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Dying hard drive woes

September 22, 2013 Leave a comment

There are few things more annoying or scary to an IT person than a dying/dead hard drive. Annoying because you are often expected to make the drive magically come back to life when often it’s beyond any help; scary because if it’s an important drive that was never backed up, the contents of said drive may never be recovered.

Last week it seemed a perfect storm hit me. On Friday morning I checked our school admin server for errors in the Event Viewer for an unrelated matter. I then noticed that there were warnings in the log that the hard drive controller reported imminent failure. This was a Seagate 500GB model that was about 2.5 years old. I installed SeaTools on the drive and it confirmed that the drive was not healthy. I made the snap decision that I would virtualise the server to our XenServer that afternoon. While I had backups of the school admin server, the server could not afford any down time as we needed to enter and process academic marks.

That afternoon I started the process and got the server virtualised. It took a long time, but luckily everything worked ok in the end. All the files transferred. I shut down the sick server, booted the copy in Xen up and went on getting that server up to speed. One of the side effects is that I now have one less old server taking up space in the rack, and the virtualised copy is more robust than it had been on the physical server. Big sigh of relief, problem solved!

On the weekend, I booted up into my Windows 8 drive at home to do some work in Hyper-V. I’d noticed in the preceding week that this hard drive had vanished a few times during boot up, but I wasn’t too concerned. I did my work in Windows 8, but when I was shutting down, I started noticing some noises coming from the drive, like the motor powering down and up. Not the usual click of death, but a fatal wound anyway. This is a Seagate 250GB model.

The next day when I tried to boot into Windows 8, it wouldn’t get past the sign in screen. It would simply sit spinning around endlessly. More noises started coming from the drive. Boot back into Windows 7, run SeaTools. As suspected, this drive was on death’s door. I wanted to save my Windows 8 drive so that I wouldn’t need to reinstall and end up downloading all the updates again. There’s luckily no special data on that drive, besides the OS. I don’t have many spare drives laying around at home, so I ripped out the only other 250GB I had, which was in my old PC.

I was determined to clone the drive, but I had no luck. Drive Image XML would bum out after a minute as it hit problems on the drive. ImageX would also crash when it hit those problems. Clonezilla would crash when hitting those areas as well. The Unix DD command copied about 30GB before it crashed out, despite being told to run through errors. ddrescue managed to go through the whole drive, but it too crashed at the end. Perhaps I should have tried again. When I booted back into Windows 7, checkdisk took almost 45 minutes repairing file system damage to the cloned drive.

Unfortunately, said cloned drive refused to boot, despite all the files being there. Booting up off the Windows 8 DVD didn’t help, as it didn’t recognise the drive as a valid Windows 8 install, so I couldn’t run any of the automated repair tools. Then the cloned drive started making noises! Ran SeaTools and it failed that drive as well. Oddly, after I changed SATA ports and ran SeaTools again, the clone drive passed this time. However, I don’t trust this judgement.

As it stands at this moment, the original 250GB hard drive will boot, but will hang when trying to log into Windows and it is definitely a dying drive. The clone drive works but looks like it is terminal as well.

The scary part is that we are always taught to back up our data. Hard drive sizes have shot up in recent years, currently up to 4TB. Backing up to DVD is not really worth it or feasible anymore due to this size jump. The cloud makes sense for documents and a small photo collection, but becomes impractical for OS level type backups. External hard drives are probably the easiest, but they too can fail. It’s an interesting problem I don’t think we’ve yet managed to fully wrap our heads around.

Microsoft and Nokia

September 15, 2013 Leave a comment

A few weeks ago came the surprising but not totally unexpected news that Microsoft was purchasing Nokia’s handset division. Since the day Stephen Elop announced the partnership with Microsoft to run Windows Phone, many pundits had predicted that something like this would eventually happen. When the news broke, there were many snide comments of Trojan Horse being bandied around amongst other things.

Lots of comments lamented the sale, with people saying that if only Nokia had embraced Android or continued with Meego, they would have been in a much better state. I dispute these claims, and this is why:

  • In the Android world, Samsung is the 800lb gorilla in the room. Samsung ran early with Android, and this came back to reward them as they racked up huge sales of the Galaxy S and S2. It’s also tough to compete when Samsung itself pretty much makes every part needed in a phone. This vertical integration has killed or wounded just about every other competitor in and out the Android world. Even Nokia at their prime didn’t have this level of integration. Witness how every other company is fighting for scraps.
  • Meego was pretty and earned some very enthusiastic reviews. However, as Elop pointed out in his “Burning Platform” memo, it’s not so much about individual phones anymore as it is about platforms. Meego didn’t have a very large platform to start with, and in all honesty, Nokia didn’t have the financial muscle to make into a large platform. By the time Nokia switched, the Windows Phone platform had already started to pick up a nice head of steam, though it was still a bit player compared to Android and iOS. Without the apps that were popular on other platforms, Meego would have died a slow ignoble death. Look at BlackBerry, who chose to stick with their own new platform of BB10. That is what would have happened to Meego.

What I find very odd is all the people who would simply be happy with an iOS/Android duopoly in the phone world. That would simply lead to ultimate stagnation. The worldwide market is big enough to support 3 players, and Microsoft is a company who needs to be in mobile to help draw and retain customers to their entire ecosystem. BlackBerry is a faded star in the phone world, and their future increasingly looks like it will be either one of being sold, or broken up for various sub components.

There will be some interesting times ahead, no doubt. Microsoft needs to tread very carefully so as to not disrupt the steady growth of Windows Phone, thanks largely to Nokia’s Lumia phones. That being said, having the handset division as part of the mother ship now, Microsoft may be able to innovate quicker and churn out products even quicker. The handset division now has an effectively unlimited budget to work with, so expect greater marketing and hopefully even more wonderful phones.

Lastly, the Nokia mother ship itself frees itself of a division that was causing it to sink. While the company will now be a lot smaller than before, it frees itself to compete better with its NSN division and the HERE maps platform. Nokia becomes more nimble to move and continues to live on, having reinvented itself yet again.