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  • Vanberge 4:57 pm on August 4, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags:   

    How to Build an Ikea “Lack Rack” for Your Home Lab 

    As a sysadmin, I keep in the loop with the home lab/hobbyist community and am always looking for cool things to try and do with computers. One of the projects I’ve been looking to take on for some time has been a rack to store my IT equipment. Granted, I don’t have a ton – a decent server, small NAS, and some other miscellaneous hardware – but having all this stuff just sitting on the floor of my utility room is not ideal by any means.

    Through online forums and /r/homelab on reddit, I came up with a game plan to do this on the cheap.

    Enter the Lack Rack.

    Somehow, it was discovered that Ikea’s lack table line provides a near perfect fit for rack-sized hardware. There is a decent amount of information out there if you’re Googling around for how to build one (Even a whole site dedicated to them). But, most of what I found out there was using a side table with legs only. Kind of like this:

    lackrack

    I didn’t really love that style. It looks and feels half done to me. So, I decided to take it a little bit further. I used 2 lack tables since they’re so cheap which allowed me to give it a base. Then I wanted to be able to wheel it around, so I also added some caster style wheels on the bottom as well. Here are a couple pics of what I ended up with

    IMG_20140804_092158IMG_20140804_092230

     

    I haven’t really seen any good writeups with doing a lack rack in this style, and therefore I wanted to go ahead and share my experiences with the interenet.

    Here’s how I made my lack rack

    What to get:

    • 2x Ikea Lack Side tables. I recommend 22 inch version vs. the 21 and 5/8 that seem to be on other guides. This is a perfect/snug fit. I can’t imagine a 21 and 5/8 table fitting my server without me having to bump the legs out a little bit. Note that it seems the black table is the only one that comes in 22”
    • If you want to be able to roll this rig, get 4 caster style wheels that you can easily screw onto the bottom
    • Some hardware. You’ll need at least 4 of something like these corner brace/angle bracket things, as well as some self-drilling style screws to mount those and your wheels. I recommend taking some time looking at the screw width, depth, and length. These are Ikea tables after all, so you have to sort of balance out how hard you tighten them down while being careful not to strip it out. I didn’t have any problems using some screws with pretty wide threads that bit into the wood fairly well. You should need 24 screws if you’re doing wheels and braces.
    • Optional: A couple of these rails to set your gear on! I haven’t done this yet, and I’m not sure if I will. But you might want to line the sides of your lack rack with these.

    The Assembly Steps:

    • Gather your 2x Ikea Lack side tables (again, I am a fan of the black 22” version).
    • Assemble the first table completely per the provided instructions. It’s very easy… You essentially just have to hand screw the legs onto the top.
    • Open the 2nd table and take just the top, which you will actually use as the bottom of your rack. This shall henceforth be referred to as the “base”. You’ll have 4 legs left over. Find something creative to use them for?
    • Using the angle bracket/corner brace things, attach your first fully assembled table to the base of the 2nd table. It might sound a little complicated, but you really just set the base from your 2nd table down flat with the finished side up, and then set your fully assembled table on top of it. I did not pre-drill any holes and they all screwed in very easily without stripping. It’s worth mentioning again that it did feel like it’d be easy to strip the wood, so don’t over tighten.
    • Reminder, finished side of the base goes up. You don’t want the bottom of your rack decorated while the visible base section is unfinished wood. You can see from my pictures how the top/bottom are oriented and the way I used the brackets to mount the tables together.
    • You should now have a mostly fully functioning “lack rack” – Congratulations! Now if you like, go ahead and flip it upside down and screw on your caster style wheels to the bottom.
    • And there you go, you should be all set.

    I might find a way to add some sides to this build to clean it up a little bit. It also could use some cable management. And as I stated earlier I may end up putting some rails along the sides. I’ll call this my stage 1 for a decent home lab lack rack. Total cost? About 35 dollars. Hope this helps if you’re considering a build!

     
  • Vanberge 9:52 pm on July 18, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: gaming   

    Braid: A Review 

    Braid is one of my favorite gaming experiences that I’ve ever had. This was a bit of a surprise for me, as it doesn’t fit any of the typical gaming constructs that I find usually appeal to my digital self. It’s a relatively short, independently developed puzzle game. It’s difficult to put the experience I had playing this game into words. It was a total immersion for me.

    braid

    I felt, on some level, like I was Tim (the main character). The wold of Braid provides creative time manipulation techniques, including slowing time and rewinding time, to help you push Tim on his quest to reunite with his lost princess. Jonathan Blow, the creator of this masterpiece, tells a compelling story that really I think any human being can painfully relate to. Who hasn’t made a mistake and wished they could rewind time and do things differently? The game gives you a chance to experience this. With a storyline that is intentionally vague, your own psyche somehow fills in the gaps of Tim’s past with your own life experiences. You share his quest with him. I somehow shared a part in whatever mistakes he made to lose his princess.

    The premise of a lost love and the chance to create a perfect future is something I think the human condition would strive for at any chance. I certainly consider myself a lucky man, and there isn’t alot I would change about my life. But I have experienced darker times, and I think Tim represented that to me. Myself, rewinding through a dark and lonely portion of life, trying to recreate an ideal.

    The puzzle portion of the game cannot be commended enough. I found myself wondering how a human mind could create some of these puzzles. And, on top of conceptualizing them; how they could possibly posses the skills required to turn them into a virtual reality using software development and writing code. I’m typically a very impatient person. I rarely have the time or calmness to take on a puzzle game. With Braid, I found myself in a paradox. I certainly wanted desperately to solve each puzzle and continue, yet I dreaded the end of the experience. I refused to look up any walkthoughs or online guides and made sure to solve everything on my own. It was somehow a calming and zen-like state of mind trying to move forward through this game.

    The game doesn’t have groundbreaking graphics. But the soundtrack and art, the overall style of the game, are all fantastic. Beautifully painted backdrops combined with an audio composition that embodies a strong medley of longing, hope and optimism – It’s profound.

    I really can’t believe that an indie game was capable of having this effect on me, and really all I can do is to say “Thank you” to Jonathan Blow for providing the world the chance to experience this. If you ever read this, I hope you feel a sense of pride in what you do and how you have managed to truly create a world class gaming experience.

    If you like video games, and you have not played Braid – You should do so immediately.

     
  • Vanberge 5:04 pm on March 27, 2014 Permalink | Reply  

    Navigating a Web Traffic Jam 

    If you’ve tried to view ericvb.com recently, you may have been met with various error messages at various times instead of my actual website. Terms like “ACCOUNT SUSPENDED” or “500 Server error” and “Error establishing a database connection” have been appearing all too often.

    Turns out I have a couple of blog posts that have become fairly popular, and I thought it’d be interesting to share the story of how my site has had to go from “just a hobby” to something a little more enterprise grade.

    Houston, we have a problem
    I received an email from my hosting provider stating my account had been suspended due to resource abuse. I then tried to navigate to my site, and I only see “This account has been suspended” instead of my site content. A few emails back and forth with support, and they re-enabled my account to give me a chance to try mitigate the performance issues. I updated plugins and themes to latest versions, enabled some caching and security plugins, and finally even signed up for CloudFlare which has a really nice free content delivery service (more on this later).

    Things smoothed out for awhile, but soon my resource usage began to climb again. CPU and RAM utilization were just crushing the server; and since I was on a shared server configuration, my site was making other people’s stuff perform poorly. I had reviewed analytics data and found basically 2 of my posts were the culprits. One on setting up tabbed ssh for Windows, and another on getting started with the ELK stack for syslogging. I tried unpublishing those posts for awhile but I still ended up getting suspended 3 separate times. Finally, I had make the decision to move my website to a dedicated server.

    The migration to a dedicated server was really pretty easy. Even fun! MySQL is a great database and was easy to backup/restore, and the rest was just copying files. In the end, my website is better secured thanks to the iThemes security plugin, as well CloudFlare’s front end capabilities.

    I really can’t say enough about how happy I am with CloudFlare. It provides caching, content optimization, and security features. Their free offering is very capable, and obviously the paid subscriptions give you more features.

    Overall, this entire experience has been a great learning opportunity. Topics I’ve never even thought about such as content delivery, web caching, and WordPess security are now a focus of mine with this website, and hopefully it results in a better experience for anyone who visits…

     
    • browndr 4:00 pm on April 5, 2014 Permalink

      Please tell me you are monetizing the hell out of those posts with unobtrusive ads.

    • Brock 1:49 am on June 18, 2014 Permalink

      Useful info. Lucky me I discovered your web site accidentally, and I am stunned why this accident did not happened in advance! I bookmarked it.

  • Vanberge 10:29 pm on January 4, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: logstash,   

    Getting Started on Centralized Logging with Logstash, Elasticsearch and Kibana 

    As a sysadmin, one of the “rainy day” things on my to-do list for some time has been exploring centralized logging. I’ve done a few proof of concept style quick implementations throughout the years but have never been able to secure budget or resources to see it to completion. Splunk was too expensive, and the open source ones I tried required too much effort to be worth while back then. This time, however, I was more determined to make something stick. With that, I began searching out some of the more popular open source tools.

    I considered various combinations of things like Fluentd, Graylog2, Octopussy, etc. In the end, I settled on going with the Logstash/Elasticsearch/Kibana stack. All of these free, open source tools are powerful in their own right – but they’re designed to work together and are immensely powerful when combined. Logstash collects, ships, filters, and makes logs consistent. Elasticsearch creates indices and searchability of the logs. And finally, Kibana gives you a great web interface to analyze all your log data. Here’s a screenshot of it all coming together for me. This is a custom Kibana dashboard showing syslog output from all my VMware servers:

    Custom-Kibana-dashboard

    Before diving into the steps, I feel the need to point out that I’ve had a great time learning and setting up these tools. I honestly haven’t been this excited about using software since first trying VMware ESX server. I can’t stop working on it. It’s become an addiction for me to continuously improve, filter, and make sense of various logs. It’s really very rewarding to be able to visualize your log data in such a usable way. Everything was pretty easy to set up at a basic level, and the open source community was there for me via #logstash on IRC when I needed help taking things further or had any questions. The setup of these tools can feel a little daunting to a newcomer with so many options and such a degree of configurability/customization, so I wanted to provide a step-by-step guide for how I ended up with an initial deployment.

    A couple prerequisite disclaimer points before I get started

    • I chose to use Ubuntu server. This is a personal preference, and certainly this guide can be helpful if you choose a different OS. Use whatever OS you feel comfortable with.
    • For the purposes of this guide, all 3 tools will be run on one server. It is possible (even recommended depending on your workload) to separate them onto different servers.
    • This is a “getting started” guide. These tools can certainly be taken much further than I take them here. They can be integrated with a message broker like Redis or RabbitMQ. I’ll consider going into deeper options such as these in a followup enhanced configuration guide vs. here in the getting started guide.

    Now let’s get into the setup!

    1. Get a webserver and PHP installed on your server. I much prefer apache or nginx as the webserver. Logstash does has a built in webserver that you can run, but I much prefer running a separate webserver. In Ubuntu, I just went with the entire LAMP stack. This is as easy as “apt-get install lamp-server“.
    2. Install a java runtime. Again, easy in Ubuntu via apt-get install openjdk-7-jre-headless
    3. Download the three components. I downloaded gzip archives of each, but depending on your OS, there may be packages built for it. Choose whichever way you’re more comfortable with.
    4. Extract the archives (tar -xvf <filename>.tgz) and place the files where you want them. I chose /opt for logstash and elasticsearch, and then Kibana goes in your web root. I did it as follows, an;d I’ll continue to reference these directories in the rest of the guide.
      • Extracted Elasticsearch tgz to /opt/elasticsearch
      • Placed the Logstash jar in /opt/logstash
      • Extracted Kibana tgz to my web root folder, /var/www/kibana – there was no special configuration needed other than putting the files here.
    5. Edit your Elasticsearch config file (/opt/elasticsearch/config/elasticsearch.yml) and make 2 edits:
      • Find the line that says “cluster.name” and uncomment it, setting a name for your new Elasticsearch cluster.
      • Look for “node.name” and set the node name as well.
      • Note that you don’t have to set these variables. If you don’t set these, Elasticsearch will set them randomly for you, but it is handy to know which server you’re looking at if you ever have to expand your setup so I recommend setting them.
    6. Go ahead and start Elasticsearch by running /opt/elasticsearch/bin/elasticsearch
    7. Create a basic logstash.conf file. I created an /opt/logstash/logstash.conf with an initial config something like this, which just creates local file inputs.

      This input section is defined to look at and ingest files defined in the path array variable. Then the output section is setting to output to stdout (your command window) and also to elasticsearch where you define your cluster name. This is a very basic config to easily show us things are working.
    8. Now fire up Logstash by running: /opt/logstash/bin/logstash agent -f /opt/logstash/logstash.conf
    9. You should now see logstash initialize and all of the events it indexes should get output to your terminal via the stdout output, in addition to getting pushed over to elasticsearch where we should see them with Kibana.
    10. If you extracted Kibana as noted in step 4, then you should be able to browse to your server and check out your data! Try http://yourserver/kibana and you should be greeted with an introduction screen. You’ll see they have a pre-configured logstash dashboard that you can click on and save as your default
    11. Once you see your data is indeed visible through Kibana, we can dive into further configuration of logstash. If something’s off and you don’t see data, check out the logstash docs or jump into #logstash on irc.freenode.net where people are very happy to help. Once you’re satisfied that it is working, you may want to remove the stdout line from the output section and only have your output go to Elasticsearch for indexing.
    12. Now that we know things are functional, we can set up some additional logstash configs to further improve things
      • First, let’s set up a very common input for remote systems to dump syslogs into Logstash
      • Edit your logstash.conf again and add a syslog to your input section like this:
      • With the Logstash syslog input, you can specify the port, add tags, and set a bunch of other options. Make sure to check out the documentation for each input you add to your config. For syslog, visit http://logstash.net/docs/1.3.2/inputs/syslog for example.
      • Next, we’ll want to set up a filter section of our config. The filter below makes sure we get a FQDN for the host by using a reverse DNS lookup and replacing the host variable with that (without this, many hosts just report an IP address), and then additionally adds a tag “VMware” for any host matching “esx” in the hostname. Pending your host names contain “esx” somewhere in them, this example makes it easy for browsing VMware syslog data through Kibana. You can certainly tailor these to any host names or even other fields you like. Logstash’s filtering and grok parsing are very powerful capabilities. This example is enough to give you an idea of the structure and how the logic works. Again, I can’t stress enough to dig into the docs and hop on IRC for help. Overall, the filter section is probably where you’ll end up spending most of your time.
      • Once you get your logstash.conf tweaked, restart Logstash. ps -ef | grep logstash and then kill the process. Restart it the same way you did in step 8.
    13. Now we’re ready to have some servers to dump syslogs to your new central log server! I started with VMware and Ubuntu and branched out from there. Depending on your OS or the syslog implementation, the method of sending logs to a remote syslog host varies. Check your OS documentation for how to do this. The default port is 514, which is default for the syslog input and typically remote hosts sending syslog data.
    14. Check out Kibana now and hopefully you see log entries. Click through on hosts, on tags, try creating a new dashboard displaying only your “VMware” tagged logs. Etc Etc Etc – hopefully you can see your filters in action and how it helps bring consistency to your log data.
    15. Keep exploring the Logstash docs for more inputs. Windows servers, Cisco devices, apache or IIS logs, Exchange, etc. I don’t think there’s a sysadmin out there who has a shortage of log data they could/should be analyzing.
    16. Document your setup as you go so you can remember it later. :-)

    I hope this startup guide has been helpful to getting a base configuration. Keep in mind that Logstash has a plethora of inputs, outputs codecs and filters. Make sure to check out all the documentation at http://logstash.net/docs/1.3.2/ and tailor this awesome tool to your needs. If you have a system logging, chances are there’s an input or plugin for it.

    A few bonus tips

    • Check out http://www.elasticsearch.org/videos/, particularly “Introduction to Logstash”
    • Install a few awesome plugins for Elasticsearch
      • /opt/elasticsearch/bin/plugin -install karmi/elasticsearch-paramedic
      • /opt/elasticsearch/bin/plugin -install royrusso/elasticsearch-HQ
      • /opt/elasticsearch/bin/plugin -install mobz/elasticsearch-head
    • Move your logstash dashboard to default by browsing to /var/www/kibana/app/dashboards and copying logstash.json to default.json. Maybe save default.json off as default.json.orig or something first.
    • Make sure to visit the Logstash community cookbook.
     
    • Aaron 1:54 pm on January 5, 2014 Permalink

      Nicely done! Glad the “Introduction to Logstash” gets a mention here ;)

  • Vanberge 10:17 am on September 4, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: ,   

    VMworld: Day 4 – The "Unofficial" Summary Guide 

    As VMworld 2013 came to a close, I found myself reflecting on the vast experience. Did I make the most of it? Was it worthwhile? What should I do differently next time? None of these questions had simple answers, so I took the time to summarize my thoughts and feelings on VMworld.

    Making the most of it.
    If you’re going to VMworld, you’re probably already planning on sessions, group discussions, labs, etc. Attending these things goes without saying. However, what I think is nearly as equally important are all the unofficial or underground things you can participate in at VMworld. Do some of these things and have some fun while you meet/greet with some of the great minds in the industry.

    • Meetups, Tweetups, and parties.
      From #VMunderground to #vBeers, there are plenty of community and vendor sponsored activities to check out. The comprehensive list can be found here: http://www.vmworld.com/community/gatherings. Even if you didn’t make it in time to sign up for one officially, crash one! Many times, they scan your badge and still let you in (I’ve heard). :-P
    • Start a conversation.
      I’m totally an introvert by nature, and so are most of the people attending VMworld. At mealtimes, this resulted in many people sitting and eating by themselves at tables for 6. My introverted nature begged me to do the same, but I forced myself to sit at a table with somebody else and start a conversation. In literally every case, just saying “Mind if I join you? … So, where are you from?” resulted in great conversation. So, take the initiative and be the one to break the ice! Whether sitting at a meal, or if you happen to see one of your favorite tech bloggers – I found it very worthwhile to say hello.
    • Embrace social media.
      Social media outlets like Twitter, Instagram, Vine and Facebook sometimes elicit a negative connotation or response. Granted, these outlets are used for some of the more annoying things our human race has to offer. This shouldn’t stop you from using them though. I found Twitter particularly helpful – using hashtags for my sessions, finding new ideas, and overall interacting with colleagues was a really positive experience. You can ask about a good place to eat, trade ideas/thoughts on new products, and get in on running jokes. Social media gives you a whole new level of interaction detail within VMworld, and you really should use it.

    What would I do differently?
    My rookie foray into the enigma that is VMworld was bound to be a learning experience. As noted before, I don’t travel very often. I tried to counteract that lack of experience with planning and using available technologies. But there are still some things I would do differently next year.

    • Register early.
      I got a confirmation that I was going to VMworld pretty late in the game. I think schedule builder kicks off in May, and I finally registered in early August. By then, many sessions are filled up. I still got into plenty of great sessions, and you can always get in the standby line for ones that are full. Not to mention I had to stay up at Fisherman’s wharf because all the other close hotels were booked. This did give me the opportunity to ride the city’s impressive public transit system though.
    • Branch out.
      My tendency was to pick sessions for products that I use every day and am familiar with. What is the point of that? Learn a little bit more or hope for one new feature you may not have known about before? It’s probably better in retrospect to look for sessions or products you don’t use or don’t know anything about. That way, you can learn ALOT and you will find yourself brainstorming of ways you could leverage these new products.
    • Be a session detective.
      The sessions available offer clues to the announcements that will be made at VMworld. “What’s new in vSphere” sessions available? Well then they’re going to announce a new version of vSphere. Keep an eye out for new products or what may be updates to existing products and you can have a head start on your session scheduling.

    Was it worth it?
    Absolutely. It was an awesome experience. I’m sure part of that is it being my first time, but I found myself coming up with new ideas and feeling inspired to learn more during and after VMworld. You end up hearing how another enterprise solved a tough problem, or how a cool product helped an organization expand or take a next step and you can’t help but take that enthusiasm away with you. It re-energized me in my career and I felt great about my industry and skillset. VMworld 2013 may have been my first, but I sincerely hope it is not even close to my last.

     
  • Vanberge 2:27 am on August 28, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: ,   

    VMworld: Day 3 – Things to Bring 

    The third part in this VMworld blog series will focus on the things I have found myself glad to have brought, or that I wish I had brought.

    A messenger bag/back pack
    This is one of the things I’m going to most strongly advocate. “Wait, don’t you get a back pack when you register, dude?” Yes, you get a backpack registering for VMworld – but that means so did 22,000 other people. I would rather carry around my own DIFFERENT bag and not worry about mixing it up with somebody else’s. Whether your choice is a backpack or messenger style, a bag is an absolute must. It carries everything else you need; as well as all the other crap that you don’t need but will undoubtedly end up with.

    A small computing device
    Whether your mobile computing device of choice is an iPad, a tablet, or an ultrabook – bring it. Keeping up on news between sessions, BYOD labs, taking notes, social media, etc etc etc… And, since you’re going to be lugging this device around for an entire week, you don’t want it to be some 11 pound monster laptop. My Lenovo ultrabook is about 2 lbs and has been a great fit. Some type of mobile computing device is a must at VMworld. In fact, if you’re considering attending VMworld and not bringing one, then you are a bad person.

    A wifi-tether hotspot capable mobile phone
    The wifi at VMworld can get pretty painful when thousands of people with multiple devices connect to it. Therefore, you will want to have a backup plan. Since the 4G LTE signal is pretty solid in San Francisco, I’ve found myself using my mobile phone as an access point more often than traditional Wi-Fi (even at my hotel). If you have an android phone, you can root it and install Wi-Fi tether. Otherwise, there may be extra costs associated with tethering. In those cases, you’ll just have to weigh your online needs vs. the costs. Granted, this is not a silver bullet solution. Because some of the lower level sessions end up with poor signal and 4G LTE can also suffer speed issues with so many devices connected in a small area.

    Headphones
    Listen to music in between sessions. Listen to music walking around the city. Keep headphones in your ears even if they are plugged into nothing. This way, you can talk to the vendors that you actually want to talk to vs being pestered non-stop. People are really alot less likely to talk to you when you have headphones on, so it gives you the chance to be the one choose your conversations.

    Sunglasses
    The Moscone Center seems to be built out of highly reflective mirrors that amplify the sunlight into the main lobbies no matter what building you’re in, and no matter what time of day or angle of the sun. Even a short walk across the street from Moscone North to Moscone South is difficult. I found myself pulling out sunglasses for every short walk outside and keeping them on until I made it past the lobbies of the main conference centers. Then you’ll also have the bonus of vendors failing to make eye contact with you. Therefore, I highly recommend sunglasses and headphones be utilized together for a complete vendor repellent solution. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of great products and solutions to check out from plenty of really intresting and reputable vendors. I just want to be in control of how often my badge gets scanned and only by the people at booths I feel like visiting.

    Comfortable shoes
    The official VMworld faq will tell you that the attire for the conference should be “business casual”. That is BS. People will wear t-shirts, shorts, sandals, and really anything in between. And you know what? Nobody cares. I’m not telling you to dress like a schmuck. I’m telling you that being comfortable is more important than looking your best. Even if you manage to book a hotel right next to Moscone, you end up walking a LOT. Overall, just make sure to avoid buying a new pair of dress shoes and thinking you’ll break them in at VMworld. There’s nothing wrong with a decent looking pair of comfortable casual shoes.

    A charger for every device you’re carrying
    The heavy use of my phone and ultrabook left their respective batteries hurting. I dimmed my laptop’s screen to try to conserve as much as possible, but I still had to charge it later in the afternoon. I used my phone’s GPS constantly to get to dinners, vendor events, and off-site sessions. I would not have been happy should either of these things ended up with a dead battery later in the day. Luckily I could jack my phone into my ultrabook and keep it juicing up during sessions.

    This is still my first VMworld, so this list may grow or change – but so far these are my “must have” items that I take with me and use constantly throughout the day.

     

     
    • browndr 7:19 am on August 28, 2013 Permalink

      Welcome to Nerd Tourism 101…….

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