From Out There

Archive for September, 2007

Microsoft is Guilty, but the Threat for the EU is in Software Patents

Tuesday, September 25th, 2007

Telepolis has an excellent article (German, unfortunately) that explains how, even now that Microsoft was proven guilty, their tactics have already changed. Unbundling products like the media player and offering competitors access to MS interfaces (for a fee!) will not stop them from stifling innovation and destroying competition by unfair means.

They have started applying for software patents in European countries even though these are not legal here. They have been lobbying to legalize software patents in the EU. The result? Let’s look at the competition in the media player sector. Windows Media Player is a very average product. VLC or Mplayer are European media players that can play a much wider variety of media files with a lot less fuss and no need to cumbersomely install extra codecs. They also come with far, far greater functionality across the board, offering everything from built-in live encoding and streaming to very advanced picture processing. On top of that, they are free, and in some cases even funded by EU government grants. It is in the best interest of the EU to develop such Free Software, in the EU, through EU citizens.

But, and here’s the problem, there are potentially hundreds of very, very trivial software patents registered in the USA that could theoretically apply to these products. These software patents are registered willfully by big corporations for the express purpose of being abused as weapons against competitors. They do not benefit the "small inventor", which is what patents were intended to accomplish. If these same patents were legal in the EU, and if the patent holders (not in every case Microsoft) were to raise charges against the projects, this could potentially destroy them. Even if a judge only orders a preliminary injunction, it could mean the death of the project as people look for different media players to fit their needs.

This is the threat, and the threat still remains. If you are an EU citizen, you should do everything in your power to say no to software patents — they stifle innovation, they massively strengthen billion-dollar companies at the expense of small and medium size enterprises and they cut into your own freedoms as a computer user, as a software developer, as an employee and as a person.

Our OpenVZ Virtualization Experience

Tuesday, September 25th, 2007

We are currently finalizing the server consolidation in our department. The product we chose for virtualization is OpenVZ, because it sports creepy Russians.

All in all, it was a bit of a roller coaster ride, but once we figured out that most of the problems came from our own incompetence, we quickly stopped pointing fingers and shaking fists and instead read some documentation. Then all was good. We went from 12 servers to 5, killing 7 physical servers and saving roughly 1500W of power consumption. The new virtualization servers we used were actually the old database server and the old main web server, both overpowered. A change in the mentality and the technical competence level required from our students in the last few years has made the extra power for these boxes unneccessary. Now we’re using them much more efficiently because each of them runs several virtual servers.


We wasted a lot of time learned a lot by going the opposite route when it comes to OpenVZ configuration. Most people are advised to start with a BIG configuration for each virtual private server (VPS), we started with a tiny one. This meant that memory parameters were at a bare minimum, normally mimicking the specs of the hardware machine we were virtualizing. In the same go, we grouped services differently so that we could reduce the number of servers, again making better use of the available hardware. For servers that are created from scratch (not based on an existing physical machine), we also started from a minimal config file and went up from there.

This approach not only made me grow at least six new white hairs in my beard, but it also taught me about the importance of KMEMSIZE. KMEMSIZE is your friend. KMEMSIZE loves you. KMEMSIZE is soft and fluffy. Trust KMEMSIZE.

The problem with KMEMSIZE was that while we did assign enough memory in the main UBC memory categories (vmguarpages, oomguarpages, privvmpages), we didn’t have enough KMEMSIZE for our NUMPROCS. Just picture this! The poor NUMPROCS! The net result was that the server couldn’t fork new processes once its amount of KMEMSIZE was eaten up. So after multiplying our expected NUMPROCS with the estimated unswappable memory consumption per process, things worked perfectly.

Now our OpenVZ environment is very, very stable and very, very efficient. We’re very, very happy. This is a very, very success story.