Netgear vs TP-Link

Netgear vs TP-Link

If you’re looking for the pros and cons of Netgear vs TP-Link, I have experience with both and I’m glad to share it.

Netgear is a well established brand, having been on the market since 1996.

I don’t blame you if you’ve never heard of TP-Link. They were founded in 1996 but if you were buying their stuff before 2005, you’re well ahead of me. But I like them a lot.
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There’s plenty of credit for the Internet to go around

There’s a crazy rumor going around saying that the government didn’t do much of anything to create the Internet, and that private industry did it all.

I remember the Internet before the private sector got involved in it. I was there.
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Flaky networking? Suspect cheap NICs

Flaky networking? Suspect cheap NICs

It was 1998. I was getting ready to network my two PCs, so I asked my friendly neighborhood networking professional what to buy. He didn’t hesitate. “Intel or 3Com,” he said. “Cheap NICs will talk, but they’ll start acting flaky after a while, dropping packets in the middle of transfers, stuff like that.”

I couldn’t afford 3Com or Intel at the time, so I bought a cheap “SOHOware” brand bundle that included two 10/100 NICs, a hub, and cables for around $150. A comparable first-tier setup would have run me twice that. The hub died after a couple of years. The cards fared better. “After a while” took 11 years or so to come, and I finally got sick enough of it to retire my last one.

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The tyranny of consumerization is real

Computerworld cites the Ipad 2 and increasing demand by end users to use such consumer devices in corporate environments as “The tyranny of consumerization.”

This has happened before. And if history repeats itself, the future will be better than today, but the road there is going to involve some pain.
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The stunning fall of Mark Hurd

I didn’t believe it when the news broke late Friday that Mark Hurd, CEO of Hewlett-Packard, had suddenly resigned under fire.

Hurd wasn’t flamboyant or a quote machine like many technology CEOs. He just steadily turned HP around, increasing profits, passing Dell in sales of PCs and IBM in sales of servers, and buying companies like EDS and 3Com. He was exactly what investors liked.

In the following days, it turned out there was more to the story.Some people believe the infraction that HP cited for Hurd’s downfall was a cover, that HP wanted him out. The reasons make some sense. The one that resonates with me the most is the logic that Hurd increased profits by squeezing expenses to the bone, slashing the workforce to the minimum, then slashing salaries. Doing more with less, in other words–the mantra of IT during the entire previous decade.

The result? Record numbers of applications from HP employees at competitors. So far, no Steven Slater-style meltdowns, but when demanding more and more while paying less isn’t a good long-term strategy. The Slater story brought attention to this problem and got people talking about it, and it looks like HP may have been a few days ahead of the curve on that.

Other accounts have said employees don’t like working for Hurd and he’s unpleasant toward him. Which lead to some defenders questioning when "being nice" was a job qualification for a CEO.

Well, five years ago I was consulting for a Fortune 500 company. I stepped onto an elevator, and the company CEO stepped on right after me. He extended his hand, introduced himself, and asked me my name, what department I worked in, and what I did there. It was a 30-second exchange.

He stepped off the elevator and literally never saw me again. I don’t know whether he forgot about me the moment I stepped off the elevator, or if he jotted down a note that if he needed a printer fixed he could call Dave Farquhar and filed it away. But unlike a certain very famous CEO, he gave me no reason to fear sharing an elevator ride with him.

And I do think an important qualification of being a CEO is knowing who to call when they need something done quickly and done right. Being friendly is conducive to that. Being ruthless at all times is not. Even Genghis Khan and Attila the Hun knew when to be kind.

Then there’s the question of the consultant. The consultant who had, among other duties, the questionable job duty of "keeping Mr. Hurd company on trips," but with whom Hurd didn’t have an affair (both deny any sexual element to the relationship), and whom Hurd didn’t sexually harass (HP said no harassment took place, and the two settled out of court and kept the terms private). The consultant with whom Hurd concealed $20,000 in expenses in order to hide the relationship.

To a CEO of a multibillion-dollar company, 20 grand isn’t much. Hurd could have paid that back, and he offered. The amount of money isn’t the question nearly so much as the motive. Why did he feel the need to conceal having dinner with one particular subordinate?

The sexual harassment claim gives weight to the claim of it not being a sexual affair. But the job duty of "keeping [any male in a position of power] company" is a common euphemism for something less innocent. I’ve also read speculation that some of this consultant’s past work–namely, acting roles in several R-rated films of the type that gave the cable TV channel Cinemax the nickname "Skinamax"–may have contributed to these expectations.

Some have said that’s blaming the victim. But no means no, and the definition is the same no matter what the person’s job description was for most of the 1990s.

If Mr. Hurd jumped to certain conclusions because his consultant once had a starring role in "Body of Evidence 2," that says more about him than it says about her.

If I remember one thing from my freshman orientation in college, it’s sitting in an auditorium and being told repeatedly that no means no. Regardless of how much she’s had to drink, or what she’s wearing, or what reputation she has for whatever reason.

Since the charge was harassment rather than something else, it sounds like perhaps someone thought a no on Monday might not be followed by a no on Tuesday. That’s better than thinking no means yes based on reputation, but it was still problematic enough to settle out of court rather than try to get it dismissed.

We’ll probably never know HP’s full motivation behind the dismissal. Mark Hurd left over what appears now to be a relatively minor matter of $20,000 worth of incorrect expense reports and a slightly inappropriate relationship with a subordinate, both things that would go completely unnoticed or be easily rectified if it was a different company, or, perhaps, a different person.

The key is to not leave that something relatively minor laying around.

Barfy.

I started my professional career doing network administration at the University of Missouri. (I generally don’t count my stint selling low-quality PCs at the last surviving national consumer electronics chain towards my professional experience anymore.)

The University had its own IT department, but some of the larger departments, particularly Journalism, had their own IT departments as well. I worked for the School of Journalism.The School of Journalism had one of the oldest Token Ring networks in the world. It was also home to the oldest OS/2 network outside of IBM itself, dating to the late 1980s, running on pre-release versions of OS/2. Some of the pre-production IBM PS/2 Model 80s survived in production until 1998 when I decommissioned them. They don’t make ’em like that anymore.

Windows NT began life as OS/2 3.0. Although IBM and Microsoft soon stopped collaborating on OS/2 and went their separate ways, from a networking standpoint, OS/2 and Windows NT were highly compatible. By 1997, it was clear that OS/2 wasn’t going to meet the school’s needs for much longer, so we made the decision to replace the OS/2 servers one by one with Windows NT servers, eventually ending up with a Windows NT network. I was in charge of the project.

One day, all of us were summoned to a meeting. The campus had several Windows NT gurus who, while knowledgeable, were also extremely anal retentive. The meeting was to enforce new naming policies. All networks had to be named UMC-something.

“Some student set up a Windows NT domain in his dorm room named Barfy,” said the loudest, most annoying and most anal-retentive university administrator.

We didn’t like this policy. Our Windows NT network was named MUJournalism and consisted of hundreds of PCs. What’s worse was the network was extended out to the university-owned television station on the edge of town, several miles away. Renaming our domain to fit these guys’ whims was going to be a lot of work for no benefit whatsoever. Also, as I recall, there was some technical reason why the name UMC-Journalism wouldn’t work. Perhaps the name was too long for our remaining OS/2 clients and servers to handle.

And besides that, our network had been named MUJournalism, or some variant of it, since the last days of the Reagan administration.

We didn’t change the name of our domain.

We did, however, take a handful of test servers and set them up in their own domain. Our Lotus Domino administrator/programmer chose the name: UMC-Barfy.

A year or so later, I was working at my second employer. We had pockets of departments running Macintoshes, some of which were nearly as old as those old PS/2 Model 80s and roughly as dependable. To reduce acquisition and support costs, we were replacing as many of those as possible with Windows PCs made by Micron.

The Windows NT administrators at this place were less than accommodating. I needed some way to get the data from these Macintoshes onto the new PCs. Popping the drives from one machine into the other wasn’t an option–Windows NT wouldn’t read the Macintoshes’ HFS and HFS+ file systems, and the Macintoshes wouldn’t handle NTFS, the mandated standard. But besides that, the drives in the Macs were SCSI, while the PCs were all IDE.

Easily the fastest and best way to move the data would be to bounce it off a file server. Windows NT’s Services for Macintosh wasn’t the most reliable thing in the world, but it was adequate for a job like this. So we requested that Services for Macintosh be added to one of the Windows NT servers in the building.

Our request was denied.

We explained that this was necessary for a migration that was happening with great encouragement from upper management.

The request was still denied.

My boss happened to have an unused copy of Windows NT Server in his cubicle. Needing to get this done, we took an old consumer-grade HP Pavilion PC that was too old and slow to be good for much else and proceeded to install NT Server on it. As we were doing this, I related my story of the rogue Barfy networks.

I guess he liked the story, because when it came time to name the server, he seized the keyboard and typed BARFY for the name.

Windows NT finished installing, so we tucked Barfy into a corner and I proceeded to finally migrate my first Macintosh.

The next Monday, the crankiest of our unhelpful Windows NT administrators tapped on my boss’ cubicle wall. “Do you know anything about a server named… Barfy?”

He waved his hand. “This is not the server you are looking for.”

Unfortunately, Jedi mind tricks don’t work on Lutherans of German descent from Wisconsin. Or at least they didn’t work on this one.

So the two of us got our hands slapped–something which became a yearly tradition, at least for me, until this guy left for greener pastures a few years later–and he made us unplug Barfy from the network.

So I commandeered a cart, a couple of power strips, an old 3Com 10-megabit hub, and some network cables. Migrating a Macintosh became a matter of wheeling Barfy into the cubicle, unplugging the Mac from the building network, plugging the Mac into the hub along with Barfy, logging in, and copying all the user data up. While that was going, I would plug the PC into the same hub, log into Barfy, and then copy all the data back down. Then I would unplug the PC, plug the PC into the office network and reconfigure it, and haul off all of the old Macintosh equipment and put it in a pile.

It wasn’t very efficient, but it kept the uptight Windows NT administrators happy and it kept their servers clean.

And I guess it gave me a chance to act a little like MacGyver.

I hate to admit it, but Intel’s NIC drivers are awfully nice

So we had some servers that were acting squirrelly on the network, refusing to talk to some servers but not others, dropping off entirely, etc. One of my coworkers noticed the servers acting badly were running different versions of the NIC driver than the ones that were behaving.

I found some other servers that had 10/100 cards in them that were using drivers that dated back to the Clinton administration.Here’s the nice thing. Intel keeps drivers available, and updates them on a pretty regular basis. Even those old 10/100 NICs had drivers available that were dated 2007. And they were Windows 2000 compatible, even!

Here’s the even nicer thing. We updated them hot, and they didn’t require a reboot. In a couple of cases, we even updated them remotely, via Terminal Services, and somehow didn’t lose our connection. (Don’t count on that always working.)

I always thought Intel NICs were overrated. Sure, given a choice between Intel and, say, D-Link, it’s no contest. But Intel vs. Broadcom or 3Com? The one guy qualified to comment on that (Linux NIC driver author Donald Becker) has no opinion. But I’ve never heard of being able to change a NIC driver in Windows and just keep on trucking along.

Chalk one up for Intel.

Resolving an issue with slow Windows XP network printing

There is a little-known issue with Windows XP and network printing that does not seem to have been completely resolved. It’s a bit elusive and hard to track down. Here are my notes and suggestions, after chasing the problem for a couple of weeks.The symptoms are that printing occurs very slowly, if at all. Bringing up the properties for the printer likewise happens very slowly, if at all. An otherwise identical Windows 2000 system will not exhibit the same behavior.

The first idea that came into my head was disabling QoS in the network properties, just because that’s solved other odd problems for me. It didn’t help me but it might help you.

Hard-coding the speed of the NIC rather than using autonegotiate sometimes helps odd networking issues. Try 10 mB/half duplex first, since it’s the least common denominator.

Some people have claimed using PCL instead of PostScript, or vice versa, cleared up the issue. It didn’t help us. PCL is usually faster than PostScript since it’s a more compact language. Changing printer languages may or may not be an option for you anyway.

Some people say installing SP2 helps. Others say it makes the problem worse.

The only reliable answer I have found, which makes no sense to me whatsoever, is network equipment. People who are plugged in to switches don’t have this problem. People who are plugged into hubs often have this problem, but not always.

The first thing to try is plugging the user into a different hub port, if possible. Sometimes ports go bad, and XP seems to be more sensitive to an deterriorating port than previous versions of Windows.

In the environment where I have observed this problem, the XP users who are plugged into relatively new (less than 5 years old) Cisco 10/100 switches do not have this problem at all.

This observation makes me believe that Windows XP may also like aging consumer-grade switches, like D-Link, Belkin, Linksys, and the like, a lot less than newer and/or professional grade, uber-expensive switches from companies like Cisco. I have never tried Windows XP with old, inexpensive switches. I say this only because I have observed Veritas Backup Exec, which is very network intensive, break on a six-year-old D-Link switch but work fine on a Cisco.

I do not have the resources to conduct a truly scientific experiment, but these are my observations based on the behavior of about a dozen machines using two different 3Com 10-megabit hubs and about three different Cisco 10/100 switches.

VMWare’s P2V is mildly disappointing but can still save the day

The order came from higher up: Migrate these seven servers to VMWare. That would be easy if you were running Linux, FreeBSD, OS/2, or basically any operating system not made by Microsoft. Give me an OS/2 hard drive out of a 386 with Microchannel, and I can have it booting on a P4 in a matter of minutes and probably have it operational in half an hour.

But Windows ties itself to the hardware too tightly. So you need a $10,000 software package to migrate it. That package is P2V, which stands for "PC to VMWare." I assume.Actually it’s a $2,000 software package with $8,000 worth of training. Whether you need that training, well, that’s another story.

P2V advertises that it’ll take an image of a server, replace all of its hardware drivers with drivers for the hardware VMWare emulates, and off you go.

It does the most critical part of it just fine. It doesn’t matter if the original server was SCSI, IDE, or something nasty like RLL or ESDI–unlikely, but I’ve seen what desperate times sometimes cause to be put into a production server–and it’ll get it booting on VMWare’s emulated LSI Logic SCSI card.

The biggest thing it doesn’t do is migrate your TCP/IP settings to the new network card. If you happen to have an AMD PCNet-based NIC in the server you’re migrating, you’ll have no problems, but the chances of that are slightly better than my chances of finding an 1897 Carlisle & Finch train set at that estate sale on Itaska Street this weekend. More likely, you’ll have a 3Com or an Intel card in your source server.

That may not be a problem for you. But if you’re migrating a web server that’s hosting twelve dozen sites, each with its own IP address, you’ll be stringing together some curses after paying that kind of money.

Worth it? It is in the sense that a telephone saves you thousands of dollars in travel costs, so you could justify paying $600 for it. If you’ve got a fleet of aging NT4 servers and an expensive maintenance contract to match, and it’s over someone’s dead body that the applications they host will go away, you can save that 10 grand in a fiscal year, get those servers moved to newer, better hardware that’s cheaper and easier to maintain, and get them moved in less than a week. It could take you nearly that long to get NT4 running on brand-new hardware. Once.

So, yes, you can justify it to your accounting department.

As far as the time involved, there’s the time it takes to image and re-image the server. That depends on how fast your network is. There’s the time it takes to build a helper VM that P2V runs on. It’ll take you about 5 minutes per server to set up the VMWare instance. If you’ve got new hardware, it’ll only take a few minutes for P2V to run. Then you have to boot the VM, reconfigure anything that needs reconfiguring, boot it again, and repeat until you fix everything that’s broken. Sometimes that’ll be nothing, and sometimes it might be a lot.

I budgeted 4 hours per server. A couple of them took less than an hour. A couple took 8.

Do I wish it were a better product? You bet your boots I do. Was I glad to have it at my disposal this week? You bet that Carlisle & Finch train set I’m not gonna find this weekend I am.

Thanks to P2V, I get to do something fun this weekend instead of building servers.

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