever owned & your favourite ever.

I’ve decided to partake in Jethro Carr’s 30 Days of Geek challenge, so I’ll be writing a post a day on my geekiness for an entire month! You can find all the posts in one spot here.

The first computer I co-owned (with my brother):

  • MSI MS-6161 Motherboard
  • Intel Celeron 366MHz CPU
  • 64MB 100Mhz SD-RAM
  • 4GB IDE Hard Drive
  • Floppy drive
  • CD drive
  • RTL8139B network card
  • And my first hardware modification ever: adding in a Creative Soundblaster (some 16-bit ISA model).

And my favourite combination ever:

  • MSI MS-6198 Motherboard
  • Intel Pentium III Coppermine 933MHz CPU
  • 1GB 133MHz SD-RAM (2x 512MB sticks)
  • 40GB IDE drive + 250GB SATA drive (which is still going strong as a backup drive)
  • Floppy drive
  • CD+RW drive
  • RTL8139D network card
  • This motherboard, as far as I can recall, had onboard sound

Note that these computers really are one and the same, since there’s a direct ancestry between them. I’ve never ever built a computer that hasn’t shared at least one major component with a previous computer (excluding laptop purchases).

30 Days of Geek #10: My primary computer.

I’ve decided to partake in Jethro Carr’s 30 Days of Geek challenge, so I’ll be writing a post a day on my geekiness for an entire month! You can find all the posts in one spot here.

Today it’s all about my computer. Currently I only have one computer, a laptop. This is unlike quite a few other geeks, and very unlike myself in the past. I’ve had 3 or 4 working computers, plus lots of spare parts. I now have 1 working computer, and a few spare parts.

So, this laptop. It’s an ASUS UL20A ultra-portable laptop. Halfway in between a netbook and a full-sized laptop, it’s just that perfect compromise between portability and usability.

My Laptop (UL20A)
My Laptop

Specifications:

  • Intel CPU, 1.3GHz dual-core. Surprisingly, this actually feels really snappy. It’s amazing how we’ve got used to this natural progression in computing for faster and faster, when we actually don’t need it for a lot of tasks.
  • 2GiB of DDR2 RAM. This, on the other hand, isn’t enough. As this post is being published, there’s another 2GiB in the mail, to make a new total of 4GiB.
  • 250GB SATA HDD. Plenty. My movie collection is stored on an external drive.
  • 12″ screen, 1366 x 768 pixels. It would be nice to have more (isn’t it always true?) however this much allows me to get what I need to do done. It’s also a 16×9 aspect ratio, which is very nice for watching videos.
  • Windows 7 Home Premium 64 bit. See yesterday’s post for why.
  • There are some other specifications, but I can’t remember what they are, and don’t really care.

I’ve also been told to share a screenshot of my computer. Well, here it is:

My Windows 7 laptop running PuTTY
My Windows 7 laptop running PuTTY

30 Days of Geek #3: What does your day job involve?

I’ve decided to partake in Jethro Carr’s 30 Days of Geek challenge, so I’ll be writing a post a day on my geekiness for an entire month! You can find all the posts in one spot here.

I’ll answer this question in two different ways.

My “job” is working as a computer technician for a computer shop based in Hobart, Tasmania. I only work on Saturdays (at the moment, it used to be full-time), so that leaves me quite a bit of the week free for other pursuits. My work involves three main parts:

  • Fixing dead computer hardware. 90% of the time it’s a dead power supply, which is an easy fix, but occasionally there are some amazing problems that just shouldn’t happen. And those are a good fun learning experience.
  • Fixing broken Windows installations. 90% of the time it’s a virus, which is an easy fix, but occasionally there are some amazing problems that just shouldn’t happen. And those are a bastard. Most non-Microsoft application developers are stupid and lazy, it seems.
  • Dealing with customers on the phone. This is both the best and worst part of my job.

I’m fairly lucky with my work, in that I get paid to learn. 🙂

The activity that I spend most of my week doing is system administration. I don’t get paid much for this (not yet, anyway), but I’m continually learning and one day I’m going to have 1337-h4x0r skills (no, really). I have the feeling that system administration is where I will probably end up in my career.