Happy New Year, everyone!
I hope everyone had a nice Winter break. For my birthday last month, my good friends at [StarTech.com] sent me a nice [double-headed USB combo cable] that has both Micro-USB and Mini-USB connectors. I am always looking to reduce the number of cables I take with me on trips, and this one is perfect, as I have a Samsung 4G smart phone that uses the Micro-USB connector, and a Canon PowerShot digital camera that uses the Mini-USB connector.
(FTC Disclosure: The U.S. Federal Trade Commission may consider this a "celebrity endorsement" for StarTech's product. I have used the cable and it works as expected. My review is based on my own experience using the cable, and information publicly available. IBM and StarTech are independent companies. Aside from giving me this nice cable at no cost, I have not received any payment from StarTech or any other third party to mention them or their product on this blog, I am not affiliated with StarTech in any way, nor do I have any financial interest in their company.)
When the [Universal Serial Bus] standard first came out in the mid-1990s, my colleagues and I were all excited that this will finally put an end to all the proprietary plugs and cables that each manufacturer seemed to waste their time re-inventing the wheel with yet another cable connector. For the most part, USB has simplified this, and the USB cable can be used for both data transfer and for power charging.
Today, there are many alternatives to using a cable for data transfer, such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, but people are finding that their smart phones and other devices run out of juice way too often. At various conferences, I have seen several people panic looking for an electrical outlet to charge their device, and a few brazen enough to ask other attendees, "Can I plug my phone into your laptop?"
(Caution: Be careful allowing strangers to plug their device into your USB port, as this can provide data transfer in addition to power charging, spreading viruses or other malicious intent. On my Lenovo Thinkpad T410, one of the USB ports is colored yellow and is always powered on, even when my laptop is in suspend or hibernation mode. This would be a safe way to allow someone to charge off your power without concern for data transfer in either direction.)
Recently, I have flown on airplanes where each seat had a USB charging port, ideal if you want to listen to music or watch a video on your device. I have also driven a rental carthat had USB charging ports in addition to the traditional cigarette lighter option, especially useful if you need to make an emergency phone call at the side of the road, or if you are using the GPS navigation feature to find your way. These are both a good step in the right direction!
Carrying one cable instead of two might not seem like much of a big deal, but if you think about it, complexity in the IT industry is all about the number of cables admins have to deal with. The push from 1GbE to 10GbE can help reduce the number of cables. Converged Enhanced Ethernet (CEE) takes it one step further, allowing NFS, CIFS, iSCSI and FCoE to all flow over a single cable. This can greatly reduce complexity in your IT environment.
If you are interested in reducing the complexity in your IT environment, contact your local IBM Business Partner or sales representative.
technorati tags: IBM, USB, StarTech, Samsung, Canon, Lenovo, Thinkpad, T410, Micro-USB, Mini-USB, GPS
Last March, in my blog post [RSA Breach, World Backup Day and the use of Encryption], I mentioned the use of [EncryptStick], a product by ENC Security Systems. Since then, I have thought of some ways that could make it even better.
(FTC Disclosure: I do not work or have any financial investments in ENC Security Systems. ENC Security Systems did not paid me to mention them on this blog. Their mention in this blog is not an endorsement of either their company or any of their products. Information about EncryptStick was based solely on publicly available information and my own personal experiences. My friends at ENC Security Systems provided me a full-version pre-loaded stick for this review.)
The EncryptStick software comes in two flavors, a free/trial version, and the full/paid version. The free trial version has [limits on capacity and time] but provides enough glimpse of the product to decide before you buy the full version. You can download the software yourself and put in on your own USB device, or purchase the pre-loaded stick that comes with the full-version license.
Whichever you choose, the EncryptStick offers three nice protection features:
- Encryption for data organized in "storage vaults", which can be either on the stick itself, or on any other machine the stick is connected to. That is a nice feature, because you are not limited to the capacity of the USB stick.
- Encrypted password list for all your websites and programs.
- A secure browser, that prevents any key-logging or malware that might be on the host Windows machine.
I have tried out all three functions and everything works as advertised. However, there is always room for improvement, so here are my suggestions.
- Plausible Deniability
The first problem is that the pre-loaded stick looks like it is worth a million dollars. It is in a shiny bronze color with "EncryptStick" emblazoned on it. This is NOT subtle advertising! This 8GB capacity stick looks like it would be worth stealing solely on being a nice piece of jewelry, and then the added bonus that there might be "valuable secrets" just makes that possibility even more likely.
If you want to keep your information secure, it would help to have "plausible deniability" that there is nothing of value on a stick. Either have some corporate logo on it, of have the stick look like a cute animal, like these pig or chicken USB sticks.
It reminds me how the first Apple iPod's were in bright [Mug-me White]. I use black headphones with my black iPod to avoid this problem.
Of course, you can always install the downloadable version of EncryptStick software onto a less conspicuous stick if you are concerned about theft. The full/paid version of EncryptStick offers an option for "lost key recovery" which would allow you to backup the contents of the stick and be able to retrieve them on a newly purchased stick in the event your first one is lost or stolen.
- The Cap
Imagine how "unlucky" I felt when I notice that I had lost my "rabbits feet" on this cute animal-themed USB stick.
I sense trouble for losing the cap on my EncryptStick as well. This might seem trivial, but is a pet-peeve of mine that USB sticks should plan for this. Not only is there nothing to keep the cap on (it slides on and off quite smoothly), but there is no loop to attach the cap to anything if you wanted to.
Since then, I got smart and try to look for ways to keep the cap connected. Some designs, like this IBM-logoed stick shown above, just rotate around an axle, giving you access when you need it, and protection when it is folded closed.
Alternatively, get a little chain that allows you to attach the cap to the main stick. In the case of the pig and chicken, the memory section had a hole pre-drilled and a chain to put through it. I drilled an extra hole in the cap section of each USB stick, and connected the chain through both pieces.
(Warning: Kids, be sure to ask for assistance from your parents before using any power tools on small plastic objects.)
- Multi-OS Support
The EncryptStick can run on either Microsoft Windows or Mac OS. The instructions indicate that you can install both versions of download software onto a single stick, so why not do that for the pre-loaded full version? The stick I have had only the Windows version pre-loaded. I don't know if the Windows and Mac OS versions can unlock the same "storage vaults" on the stick.
Certainly, I have been to many companies where either everyone runs Windows or everyone runs Mac OS. If the primary target audience is to use this stick at work in one of those places, then no changes are required. However, at IBM, we have employees using Windows, Mac OS and Linux. In my case, I have all three! Ideally, I would like a version of EncryptStick that I could take on trips with me that would allow me to use it regardless of the Operating System I encountered.
Since there isn't a Linux-version of EncryptStick software, I decided to modify my stick to support booting Linux. I am finding more and more Linux kiosks when I travel, especially at airports and high-traffic locations, so having a stick that works both in Windows or Linux would be useful. Here are some suggestions if you want to try this at home:
- Use fdisk to change the FAT32 partition type from "b" to "c". Apparently, Grub2 requires type "c", but the pre-loaded EncryptStick was set to "b". The Windows version of EncryptStick> seems to work fine in either mode, so this is a harmless change.
- Install Grub2 with "grub-install" from a working Linux system.
- Once Grub2 is installed, you can boot ISO images of various Linux Rescue CDs, like [PartedMagic] which includes the open-source [TrueCrypt] encryption software that you could use for Linux purposes.
- This USB stick could also be used to help repair a damaged or compromised Windows system. Consider installing [Ophcrack] or [Avira].
- Certainly, 8GB is big enough to run a full Linux distribution. The latest 32-bit version of [Ubuntu] could run on any 32-bit or 64-bit Intel or AMD x86 machine, and have enough room to store an [encrypted home directory].
- If you plan to use Firefox's [Private Browsing Mode], I highly recommend using the [NoScript] Firefox plug-in.
Since the stick is formatted FAT32, you should be able to run your original Windows or Mac OS version of EncryptStick with these changes.
Depending on where you are, you may not have the luxury to reboot a system from the USB memory stick. Certainly, this may require changes to the boot sequence in the BIOS and/or hitting the right keys at the right time during the boot sequence. I have been to some "Internet Cafes" that frown on this, or have blocked this altogether, forcing you to boot only from the hard drive.
Well, those are my suggestions. Whether you go on a trip with or without your laptop, it can't hurt to take this EncryptStick along. If you get a virus on your laptop, or have your laptop stolen, then it could be handy to have around. If you don't bring your laptop, you can use this at Internet cafes, hotel business centers, libraries, or other places where public computers are available.
technorati tags: IBM, ENC Security Systems, EncryptStick, encryption, USB, WIndows, MacOS, Linux
In my presentations in Australia and New Zealand, I mentioned that people were re-discovering the benefits of removable media. While floppy diskettes were convenient way of passing information from one person to another, they unfortunately did not have enough capacity. In today's world, you may need Gigabytes or Terabytes of re-writeable storage with a file system interface that can easily be passed from one person to another. In this post, I explore three options.
- Cirago CDD2000 Docking Station
The good folks over at [Cirago International Ltd.] sent me a cute little [CDD2000 docking station] for evalution.
(FCC Disclaimer: I work for IBM, and IBM has no business relationship with Cirago at the time of this writing. Cirago has not paid me to mention their product, but instead provided me a free loaner that I promised to return to them after my evaluation is completed. This post should not be considered an endorsement for Cirago's products. List prices for Cirago and IBM products were determined from publicly available sources for the United States, and may vary in different countries. The views expressed herein may not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of either IBM or Cirago.)
I took a few photos so you can see what exactly this device looks like. Basically, it is a plastic box that holds a single naked disk drive. It has four little rubber feet so that it does not slip on your desk surface.
The inside is quite simple. The power and SATA connections match those of either a standard 3.5 inch drive, or the smaller form factor (SFF) 2.5 inch drive. However, to my dismay, it does not handle EIDE drives which I have a ton of. After taking apart six different computer systems, I found only one had SATA drives for me to try this unit out with.
The unit comes with a USB cable and AC/DC power adapter. In my case, I found the USB 3.0 cable too short for my liking. My tower systems are under my desk, but I like keeping docking stations like this on the top of the desk, within easy reach, but that wasn't going to happen because the USB cable was not long enough.
Instead, I ended up putting it half-way in between, behind my desk, sitting on another spare system. Not ideal, but in theory there are USB-extension cables that probably could fix this.
Here it is with the drive inside. I had a 3.5 inch Western Digital [1600AAJS drive] 160 GB, SATA 3 Gbps, 8 MB Cache, 7200 RPM.
To compare the performance, I used a dual-core AMD [Athlon X2] system that I had built for my 2008 [One Laptop Per Child] project. To compare the performance, I ran with the drive externally in the Cirago docking station, then ran the same tests with the same drive internally on the native SATA controller. Although the Cirago documentation indicated that Windows was required, I used Ubuntu Linux 10.04 LTS just fine, using the flexible I/O [fio] benchmarking tool against an ext3 file system.
- Sequential Write - a common use for external disk drive is backup.
- Random read - randomly read files ranging from 5KB to 10MB in size.
- Random mixed - randomly read/write files (50/50 mix) ranging from 5KB to 10MB in size.
|Sequential Write||Throughput IOPS||1119||1044|
| ||Latency (msec)||0.866 ms||0.948 ms|
| ||Bandwidth (KB/s)||16900||14400|
|Random Read||Throughput (IOPS)||164||119|
| ||Latency (msec)||6.06 ms||8.36 ms|
| ||Bandwidth (KB/s)||658||477|
|Random Mixed (50/50)||Throughput (IOPS)||112||81|
| ||Latency (msec) read||8.78 ms||12.1 ms|
| ||Latency (msec) write||0.0983 ms||0.120 ms|
| ||Bandwidth (KB/s) read||557||328|
| ||Bandwidth (KB/s) write||556||337|
For sequential write, the Cirago performed well, only about 15 percent slower than native SATA. For random workloads, however, it was 30-40 percent slower. If you are wondering why I did not get USB 3.0 speeds, there are several factors involved here. First, with overheads, 5 Gbps USB 3.0 is expected to get only about 400 MB/sec. My SATA 2.0 controller maxes out at 375 MB/sec, and my USB 2.0 ports on my system are rated for 57 MB/sec, but with overheads will only get 20-25 MB/sec. Most spinning drives only get 75 to 110 MB/sec. Even solid-state drives top out at 250 MB/sec for sustained activity. Despite all that, my internal SATA drive only got 16 MB/sec, and externally with the Cirago 14 MB/sec in sustained write activity.
Here is the mess that is inside my system. The slot for drive 2 was blocked by cables, memory chips and the heat sink for my processor. It is possible to damage a system just trying to squeeze between these obstacles.
However, the point of this post is "removable media". Having to open up the case and insert the second drive and wire it up to the correct SATA port was a pain, and certainly a more difficult challenge than the average PC user wishes to tackle.
Price-wise, the Cirago lists for $49 USD, and the 160GB drive I used lists for $69, so the combination $118 is about what you would pay for a fully integrated external USB drive. However, if you had lots of loose drives, then this could be more convenient and start to save you some money.
- IBM RDX disk backup system
Another problem with the Cirago approach is that the disk drives are naked, with printed circuit board (PCB) exposed. When not in the docking station, where do you put your drive? Did you keep the [anti-static ESD bag] that it came in when you bought it? And once inside the bag, now what? Do you want to just stack it up in a pile with your other pieces of equipment?
To solve this, IBM offers the RDX backup system. These are fully compatible with other RDX sytems from Dell, HP, Imation, NEC, Quantum, and Tandberg Data. The concept is to have a docking station that takes removable, rugged plastic-coated disk-enclosed cartridges. The docking station can be part of the PC itself, similar to how CD/DVD drives are installed, or as a stand-alone USB 2.0 system, capable of processing data up to 25 MB/sec.
The idea is not new, about 10 years ago we had [Iomega "zip" drives] that offered disk-enclosed cartridges with capacities of 100, 250 and 750MB in size. Iomega had its fair share of problems with the zip drive, which were ranked in 2006 as the 15th worst technology product of all time, and were eventually were bought out by EMC two years later (as if EMC has not had enough failures on its own!)
The problem with zip drives was that they did not hold as much as CD or DVD media, and were more expensive. By comparison, IBM RDX cartridges come in 160GB to 750GB in size, at list prices starting at $127 USD.
- IBM LTO tape with Long-Term File System
Removable media is not just for backup. Disk cartridges, like the IBM RDX above, had the advantage of being random access, but most tape are accessed sequentially. IBM has solved this also, with the new IBM Long Term File System [LTFS], available for LTO-5 tape cartridges.
With LFTS, the LTO-5 tape cartridge now can act as a super-large USB memory stick for passing information from one person to the next. The LTO-5 cartridge can handle up to 3TB of compressed data at up to SAS speeds of 140 MB/sec. An LTO-5 tape cartridge lists for only $87 USD.
The LTO-5 drives, such as the IBM [TS2250 drive] can read LTO-3, LTO-4 and LTO-5cartridges, and can write LTO-4 and LTO-5 cartridges, in a manner that is fully compatible with LTO drives from HP or Quantum. LTO-3, LTO-4 and LTO-5 cartridges are available in WORM or rewriteable formats. LTO-4 and LTO-5 cartridges can be encrypted with 256-bit AES built-in encryption. With three drive manufacturers, and seven cartridge manufacturers, there is no threat of vendor lock-in with this approach.
These three options offer various trade-offs in price, performance, security and convenience. Not surprisingly, tape continues to be the cheapest option.
technorati tags: IBM, Cirago, CDD2000, RDX, Ubuntu, Linux, LTO, LTO-5, LTFS, SATA, USB, fio
Continuing my saga regarding my [New Laptop], I managed on
[Wednesday afternoon] to prepare my machine with separate partitions for programs and data. I was hoping to wrap things up on day 2 (Thursday), but nothing went smoothly.
Just before leaving late Wednesday evening, I thought I would try running the "Migration Assistant" overnight by connecting the two laptops with a REGULAR Ethernet cable. The instructions indicated that in "most" cases, two laptops can be connected using a regular "patch cord" cable. These are the kind everyone has, the connects their laptop to the wall socket for wired connection to the corporate intranet, or their personal computers to their LAN hubs at home. Unfortunately, the connection was not recognized, so I suspected that this was one of the exceptions not covered.
(There are two types of Ethernet cables. The ["patch cord"] connects computers to switches. The ["crossover" cable] connects like devices, such as computers to computers, or switches to switches. Four years ago, I used a crossover cable to transfer my files over, and assumed that I would need one this time as well.)
Thursday morning, I borrowed a crossover cable from a coworker. It was bright pink and only about 18 inches long, just enough to have the two laptops side by side. If the pink crossover cable were any shorter, the two laptops would be back to back. I kept the old workstation in the docking station, which allowed it to remain connected to my big flat screen, mouse, keyboard and use the docking stations RJ45 to connect to the corporate intranet. That left the RJ45 on the left side of the old system to connect via crossover cable to the new system. But that didn't work, of course, because the docking station overrides the side port, so we had to completely "undock" and go native laptop to laptop.
Restarting the Migration Assistant, I unplug the corporate intranet cable from the old laptop, put one end of the pink cable into each Ethernet port of each laptop. On the new system, Migration Assistant asks to setup a password and provides an IP address like 169.254.aa.bb with a netmask of 255.255.0.0 and I am supposed to type this IP address over on the old system for it to reach out and connect. It still didn't connect.
We tried a different pink crossover cable, no luck. My colleague Harley brought over his favorite "red" crossover cable, that he has used successfully many times, but still didn't work. The helpful diagnostic advice was to disable all firewall programs from one or both systems.
I disabled Symantec Client Firewall on both systems. Still not working. I even tried booting both systems up in "safe" mode, using MSCONFIG to set the reboot mode as "safe with networking" as the key option. Still not working. At this point, I was afraid that I would have to use the alternate approach, which was to connect both systems to our corporate 100 Mbps system, which would be painfully slow. I only have one active LAN cable in my office, so the second computer would have to sit outside in the lobby.
Looking at the IP address on the old system, it was 9.11.xx.yy, assigned by our corporate DHCP, so not even in the same subnet of the new computer. So, I created profiles on ThinkVantage Access Connections on both systems, with 192.168.0.yy netmask 255.255.255.0 on the old system, and 192.168.0.bb on the new system. This worked, and a connection between the two systems was finally recognized.
Since I had 23GB of system files and programs on my old C: drive, and 80GB of data on my old D: drive, I didn't think I would run out of space on my new 40GB C: drive and 245GB D: drive, but it did! The Migration Assistant wanted to my D:\Documents on my new C: drive and refused to continue. I had to turn off D:\Documents from the list so that it could continue, processing only the programs and system settings on C: drive. It took 61 minutes to scan 23GB on my C: drive, identify 12,900 files to move, representing 794MB of data. Seriously? Less than 1GB of data moved!
It then scanned all of the programs I had on my old system, and decided that there were none that needed to be moved or installed on the new system. The closing instructions explained there might be a few programs that need to be manually installed, and some data that needed to be transferred manually.
Given the performance of Migration Assistant, I decided to just setup a direct Network Mapping of the new D: drive as Y: on my old system, and just drag and drop my entire folder over. Even at 1000 Mbps, this still took the rest of the day. I also backed up C:\Program Files using [System Rescue CD] to my external USB drive, and restored as D:\prog-files, just in case. In retrospect, I realize it would have been faster just to have dumped my D: drive to my USB drive, and restore it on the new system.
I'll leave the process of re-installing missing programs for Friday.
technorati tags: , Ethernet, Patchcord, Crossover, firewall, SysRescCD, USB