And at last we reach the last installment of the year-end lab notes for 2006. The previous posts dealt with infrastructure, servers, and network gear. I'm going to add a few notes to those categories, and finish up with workstations, testing tools, apps, PBXes and ISPs.
My main workstation is the homegrown Ultra 40 I built in May, running Fedora Core 5 x86_64. After six months of constant (ab)use, it's humming right along. At some point I'll update it to FC6, but not until it's absolutely required. I've found FC5 x86_64 to be stable and reliable, with only a few dependency glitches when installing packages with yum. I'm also using several quasi-compatible repos, so most of those are probably on me anyway.
The raw performance of this workstation is not to be dismissed. I'm routinely pushing the upper limits of the 8GB of RAM present in the system, as well as the disks. It's not just a pretty face, it's a solid workhorse.
As far as laptops go, with one exception, they're all G4 PowerBooks or MacBook Pros. I just received a new 17" MacBook Pro, and my initial impressions are positive. The screen is surprisingly light, and the hinges don't seem to be as tough as on my 15" PowerBook, which has caused a few issues, but performance-wise, it's a keeper. As Tom Yager told me awhile ago, once you get a 17" laptop, you can't go back. I think he's right.
The one exception is a Dell Latitude D800 running FC6. This laptop has definitely not had an easy life. It has traveled probably 50k miles in the air -- via FedEx -- as well as many thousands more a carry-on, been left running for weeks at a time in labs all over the country, and at one point in its life it was drafted into service as the core of an entire L3 city network when the production core switch developed a hardware problem. The embedded gigabit Broadcom NIC actually did surprisingly well at handling the load, as did the FC3 build that it was running at the time.
My lab is a bit limited in terms of locations and available services. Actually, very limited. Cable is my only non-TDM option, so RoadRunner it is. In the three-plus years the business-class service has been in, it's been exceedingly reliable and fast. The prices are right, the bandwidth is guaranteed, and the reality is that I've found that nothing else is required. It would be nice to see FIOS or even DSL availability to provide a backup circuit, but given RoadRunner's track record, I'm not worried.
Whenever I need to pull in some heavy network testing gear, I make a call to Spirent and get a SmartBits chassis with whatever modules I need. The SmartBits are powerful, reliable, and infinitely configurable, almost to a fault. For lower-end testing, I simply write small tools in perl, or use nuttcp, netperf, IOMeter, or any of a dozen other open-source network testing tools. On the storage side, IOMeter, bonnie/bonnie++ and good ol' dd are all that's really required. Also, I'm currently evaluating a Shunra VE network testing appliance, which I'm very interested in using for some upcoming tests.
I don't really have a stable of go-to applications, I tend to use whatever is available on whatever system I happen to be using. I do plenty of writing in OpenOffice.org and Microsoft Word, but also in vim. I do all of my coding in vim. I use Apple Mail, Evolution and Thunderbird just about equally, as well as SquirrelMail for a Web email client. Firefox and/or Camino are the browsers of choice, and iChat and Gaim handle IM nicely. I do have to give props to ecto, which is one app that I definitely rely on, since I do all my blogging from a MacBook or PowerBook, and ecto makes it obscenely simple.
If you've been reading my Asterisk posts recently, you know that the voice side of the lab is in flux right now. I'll keep up my notes on that as it progresses.
If anyone has specific questions on hardware or lab infrastructure, feel free to drop me a note and I'll address it. Also, in the very likely event that I've forgotten something, we might just have a part four.