We started the tradition of “A Letter from the Editor” in 2019. It has become one of my favorite articles to write every quarter. The reviews and content you see on STH are only 15-20% of the work involved with the site. This quarterly series is my opportunity to share a bit about why and how STH is evolving. Q3 this year was utter chaos behind the scenes. It was to the point that I had forgotten to do this piece until I realized Q3 was ending very soon. I wanted to give an update on the behind-the-scenes at STH.
If you want to check out how this series has evolved, here are the links to the first nine:
- STH Q1 2019 Update A Letter from the Editor
- STH Q2 2019 Update A Letter from the Editor
- STH Q3 2019 Update A Letter from the Editor
- STH Q4 2019 Update A Letter from the Editor
- STH Q1 2020 Update A Letter from the Editor
- STH Q2 2020 Update A Letter from the Editor
- STH Q3 2020 Update A Letter from the Editor
- STH Q4 2020 Update A Letter from the Editor
- STH Q1 2021 Update A Letter from the Editor
- STH Q2 2021 Update A Letter from the Editor
This update marks the tenth installment of the series.
STH Q3 2021: Utter Chaos
During the Q2 2021 edition of this series, I foreshadowed some major changes. The first of these changes happened in July/ August. STH production is not happening in my living room in Mountain View, California anymore as it was during the pandemic. About two months ago, and also in the Q2 letter, I went into how the pandemic forced us to close our studio down in Sunnyvale, CA, and move it to the only place that was lockdown safe, my living room. This was chronicled in The STH Blue Door Studio Tour and probably our least popular video on YouTube recently:
That piece was done hours before the studio was packed to move. While the studio was awesome, it was also not practical to have in a living room long term, and it was time to retire the pandemic-era solution. Moving is always chaos, and this was not an exception. It took longer than expected to get to a functional production setup, and I am still not happy with where we are today.
Just as that move was happening, my travel also started to pick up as vaccination rates increased and just before the Delta variant became dominant. At one point I had done ten flights in fifteen days, crossing the country as weddings and funeral services picked up. For a brief moment, it felt like the old days of travel, until things started to close down again. We are now looking at major conferences in 2021 going virtual-only. STH carried announcements by NVIDIA, Intel, Arm, AMD, and Dell about their plans for SC21 in St. Louis going virtual. Several other large vendors have confirmed switching to virtual-only and even big Dell and Intel events in October went from in-person to virtual-only. It felt strange to abruptly ramp, then slow travel.
Let us get to one of the biggest changes, and this is going to be a two-for-one. Let us take a look at this image to see some of the changes.
First, the studio is now in its new location but is still not at full strength. The older white lights are now replaced with higher-end RGBWW units that let us have a lot of color temperature adjustable light, but also blue and red backgrounds with a yellow overhead light as an example here. On another note, the truss structure above would have put the blue doors at the right wall previously, but given the size of the new space, the orientation is getting flipped so we can shoot towards the wall behind me. This was actually not the original plan for a set, but it just has happened out of necessity.
The vertical bar background is a temporary one. Eventually, the background will be those four TVs one can see behind me. It is just a project to re-mount them because one is about 0.7cm off and that makes the whole set look strange.
A fun note about this recent Tyan Transport HX FT65T-B8030 Server Review, the platform it is on is a spool of Commscope 96 fiber Plenum cable. The plastic spool may not be the fanciest, but it is actually a ~$2000 prop. Of course, it was just what was available since the old STH table is gone.
Something else you may have seen recently is that we have been using more wood/ epoxy under products. I think folks know I like shooting with wood underneath, and this just adds a bit of extra flavor.
Why that first photo was a two-for-one is simply because it shows a major initiative we have underway: networking. During the Q3 process, I was looking for reviews on some of the higher-end networking gear, and there was nothing. As a result, Rohit and I chatted and we decided that since STH does the higher-end server reviews as well as storage products, we needed to up our efforts on networking. To that end, I went out and got a massive amount of fiber (well for us):
Depending on how you look at it, there are either one or two spools missing from the above. The large blue and yellow spools are MTP-12 bundles while the smaller spools are single cable MTP-12. The reason there is one fewer yellow spool is that those are 144-fiber single mode OS2 spools. Once we got to measuring the runs, we found we would have to route a different path to my office making those 106ft spools about 19ft (5.8m) too short. As such we had another longer cable inbound. UPS lost that spool. We now have another much longer spool coming via freight. These multi-fiber bundles are not as readily available as 3m LC duplex patch cables so that has been a bit of a challenge.
All told that means our in-wall fiber will total:
- 1692 strands of fiber (about half OM4 and half OS2)
- 93km if each strand was laid out end-to-end
This is an absolutely massive project as one might imagine. The goal is really severalfold:
- Build a series on connecting fiber using higher-end MTP-12 versus the normal LC cable folks use. One can see examples of this in What is Plenum Fiber Optic Cable and What is OFNP and APC and UPC in Fiber Connectors and Why This Matters.
- The series can encompass single-mode and multi-mode but it also allows us to feature items such as fiber break-out cassettes as shown in the Corning CCH-04U LANscape 288-Fiber Distribution Box piece.
- We are also going to show some of the test and measurement gear used for fiber networking. This week we are getting around $50K of testing gear loaned for the project.
- We will have the capacity to test older 10GbE/40GbE using this infrastructure, as well as 25GbE/ 10GbE today and into 400GBE fairly easily in the future.
- Keep switches out of places like my office where I may want 100GbE, but I do not want a 100GbE switch making noise next to my desk and the other desks for new STH team members. So much fiber will allow us to directly connect back to racks.
- Hopefully, it will allow the ~240 fibers that will be dropped into the studio to show some switches without having to have racks of gear next to them, but that is a bit of a longer-term goal.
Personally, I have always stayed away from networking reviews on STH due to prior family conflicts. Now that those are largely out of the way, and a few years behind us, I want it to be an area we expand into since there is so little coverage overall. My personal belief in doing this is that people who buy servers these days are most likely connecting them to a network of some sort.
The great part is that in Q4, we are going to help bring folks along on a journey learning more about fiber. By next year I want to be more regularly showing off networking gear as we do with servers.
While Q3 started in chaos, it is ending with a clear path forward, and that is nice. Q4 will see the next big challenge, preparing for the 2022 STH lab where we will have liquid cooling and that will be a major investment to get that going.
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