Before I start…
This FAQ only reflects the current office with maybe references to the old office. As the home office is always dynamic and under upgrades, expansion, and improvement, some parts might no longer be applicable and I just didn’t have time or didn’t think about editing the FAQ. If you’re not clear and really really really want to know something, feel free to shoot me an e-mail.
What kind of work do you do?
What happens if you turn all that equipment on?
The light in the neighborhood dims a little, starts to flicker, then the lights in part of the city go out, and once everything is up and running, the lights slowly come back on again. Some of the systems are always on and are never powered off.
How much is your electricity bill?
Somewhere in between “ouch” and “cringe”.
Isn’t it just excessive and useless to have that many systems and monitors?
There are plenty of serious software developers that make use of many screens, often more than just dual screens, like for example Mitch Haile (an office setup I can certainly sympathize with) and Dennis Klein. And while you’re at it, also check out Mike Dixon’s and Kevin Connolly’s home offices.
What is the resolution of those screens?
It used to be four Hyundai, two BenQ, and one HP screen that all were 1280×1024. The HP laptops have 1920×1200 resolutions. But since the overhaul in October 2008 there are six new monitors that have been added, all 24″ in size with 1920 x 1200 resolution. These are the HP LP2475w S-IPS panels (the top four monitors on the Ergotron arms) and two Eizo Flexscan S2431W-E’s (the models with the EZ-UP base).
How can I convince my wife to allow me to have a setup like that too?
I might not be able to answer that, my lovely fiancee is more than happy with the way I run my business and how I decide to use business resources. She realizes that this is an essential part of my business and not just a continuous frivolous expense. But if I must answer, then first, convince her of the importance of the setup, provided of course you don’t need to lie about it and have a good reason to operate a setup like that. Then convince her that the investments will pay for itself, provided of course you can make it pay off. Never ever use money from a joint account to go on a shopping spree and never ever stick yourself into ANY debt to buy yourself such an elaborate setup. Then get her interested in technology if she wasn’t already. If any of those steps fail, get a different wife or simply forget about building yourself a NASA Mission Control office. Mine actually suggested I should provide guided tours of the home office so people can see it live and while in operation. Luckily I think she was really only just kidding about that.
Aren’t two, maybe three, monitors enough for normal people?
I have never been accused of being normal. But seriously, no. In my case I am more efficient when I have a lot of monitors to move information onto.
Isn’t it just excessive and useless to have that many screens?
Do you play games on that?
Almost never. A few hours in a year, at the most, perhaps.
How much did it cost you to build all that?
I haven’t kept track and would have to ask my accountant for those details. It’s also very difficult to keep track of because every 2-3 years all hardware has eventually been replaced with updated hardware. On top of that the hardware value or cost is not all that relevant since the software and data is much more valuable! 🙂 Those who know their hardware will probably be able to guess but for those who don’t know, an indicator is that just a system like Argon will set you back approximately between $20.000 and $25.000.
What do you need, or use, all that stuff for?
As a software developer and consultant I often work on very complex projects that require a lot of CPU power as well as storage. Not having to switch around stuff or reboot into other operating systems, not having to switch screens or use a KVM, not being forced to use just one or two systems at a time, really helps me be more efficient. And, of course, when other systems are under heavy load there’s plenty of CPU power on other systems to use for other things, including surfing the web.
Are you Big Brother and are you watching me?
I could be, and I might do. Are you paranoid yet?
What about people who say the setup is not ideal or all wrong?
What about them? 🙂 Sometimes people send me a link to some forum or discussion people are having after seeing my pages and the ones that say it’s all wrong and inefficient or not ideal usually forget to add the words for me (for them). Of course there are always going to be people who will tell someone the clothes the other person is wearing aren’t comfortable, debate about pepsi and cola, or any number of things. Some of the self-proclaimed know-it-alls provide good entertainment and amusement for me, though.
How do you manage so many windows on that many monitors without going nuts?
Why do you keep systems powered on all the time?
Teamwork! Because some of the systems are servers that other people also use from remote locations, either through the development portal or via VPN. Powering down anything would mean a loss of connectivity and interruption of business.
Why on earth do you need so much storage and disk space?
I use a lot of virtual machines that I absolutely rely on, several of the internal servers are completely virtualized even. These VM’s take up a lot of storage space, anywhere from 5GB up to more than 60GB per VM. Imagine having dozens of those and then also having a backup of all of them. That requires a lot of storage, a lot of fast storage, and a relatively high network speed. The VM’s are test targets, a compiler farm, several team development services, bug tracking, etc. and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Why so many monitor screens?
I don’t like to move around windows when they overlap. I like to be able to have a lot of information present without having to dig through menus and windows, especially when debugging a piece of software and code that itself spawns many windows and information. I find it more efficient to move my eyes and head around than moving the mouse around to minimize and maximize and move windows.
Do all those screens run on a single computer?
Not specifically but they can be made to operate all from any single computer on the network. I can control all systems via a single system’s keyboard and mouse and I can drag windows from any screen onto any other even while they are connected to physically different systems. I can also expand any single application onto four screens at once (which looks impressively cool when using Google Earth, let me tell you).
What kind of software do you use to drive all those screens, any special graphics cards? Why aren’t you using a KVM switch and have all those keyboards around?
There are no special graphics cards involved, though all cards are dual-headed and support two-screens on a single system. I can set any system to use two screens by either using MaxiVista or switching the input controls on the five screens that support and are hooked up using dual-inputs. Other than that I use a software/network based keyboard and mouse switch that allows me to seamlessly control all systems on all screens from a single system, it’s called Synergy (and it’s open source).I’ve used KVM switches in the past but eventually none worked as efficient as the combination of Synergy and MaxiVista.
Since the arrival of Windows 7, however, I have moved away from Synergy in favor of Input Director. I now use both Synergy and Input Director between the Linux, Mac, and Windows systems. Works like a charm if you’re careful about the configuration and layout.
As for all the Dinovo’s and keyboards, that’s simple. I normally use just one unless the machine it’s on is rebooting or undergoing maintenance, then I just grab another. Otherwise in the meantime the keyboards are there to keep dust off the desks. It’s an easy process of throwing out the dusty keyboard and getting a replacement that’s fresh and new. (It amazes me how many dense people actually take it seriously when I joke about that) 🙂
Do you produce graphics and 3D animation?
Not anymore. I started out doing that in the mid 1980’s and did so for many years. At that time there really wasn’t any software capable of doing what needed to be done so I always found myself writing the software and tools to support the production role. After many years I decided that I liked development a lot more than the production side and focussed on that exclusively. I do not create 3D animation/visualization but I do help create the tools and products that allows others to do so, like for example 3am Solutions Dynamite VSP (now a product of Autodesk).
You must have a lot of money, can I have some?
Well, of course you can’t. Go work for it like I did. 🙂
Isn’t that office awfully noisy with all that loud equipment and spinning fans?
I admit that this setup does not get any awards for being the most silent. With everything powered on the noise levels are more than most people would like to deal with. Fortunately, many years of loud rock music has done sufficient damage to my ears that the white noise produced by the fans and systems do not bother me as much. When I don’t want to deal with the noise I can take one of the laptops somewhere else and still be able to access the entire network.
Doesn’t it get really hot in the summer with all the heat output from the systems?
Yes. Cooling during hot summers is quite a challenge and while I’ve managed to balance it all, really hot days are laptop-days… which means, using a laptop in a cool environment instead of the home office. During cold days, however, the heat output is enough that no additional heating is required.
Is there any hardware you don’t have?
Yes, lots. All the hardware I don’t need or can’t use. 🙂
How many credit cards did you have to max out for all that?
None. I hate credit cards. Credit cards are evil. So are banks. I never had to go into any form of debt and certainly never ever in a million years would I consider going in debt for hardware. I live by old fashioned and proven rules like; do not spend money you do not have.
Do you ever leave that office and have a life?
Of course. I like to travel and to spend time with my fiancee more than I like sitting in the office and playing with all the cool ‘toys’. Sorry to disappoint anyone but I’m not enough of a geek that way, I suppose. I like to take at least 3 months of vacation each year too and hardly spend any time working on computers during those breaks.
What happens in case of a power failure? Do you have a very powerful UPS for backing up the whole system or just parts of it?
I have a few Smart-UPS SC1500i units for the most critical systems. These sustain the main servers and the modems and routers that are needed to keep things up and running for a while or provide the systems with a controlled shutdown. A bigger APC Smart-UPS 5000VA ensures power for Argon and it will start its shutdown when only 10 minutes remain (Argon needs more time to shut down because each VM needs to shut down or go into stasis).
How long is your system uptime record?
Many years ago I had a WinNT machine that I managed an uptime of over 17 months on but on average the uptime for Isis and Orisis is about 6-7 months. Within that time I usually do something like an upgrade to something that requires a reboot. The uptime for Argon is about 2-3 months on average. Also because it frequently undergoes maintenance. The other systems do not generally need to run 24/7 so they get powered on and off as-needed.
Why not build everything in or as a 19 inch rack?
Various reaons. 1) 19″ chassis are really noisy, more so than the systems I’m using. 2) I buy new systems on an as-needed basis and not just to add more hardware to the network so it’s often much easier to pick the hardware that matches my requirements and matches hardware configurations that are representative of what the software I work on will be running on. 3) choice of rackmountable motherboards is more limited unless picked for other specific purposes. 4) It is much easier to frequently replace systems with new ones and have complete freedom of choice for hardware, chassis, graphics cards, etc.
Having said all that, I am actually looking into building up a 19″ rack with 5 or 6 nodes, mainly aimed at creating a slightly different virtual machine infrastructure but that will have to wait until I redesign the office or until the need for one increases.
Are you the same Stefan Didak from back in the 3D Studio days, did you work on that?
Yes, that is me. I got involved with 3D Studio, at that time a product by Autodesk, back in the early days and when the capabilities were added to write custom IPAS routines (plugins) I did a lot of work in that area. During the development of 3ds max I wrote plugins and after the acquisition of Discreet by Autodesk I contracted for Discreet on the 3ds max SDK. I helped other developers launch their plugins, wrote and published tutorials, some which you may even still find online in various translations even though they are very outdated by now.
Can you go into how you managed to get all the systems interconnected a little more?
The network is split into two layers and every system is at least two NIC’s per system. One layer does all the internet related traffic, the other layer is for internal LAN only.
The LAN used to be all gigabit based and connected via three simple 1Gbps 3Com Office Connect switches (3C1670800A’s and 3C1670500A’s).
This has sort of evolved like that over time with a few routers and modems hooked up to the main stack. Getting the most out of Gbps switches is also more a matter of disk speed. Between the fastest RAID systems I used to pull a consistent 55-62MB/s with peak loads of 82MB/s (over the network as traffic, not the RAID speed, of course).
Most of the 3Com stack no longer serves as the main switch since it has been replaced with a HP Procurve 1800-24G, a 24 port Gigabit switch. Performance has gone up with the use of jumbo frames and average throughput on the network is now well within the 80-110MB/s range.
With files and data and backups always growing in size it seems like it might be time to start looking into 10Gbps NIC’s and switches, though I’d like to do that overhaul to the network once new replacement systems are going to be 10Gbps capable. Easier to overhaul the network at once instead of in gradual steps.
You should be running Linux instead of Windows. You should build it all as a rack. You should be using Sun blade servers. You should be using Apple Mac’s. Why aren’t you. It’s a total waste of money how you built your network, why not do it as I would do it?
I’m always amused by people with an urge to tell me what I should and shouldn’t be using. Especially when they have no insight or clue what I do and how I do it and what my work involves. Running Linux when developing software for Windows? Wow, what a really wonderful idea. I’m more than happy running Linux in a VM instead for the few times that I need to, thank you. One good rule to keep in mind is that if you feel I’ve wasted money, be glad it wasn’t your money I wasted. 🙂
Isn’t all that computug power excessive and useless?
Not at all. That only seems to be the assumption of those who are incapable of comprehending what it is I do and how efficiently I do it. There have been individuals claiming I should have [insert some useless thing] in order to be ‘L33T’. Then again, people who write and talk in numbers can’t be taken too seriously anyway.
Are you compensating for something with all this stuff?
Absolutely! I’m compensating the lack of time and efficiency by throwing more hardware at it. 🙂
How would you take that stuff with you to a LAN party?
Simple. I don’t. I don’t attend LAN parties. Why would I want to lug around with this stuff. It’s for business, not pleasure. Though I have to admit my business is very pleasuable and fun in itself. No game could top that. 🙂
How deep are those center two desks?
80cm (31.5 inches). Deep enough.
What type, model, brand are those benches/desks?
The desks I use are from a company called Projecta. Though I have to say, these models I have date back to the late 80’s (I’ve had them that long and they’ve held out great!). The new models look a bit different but still come in the same sizes (and still just as heavy!). Hm… ok, seems they don’t do desks at all any longer these days.
Are you nuts with all that CPU power and all those screens?
Why not get a good host and colo (colocate) all that stuff?
Because these systems aren’t your average web servers, don’t run processes like your average web servers, and because the network as a whole generate a lot of network traffic (just the daily backups are in the order of 1.8 TB) so in order to have any kind of remotely useful network connection it would require the kind of gigabit connections that run, conservatively speaking, between US$ 120.000,00 and US$ 280.000,00 PER MONTH!
Are you a StarTrek fan, Trekkie, Trekker?
I don’t think so. I’ve enjoyed many episodes when they were on TV but, that’s about as far as it goes. Sorry!
Why aren’t you using Apple Macs? You can run Windows on it too!
I owned a Mac Quadra many years ago but I never really got into it and didn’t like it very much. For the work I do they are entirely not an option or even remotely useful and developing software requires more than just a pretty interface. It would be extremely inefficient to emulate or virtualize windows when your platform target requires control over actual hardware level drivers.
I could never use that many computers or concentrate on so many screens, why do you?
Obviously, because I can! 🙂
Aren’t those top row of monitors too high?
No, they’re at the correct height from where I sit. If they weren’t I could just adjust the upper layer of the desks to go a bit lower or higher if needed. Also, since placing the top layer of monitor screens on Ergotron LX arms it’s much easier and more ergonomic to adjust things as needed at any given time.
Why are the bottom two monitors obscuring and covering the top ones?
They’re not. From the position in which I sit I look over the top edges of the bottom ones and have an unobstructed view to the top ones. I’m not THAT short! 🙂
Why is your website unreachable? Not enough systems in the office?
The host currently hosting the site just seems to be incapable of providing the kind of quality I need as you can read in my blog post here. I am in the process of moving to a different host with real dedicated resources. More info on that once I complete the move.
What are those desks you are using, where can I get some?
I’ve had those desks since 1985 or 1986 and they have lasted a very long time. Never bent, never had a problem with the load (before going TFT it held 4 big 22″ CRT’s with ease). The legs and bars are a very solid coated iron and the desk surfaces are coated wood of some sort (not sure what kind but the desks are very heavy and require two people to move them around). The company I got these from back in the 80’s no longer makes the same ones but did have similar ones in a slightly different style (they look a lot smaller, it seems, yet the site lists some drawings for similarly sized models that are 120cm by 80cm or 140cm by 80cm, nice and deep). However, they stopped doing those sometime between 2009 and 2010, as far as I can tell.
I do not believe all those screens make you work more efficient. Why do you say it does?
You don’t have to believe it, but it’s the truth. And I don’t claim that just having more screens makes things more efficient. The screens are a big part of what makes it efficient for me but there’s more to it than that. I have written countless scripts and a set of Windows Services that communicate automation commands via TCP/IP which allow me to automate a lot of otherwise mundane tasks. I use a highly customized configuration for PowerPro that acts as my many control panels and popup windows (complete with icons) that allow me to launch applications or launch them on any system from any other system. I only drop icons on the desktop of any given system if I need to put something in easy reach but a collector process in my custom service scheduler will grab any shortcuts and links from different systems and centralize them into a menu structure so I don’t have to look or hunt for any given item at any given time. And combined with PowerPro, when I want to start serious debugging with realtime log output I just press CTRL-ALT-S, a graphical menu pops up, I select the layout and session I need and a few scripts are called which will launch the required apps on the required systems (based on a project selection) and will move and size all windows into the positions that I prefer them to be in. There’s more to it than just throwing more screens at it. There’s perhaps an ‘art’ in being able to use them all efficiently.
What are these USB powered LED lights you are using for the backlighting?
If you google for USB led light or USB led desk light you’ll find a whole range, including the ones I’ve been using. However, as I’ve discovered over the years, the very same lights, or at least the same style and shape, comes from various manufacturers. Mine are all different too. I’m using the simple bending cable ones for the streaks while using the very small “desklight” versions for filler light (with the lights turned upwards to light up the wall behind the screens). Having several helps in controlling how much and where I want things to light up since it’s easy to turn them on and off which isn’t the case with the bending cable ones, those are always on since there’s no on/off button. The desk ones I’m using are identical to these ones and these ones.
Shouldn’t you use all the same brand monitors if you use a multi-mon setup?
Not really. As long as the screen surfaces are the same size and resolution you don’t really notice it. And multi-monitor setups don’t require a same brand at all, that’s a myth. A new set of same-brand same-aspect same-size screens will have to wait until a manufacturer can get me 24″ and 30″ models with dual DVI inputs while also offering 20-22″ 90 degree rotatable ones that would match in pixel height. 🙂
What are some of your usage scenarios? How do you use all this?
This question has been asked several times in the recent past and while most software developers would probably know the answers to that as they are familiar with the work involved, I have to remind myself that not everyone that visits my site is a software developer. Instead of cluttering the FAQ I’ve decided to write two of those “how do you use all that” scenarios on the blog, in case people may have questions or comments about it. You can find the first two usage scenario descriptions of how I use this setup here.
Note that this usage scenario applies to the OLD office setup (5.0). Since then Office 6.0 has been created and configured which means that most of the scenario still applies except system names and screen configurations are now quite a bit different.
Where do you buy all your stuff?
I take it you are talking about the hardware? 🙂 A good 90% of all systems, screens, hardware, boards, you name it, comes from one single computer dealer who’ve been having me as a very satisfied customer for many years. These guys know how to build the crazy systems I need and do a great job. But I’m not going to tell you who it is unless I know you better. There have been people trying to get special deals from them saying they were sent by me. Ahum. Grrr.
Have you seen some of the nasty things people say about your home office?
Sure I have. And it’s often very entertaining to read how various individuals who wouldn’t have the first clue about how I work and why I work the way I do explain how they would have done it better, different, etc. The comments made by other individuals who perceive all this as completely stupid and useless either don’t understand what’s involved or are suffering from the conditions of jealousy and ignorance. I’ve even seen some folks critique my fiancee simply because the images of my home office overwhelmed them too much. 🙂
Why two laptops? You have one lap!
John Bocook certainly brings up a conundrum here. 🙂 Yes, one lap, multiple laptops. Three at the time of writing, though one is old enough now that it probably will get demoted to something simple like running an office app and a browser! I consider my lap to be an equal opportunity lap that various different laptops get to share. Except Acer laptops. For some reason Acer doesn’t agree with my lap so it’s banned. Sometimes I need to do 64-bit stuff so a few weeks ago I got myself a HP NW8710w mobile workstation. Already had a great experience with the previous model, the HP NW8240, but wanted something that would do 64-bit and preferably a larger screen as well. When I need to do things specific to 32-bit I just use the 8240 again. The laptops aren’t getting equal time, though. The 8710w is definitely getting more use out of my lap. I guess I consider my lap to be a time-share lap. 🙂
Of course, that’s like 2 years ago. The most recent laptop I added is the massively heavy and chunky Clevo D900F.