Chromecast causing wifi interference – resolved

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Summary: I’ve found Google’s Chromecast to be a great streaming device but in rare cases it can misbehave and cause wireless access issues.

I bought my first Chromecast the day they were released in the UK (March 18th 2014), totally by chance, and I’m a big fan. Once setup they’re simple enough to use that my 2yr old son can now use a tablet to power on our TV and watch a program of his choosing via BBC iPlayer or Plex without any help from me – and that’s something my in-laws can’t manage. I’m not sure it’s socially a good thing but at least the technology works!

Chromecast wifi analyzerHowever I have noted a few issues, notably with their use of wifi. When you first plug in the Chromecast it’s in ‘master’ mode which means it acts as an access point, thus allowing you to join its wireless network with a tablet and configure it (and also opening up at least one vulnerability). Once the initial setup is complete however it’s supposed to go into ‘managed’ mode which means it should stop being an access point and act only as a wireless client but mine was still intermittently acting as an AP and therefore causing interference, as seen by Wifi Analyser (highly recommended by the way). In my case (and for others too) I saw additional wifi signals, always on the same channel as my home wifi, and the signal strength was greater than my home wifi when I was near the Chromecast.

This useful article about how Chromecast uses the Wifi network, including packet captures, goes into some possible causes although it’s been 18 months since the Chromecast was released and firmware updates may have resolved some issues mentioned.

How do I fix it?

The fix, at least for me, was a factory reset of the Chromecast – hardly worth of a blogpost! However I’d ‘reset’ mine several times by simply going into the Chromecast utility on an iPad (or Android tablet) and after a reboot I’d go through the setup again (inputting wireless password, naming the device etc) and that DIDN’T fix the issue. A factory reset can be done by holding down the power button on the Chromecast for 25 seconds until the light on the device flashes or via the Chromecast app (detailed walkthrough here).

It’s also worth checking that it’s running the latest firmware (31432 as of May 22nd 2015, according to Wikipedia) – it should update automatically (and in fact you can’t stop it doing so which isn’t ideal) but sometimes a factory reset gives it the kick up the proverbial it needs to update. If you need help the official Google Chromecast forum is a good place to start as is the online troubleshooting wizard.

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A new challenge…joining VMware

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Summary: An unexpected career change!

I’m excited to announce that from late July I’m going to be joining VMware as a Senior Technical Marketing Engineer.  The role will be a change compared to all of my previous roles which have entailed operating infrastructure as an end user and more recently as a service provider whereas I’ll now be focused on marketing for a vendor, albeit from a technical perspective. I’m excited because my skillset has gravitated around VMware/virtualisation/cloud for quite a few years and this role will require knowledge of areas I’ve not previously been responsible for, in particular the 3rd platform (think cloud native applications, containers etc) and VMware’s competition.   I think it’s an interesting time to join VMware as the world of ‘cloud native applications’ finally seems to be meeting the enterprise infrastructure world via technologies like Docker and the relationship with Pivotal is becoming more, well, pivotal! Time will tell if VMware (or I) live up to expectations….my imposter syndrome is at an all time high right now. :-)

This job is only possible for me, living as I do on a remote island in the English channel, because I’ll be working remotely – which is a first for me and something I’m both looking forward to and concerned about. I’ve always enjoyed the social interaction in an office environment and building relationships remotely is a different experience – though one I think social media has prepared me well for. Time to soak up those home working/office blogposts!

As with everything in life there’s a compromise and obviously I’m compromising my independent viewpoint. It’s always been a luxury to have (almost) complete freedom of speech without company politics being a concern – as an end user I was largely free to say exactly what I felt, good or bad. However hard I try I don’t believe I can be ‘independent’ when all my focus (and livelihood) depends on improving VMware products – we all have biases – so blog disclaimer or not you’ll have to interpret anything I say through the lens of a vendor employee. To my friends who work for other vendors – let’s make sure our choice of employer doesn’t affect our relationship!

I still intend to engage fully with the community. It keeps me honest, keeps me learning, and is one of the most enjoyable parts of my career, even if I can no longer attend TechFieldDay events. If I can walk the line between corporate expectations and my personal thoughts, which very few seem to manage, I’ll be a happy man.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Sure International for a great year – if you happen to be in the Channel Islands you should check our their cloud solutions! Thanks for reading and hopefully this next step in my career will lead to more great content in the future.

 

 

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WordPress connectivity issues (Jetpack and XML-RPC failure)

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Summary: Some WordPress features can be abused and are therefore locked down by hosting companies. My hosting company recently made changes to their security which broke features I use for my blog. The fix, once identified, was quick and easy.

I’ve been blogging for around five years and am impressed with how easy and reliable WordPress has been over that time, despite constant updates. Earlier this week however I logged into my WordPress console and was greeted by an innocuous looking error message;

Wordpress error

 

As suggested I tried disconnecting Jetpack and reconnecting but that didn’t work – Jetpack refused to reconnect and gave an error message saying my site wasn’t publicly accessible;

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I tested the site which seemed to be available and working as expected. Diving a bit deeper I read into the plugin connectivity requirements and found that Jetpack (among others) relies on the XML-RPC protocol, which is now enabled by default in WordPress since v3.5. At a basic level you can test this by putting a simple URL in a browser – http://yourWordpressSite/xmlrpc.php – and it’ll return the single line ‘XML-RPC server accepts POST requests only‘. This worked fine for me but knowing that the mobile (iOS and Android) WordPress app used XML-RPC I tried those and found they weren’t working. Hmm.

At this point I logged a call with WordPress (and generated a debug bundle) who were quick to confirm that from their perspective the website wasn’t responding to a ‘curl’ request (different to the basic test above) and they advised talking to my hosting company. I’d recently upgraded WordPress to v4.2 so suspected that might be related and in my opinion it seemed unlikely that the hosting company had locked down such a popular feature, certainly without notification, but I logged a call with them just to be sure. I was wrong and WordPress support were right! My hosting company (EvoHosting, highly recommended) advised me that due to DDoS attacks using aspects of the XML-RPC functionality they’d been forced to restrict it.

The fix was to install an additional WordPress plugin which limits the XML-RPC functionality (it stops XML-RPC pingbacks) but still allows the more popular features typically used by mobile WordPress apps and some plugins like Jetpack. With this installed they were able to whitelist my site and I was able to reconnect Jetpack and get my mobile apps working again. Obviously this fix won’t work for everyone as it depends on how restrictive your hosting company are – they may block XML-RPC completely, in which case you’ll have to plead your case. WordPress have a list of recommended hosting companies who all allow allow this functionality.

NOTE: I also believe this was the root cause of my the Jetpack Publicize issue whereby LinkedIn ‘needed refreshing’ constantly. Two birds with one stone…

Morale of the story – just because you work in IT don’t assume you know more than support teams. Some of them are very good and know their stuff! Guilty. :-)

Further Reading

WordPress XML-RPC PingBack Vulnerability Analysis

Ed at InTechWeTrust podcast

InTechWeTrust episode 32 – Netapp, containers, AWS and more

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I recently attended the tech.unplugged event in London (my thoughts on it are here) and the London VMUG the following day, and was in the right place at the right time to take part in the InTechWeTrust podcast, episode 32. For those not familiar with this podcast it’s run by a prominent team of bloggers who have a background in enterprise infrastructure and has been going since last September. You can listen to the podcast directly via the player below or your usual choice of subscription (iTunes etc) – just head on over to the InTechWeTrust website for all the links.

Make sure you listen to the last 15 mins with EMEA CTO Joe Baguley – very interesting.

InTechWeTrust Episode 32 – Containers, Project Photon/Lightwave, AWS, Netapp, CoHo Data + more!

I’d like to use this blogpost to follow up on some of the topics discussed and my contributions.

...on ‘containers’. Sometimes I find myself speaking on a topic of which I’m by no means an expert – I try to avoid it as I’m all about facts, impartiality (as far as that’s possible) and I’m a believer that your reputation is sacrosanct (not just in the bloggersphere) but you can’t learn without getting out of your comfort zone. I’m not a developer. I have limited knowledge and minimal hands-on experience of containers. I have an understanding on where they fit into an overall architecture, who’s getting value from them, and at least an inkling of their potential but I’m clearly no expert. My comments about Docker building a platform (with an implied degree of vendor lock-in) vs Rocket’s ‘more open’ ambitions largely came from reading this blogpost from Rocket, this great Reddit thread discussing what it means, plus a good summary from GigaOm. Clearly this still needs to play out – the stakes are high and it’s going to be an interesting ride!
If anyone can point me to other resources with more information I’d be very grateful!

…on Photon/Lightwave/Photon. This was discussed with Joe Baguley after I’d left the podcast but the interesting soundbites for me were ‘a new direction for VMware’, the fact that containers are seen to be the boundary between VMware and Pivotal (hence why Photon/Lightwave are VMware yet Lattice is Pivotal), and the idea that containers may become embedded in vSphere itself. Interesting times!

…on Netapp. There’s been a recurring discussion about Netapp on the last few episodes and a good Linked-In discussion. I was a Netapp user for over five years (and I’ve written quite a few Netapp blogposts) and while I’ve not kept an eye on their latest releases I’ve always felt they weren’t vocal enough in the social media space, especially since Vaughn Stewart jumped ship to Pure Storage. This has improved with Nick Howell’s useful DatacentreDude blog and podcast but I still don’t see enough innovation. Flash, tiering, and scale out have all been addressed but never in a convincing way – the gravity of the core ONTAP OS seems all consuming. This would seem to be borne out in their upcoming layoffsAgain, happy to be educated otherwise!

…AWS finances. They’re now available – plenty of articles to digest. As predicted it made the mainstream BBC news, Simon Wardly waded in, and there’s a good Business Insider article with a great quote;

Amazon? The online bookstore that turned into a kind of Best Buy/Wal-Mart online? A giant of enterprise computing? No way.

 

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The tech.unplugged conference – containers, containers, containers

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On 22nd April I attended the first tech.unplugged event in London (organised by Enrico Signoretti) which was a one day conference about enterprise IT infrastructure. The theme was “The Future of Enterprise IT: Technology and Strategies”. The agenda promised containers, upcoming storage technologies, the state of cloud, and hyperconvergence – all topics disrupting the status quo. The sessions will be made available online at the tech.unplugged site a few days after the event.

The stated goal was “not to replace traditional information channels and analysts, but to deliver insight and information in a unique way….to assist IT decision makers by bringing them together with independent bloggers, industry vendors, and end users, and engaging in debates and open discussions on topics such as IT infrastructure, virtualization, cloud computing and storage”

Did it achieve it’s aims? Yes, I think so. It was more akin to a VMUG or TechFieldDay event with a 50/50 representation between independent bloggers and vendors whereas most conferences are very vendor led. My overall feel from the day was positive and enjoyable. The size of the audience (around 60 people) fostered an informal, interactive feel, largely helped by the two round tables. I worry slightly that it’s an echo chamber as half of the audience were the usual suspects/bloggers but maybe I’ve just been around too long. :-)

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Containers continue to disrupt

The first session summed up the day for me as ‘containers’ are the ‘tech du jour’ both for developers and infrastructure admins. The speaker, Nigel Poulton, is the author of the deep dive Pluralsight course on Docker (which he reminded us of, plentifully) although it was pretty much ‘containers 101′. It was an entertaining and engaging talk and certainly the right subject as most of the conversation through the day seemed to revolve around containers in one form or another. If you haven’t already ‘grokked’ containers (as Nigel would say) start learning! Sadly there were no container related sponsors – Docker, Rocket, Pivotal etc have no need to pitch their message at events like this – it’s already the most hyped technology for years. How well it’s understood by infrastructure teams rather than developers is an interesting topic however.

The enterprise container conversation does remind me of the early days in ‘cloud’ – everyone is trying to work out how disruptive they’ll be, whether they’ll have a job in a few years, or whether’s it’s all hype. While focused on ‘cloud’ rather than containers this was also mentioned in Stephen Foskett‘s talk, another enjoyable session – ‘Is Cloud your next IT silo?’ (with a good writeup from Tim Hynes). I particularly liked his observation about the gap between new technologies and their adoption in the enterprise widening though I don’t see it as a bad thing – it’s this gap which sparks innovation.

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Is ‘cloud’ your next silo?

Stephen’s talk was the starting point for the first round table discussion of the day from which my takeway was that cloud is indeed your next silo based on the discussions which were around legal implications of various cloud solutions, data sovereignty concerns, and technical barriers to migrations/portability (though Zerto’s Cloud Matrix is a step in the right direction). Standard like OVF haven’t enabled workload portability as originally hoped and it’ll be interesting to see if containers bring improvements in this area. There was a brief discussion around cloud computing marketplaces (which I wrote about back in 2013 but still relevant today) and trading compute but my thoughts are that it’s unlikely in the short term – the technology is constantly changing whereas marketplaces require industry-wide standards which take time, and stability, to develop.

Probably reflecting Enrico’s background in storage there was quite a bit of storage discussion both from sponsors and speakers. Chris Evans covered current architectures and trends in storage along with some practical things to consider when you’re next in the market for storage (covered briefly in this blogpost).Martin Glassborrow (better known as @storagebod) gave probably my favourite talk of the day for sheer entertainment titled ‘stop worrying about storage growth and manage it’. To sum it up – everyone lies! Just watch it when the presentations are available. I also learnt about a few sponsor’s solutions which I wasn’t familiar with previously;

  • Load Dynamix, who launched in EMEA just weeks before the event, tried to convince us that we need to profile our storage but they’re aiming at large enterprises spending millions on storage and I can’t help but feel they have a limited audience, albeit one who may well pay handsomely for the technology they offer.
  • Zadara Storage offer ‘cloud storage’ that you co-locate in your cloud providers datacentre (much like Netapp did back in 2012. The two have now partnered). This gives you increased control, isolation, and potentially performance – in my mind it bridges the gap between traditional on-premise storage and moving to a ‘service’ based cloud offering. Read Chris Evan’s thoughts on Zadara.
  • Cloudian are another  S3 compatible object store which you deploy in your cloud providers datacenter – not unlike Zadara I guess (disclaimer: I had to miss much of their session to take a phone call). Read Ray Lucchese’s thoughts on Cloudian.

Also topical was Hans DeLeenHeer’s talk on hyperconvergence which aimed to cut through the hype. Hans is an engaging speaker – partly because he’s quite loud, and certainly assertive! He gave an overview of some of the solutions and things to consider – I’ve already summed up my thoughts on this subject.

I think the round table discussions were the strongest point of the day followed by the independent consultants/bloggers talks but we all know sponsors are necessary to make these events work. Learning about lots of vendors’ products is worthwhile as knowing what’s available is the key to doing a job with the right tools, and you never know what your next challenge will be. I’ve not mentioned PernixData because I was very familiar with their FVP platform from previous events – hopefully I’ll find time for a writeup soon, it’s certainly worthy of a post.

Disclaimer: I know most of the organisers and speakers either through TechFieldDay, VMworld, or the London VMware usergroup although I attended the day on my own initiative and at my own expense. Thoughts are my own!