Monthly Archives: December 2008

Bam! Atomic Avenue Gets *Much* Faster!

If you read my previous post on the subject, you know that my tech-loving heart was broken recently by the goofy connector placement on the WD300 Velociraptor drives I’d ordered which made them refuse to fit in the servers for which they’d been ordered. With great sadness, I’d been forced to return the drives to NewEgg, and by hunting the whole bloody internet managed to scrounge up a single replacement drive in the “Backplane” model which was meant to fit in servers, albeit for a C-Note more than the more common version.

The replacement arrived about a week ago, and I ran a trial moving the Atomic Avenue database over to it. As I suspected, it resulted in an improvement, but it was relatively subtle: about .4 seconds saved on an intensive database search that normally takes about 4.8 seconds to complete. This sort of incremental improvement is the stuff that IT upgrades are made of, generally, but it’s nothing to write a press release about.

Still, I was encouraged and ordered a second drive. It arrived the very next day, and today we managed to get it loaded up with the ComicBase covers library. After redirecting the Atomic Avenue site to look on thew new drive, I started running some speed test on the site.

OMG! I couldn’t believe the difference! Individual comic detail pages now load in an average of about 1.3 seconds—almost twice as fast as before. And Title pages, which typically show up to 50 covers per page, more than doubled their speed. Right now, with three massive file copies going on with the server, as well as a full backup, there are only a couple of pages on the site which take more than 2 seconds to load!

Like an idiot, I of course have to push my luck with this. The big file copies mentioned earlier are in preparation for moving the actual Atomic and sites over to Velociraptor-based partitions in the near future. I doubt it’ll make a lot of additional speed difference to the outside world, but our own tasks of pushing updates, doing site compiles, and the like, may get a bit swifter. Even if they don’t, the $300/drive I spent on these seems like money well spent indeed!

Pandora Comes to the Playstation 3!

The latest firmware update for the PS3, 2.53, comes with a note that it allows for support of full-screen Flash movies. What it doesn’t say—but which is far more important—is that it fixes their browser so that Pandora ( now works on the PS3!

If you missed the previous post on it, Pandora is an amazing free internet service which specializes in bringing you music like the music you like. For instance, if you tell it you like the band “She Wants Revenge”, it’ll create a personalized radio station which features that band—along with dozens of other groups which share similar characteristics. You can even vote “thumbs up” to a given song to tell it to play more music like that one, or “thumbs down” to make sure it never plays that screechy Alanis Morissette tune or that meandering 9 minute electronica exploration again. In short, it’s everything you wished “real radio” was.

And now—thanks to the unlikely marriage of a game console and our living room’s AV receiver—we can now listen to our own customized internet radio stations in the main entertaining area of our home. Awesome!

The WD Velociraptor: The Wicked-Fast Drive that Doesn’t Fit in a Server

Ever since they were released, I’ve had a thing for Western Digital’s Raptor hard drives. Although these 10,000 RPM drives have always been both pricey and hampered by storage capacities about 1/4 of their contemporaries, they were just crazy fast: about 50% faster than the next-fastest drives in the consumer sector.

When NewEgg ran a sale on the newest version of the Raptor: the 300 GB Velociraptor, I decided to bust out my credit card and see if I couldn’t buy myself some more speed for the ComicBase and Atomic Avenue servers. The drives arrived two days later, and I spent the morning conferring with various IT folks about the best way to stage the upgrade to our various servers (the RAID configurations we use make any drive upgrade an adventure; trying to schedule the maintenance window for the servers was another challenge). Still, after a bit more than an hour on the phones, I had an upgrade strategy mapped out, and I was ready to start the upgrade prep work…all of which stopped cold when I realized that the new drives don’t actually fit in a standard SATA drive bay.

The deal is this: in order to pull off their speed tricks with this version fo the Raptor, WD used a 2.5″ (notebook-sized) drive form factor, and surrounded it with a big heat sink to let it fit into a 3.5″ drive slot (as well as keep it cool and reduce vibration and noise from the rapidly spinning disk). unfortunately, the arrangement has the side effect of moving the relative positions of the SATA plugs about 1/2″ away from where they would otherwise be. So, when you try to slide the drive into a hot-swappable drive bay like those used on…well, pretty much every SATA-based server in existence…it won’t fit.

Belatedly, it looks like WD figured out that this might be a problem, and designed a “backplane ready” version of the drive some months ago which restores the relative positions of the SATA connectors to their normal placement. Unfortunately, this version of the drive (model WD3000HLFS) is harder to find than a parking spot in Manhattan. Even WD’s own online store didn’t carry them.

Frustrated at having been thwarted after all this, I began to look seriously at even SSD (Solid State Disk) and SAS (Serial Attached Storage) drives, despite their ruinous costs and difficult upgrade paths. In the end, I managed to track down one “backplane-ready” Velociraptor from an online retailer, which we’ll try out to see how much of a real world difference we’ll see in terms of server speed. If it works out, we’ll weigh the investment in buying more.

Realistically I only expect to only shave some portion of a second off most of our database requests, but every little bit helps, particularly as the user loads climb. Benchmarks show Velociraptors performing about twice as fast as our current server drives do, but I really don}t know how much of a difference even the Fastest SATA Drive in the World will make in terms of total web page load times, since so much of the total transaction is bound by other factors. I just can’t believe that I couldn’t even get the first batch of drives plugged in, for goodness sake!