New Toys: HP Envy x2

I landed myself a new toy a few weeks ago, an HP Envy x2 laptop/tablet convertable. The screen is detachable so you can opt to just take the tablet portion with you.  I was considering a Microsoft Surface Pro, but I was facing some upcoming travel at the time and wanted to go with a device I could be sure would arrive before I left and I REALLY wanted a real keyboard.

The HP Envy x2 is has 2 gigs of RAM and 64 gigs of storage space, basic Windows 8 pre-installed with a 32-bit Atom processor.  This is NOT a workhorse machine.  I consider it more like RT-plus; able to install all sorts of Windows applications, but doesn’t have any of the enterprise features. 
However, it makes a great “portal” to the Internet, any of your cloud storage and the battery life is pretty decent. I’ve taken it to several conferences and it’s lasted all day connected to WiFi and performing the type of tasks you’d often do while attending a conference – taking notes, checking email, browsing the web, social media, etc.

The majority of the guts of the machine are behind the screen – battery and hard-drive, etc, otherwise it wouldn’t work when disconnected from the keyboard base.  The keyboard contains another battery and it will use the keyboard battery first when connected to that, leaving you the most charge possible while you are in tablet mode.

Couple things that bug me:

  1. The screen is top heavy compared to the base when it’s connected.  It will sit fine on your desk, but tends to want to topple backwards if it’s on your lap. Also, it will rock if you are tapping moderately hard on the touchscreen.
  2. When the two parts are connected and folded closed, the machine is slim and slides in and out of a laptop bag easily. When the screen is disconnected the hinge where the screen snaps in is locked in it’s open configuration, making it easy to snag on the edges of a bag and difficult to stow when you only need the tablet part. I find myself wishing for a little latch I could switch to swing it back into closed position.
  3. The spacebar is really sensitive, often giving me an extra space when I’m not expecting it. That just takes a little getting used to. I’m not a big fan of the “island” or “chicklet” keyboard style – with all the keys evenly spaced in straight rows – but that’s my own personal issue.

Good things:

  1. The touch screen is bright and responsive.
  2. The power cord isn’t very bulky or huge. It has a proprietary connector that’s flatter than most laptop connectors to allow for the cord to power the device in laptop or tablet mode.
  3. It has a great all metal casing, so it feels sturdy. Of course, this means it can’t be serviced by the user, or probably much at all. 
  4. At least one of the USB ports is powered even when the device is off, so you can charge your phone. I discovered this when I was at a hotel where the available plugs were pretty far from the bed. I was able to use the longer computer power cord as an extension to bring the laptop closer to the bed and then charge my phone from the laptop, allowing me to keep the phone on the bedside table.  (A must when your phone is also your alarm!)

The bottom line, I’m pretty happy with the device overall.  It’s pretty unique its design and meets my needs. 

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Playing IT Fast and Loose

It’s been a long time since I’ve been at work from dusk ’til dawn. I not saying that I’m the reason we have such fabulous uptime, there are a lot of factors that play into it. We’ve got a well rounded NetOps team, we try to buy decent hardware, we work to keep everything backed up and we don’t screw with things when they are working. And we’ve been lucky for a long time.

It also helps that our business model doesn’t require selling things to the public or answering to many external “customers”.  Which puts us in the interesting position where its almost okay if we are down for a day or two, as long as we can get things back to pretty close to where they were before they went down. That also sets up to make some very interesting decisions come budget time. They aren’t necessarily “wrong”, but they can end up being awkward at times.

For example, we’ve been working over the last two years to virtualize our infrastructure. This makes lots of sense for us – our office space requirements are shrinking and our servers aren’t heavily utilized individually, yet we tend to need lots of individual servers due to our line of business. When our virtualization project finally got rolling, we opted to us a small array of SAN devices from Lefthand (now HP).  We’ve always used Compaq/HP equipment, we’ve been very happy with the dependability of the physical hardware.  Hard drives are considered consumables and we do expect failures of those from time to time, but whole systems really biting the dust?  Not so much.

Because of all the factors I’ve mentioned, we made the decision to NOT mirror our SAN array. Or do any network RAID.  (That’s right, you can pause for a moment while the IT gods strike me down.)  We opted for using all the space we could for data and weighed that against the odds of a failure that would destroyed the data on a SAN, rendering entire RAID 0 array useless.

Early this week, we came really close. We had a motherboard fail on one of the SANs, taking down our entire VM infrastructure. This included everything except the VoIP phone system and two major applications that have not yet been virtualized. We were down for about 18 hours total, which included one business day.

Granted, we spent the majority of our downtime waiting for parts from HP and planning for the ultimate worst – restoring everything from backup. While we may think highly of HP hardware overall, we don’t think very highly of their 4-hour response windows on Sunday nights.  Ultimately, over 99% of the data on the SAN survived the hardware failure and the VMs popped back into action as soon as the SAN came back online. We only had to restore one non-production server from backup after the motherboard replacement.

Today, our upper management complemented us on how we handled the issue and was pleased with how quickly we got everything working again.

Do I recommend not having redundancy on your critical systems? Nope.

But if your company management fully understands and agrees to the risks related to certain budgeting decisions, then as a IT Pro your job is to simply do the best you can with what you have and clearly define the potential results of certain failure scenarios.  

Still, I’m thinking it might be a good time to hit Vegas, because Lady Luck was certainly on our side.

Shopping for Hard Drives? Pay Attention to Sector Sizes

Disk drive manufacturers are transitioning to the production of Advanced Format disk drives, which have 4 KB physical sector size instead of the traditional 512 bytes.  While larger sectors will ultimately improve performance, many applications are not written to take advantage of the change, so a transitional technology called “512-byte emulation” is used to support the 512 byte logical addressing.  These disks are known as “512e” disks, for short.
Advanced Format drives will ultimately be the future standard, however some applications may have issues with the transitional 512e drives, especially if you are imaging a machine to new hardware and the OS and applications aren’t expecting a difference in physical and logical sector sizes.
Microsoft has a hotfix available for Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 than can address several potential issues introduced with this type of disk.  Check out KB 982018 for additional details and several known issues.  I’d be particularly aware if you are doing any P2P migrations of servers that support Active Directory, DHCP or act as a CA, as the ESENT engine is sensitive to the reporting of sector size, as detailed in issue #1 of the knowledge base article.