Things That Moved Me In 2021

It’s the time of the year again to have a look back at the things that moved me this year. On the surface, it seems that I had relatively few posts about wireless network technologies. But this appearance is quite deceptive.

A topic I spent a lot of time on was O-RAN, i.e. Open Radio. It’s still early in its lifecycle, so I mainly spent my time researching public sources and specifications. In particular, the new and additional ways to split components in the RAN into Centralized Units (CU), Distributed Units (DU) and radio modules is highly fascinating, and this post on the O-RAN front-haul and mid-haul nicely summarizes the part I’m most interested in. It also links to a great poster about O-RAN function splits.

Moving a bit away from the Radio Access Network, I spent a significant amount of time this year to get up to speed on the latest cloud native developments, which are taking telecom core networks by storm. And not only those networks, but I made good use of the knowledge I gained about Docker and Kubernetes to dockerize this blog and quite a number of other services I’m running for myself and my friends. Also, I dockerized a long standing private software project of mine that helps people to keep track of document research data. Using Docker to separate and encapsulate different parts into individual containers makes deployment so much easier and manageable. And another piece of the puzzle to keep my cloud services up and running with minimal effort was figuring out how to use Ansible to automate my server updates.

Cloud native has kept me mesmerized, so I held quite a number of online sessions for my friends and peers to give them a hands-on introduction to containers and the cloud. By using virtual workstations in the cloud with a graphical user interface, a BBB server for communication and Guacamole for easy web based access to the GUIs, it was fun to help people with their first steps with Docker and Kubernetes. And my own learning process about the cloud is far from finished, but that’s something for next year’s column.

Moving away from the cloud, there have been two things I discovered this year that significantly improved my daily computing experience. Some members of my family have a peculiar way of using their notebooks, which results in running out of RAM sooner or later due to programs that hog huge amounts of RAM over time. Ubuntu desktop doesn’t react gracefully to that, so sooner or later, the user interface freezes. This year, I stumbled over EarlyOOM, that kills memory-hoggers before the system locks up. Since then, some family members have been running their notebooks with up-times of more than 2 months without rebooting. Every now and then Firefox, Chrome or Thunderbird quit in front of their eyes after accumulating gigabytes of unused memory. But that seems more acceptable then rebooting.

The second usability improvement for me this year was Tiny Pilot, a Raspberry Pi remote-KVM solution. I often have to interact with systems that can’t export their screen, keyboard and mouse over the network directly, so this solution has proven to be super useful an I use it on an almost daily basis.

And finally, 2021 was the time of renewing my computing infrastructure at home. Until the mid of the year, I’ve used a 6 year old Lenovo X250 notebook. It was still working ok, but quickly got to its limits during video calls. When I noticed that current generation notebooks don’t break a sweat for video calls anymore, it was time to upgrade. Fortunately, the world has moved on and there are quite a number of online stores that sell notebooks without an operating system. This meant that the price difference between buying a used notebook with Windows, for which I don’t have a use anyway, and a new notebook without an operating system shrunk considerably. So I went for a new Lenovo X13 with an AMD Ryzen 7 processor with 8 cores and 16 threads. Also, other family members got upgraded, and Ubuntu works just as well on a recent Lenovo E14.

This year, we were lucky, and could host a hybrid on-site and virtual Vintage Computing Festival in Berlin. I was mainly responsible for the online part and could reuse my knowledge about Big Blue Button I acquired already back in 2020. In addition, I came up with a setup to run Open Broadcast System (OBS) in the cloud, which made it possible to produce the online stream independently of local resources. Thanks to the Nvidia GPU in the the Z440 workstation I bought last year and the Ryzen 7 CPU in my notebook, post-processing the videos of the event went a lot quicker this year.

And moving back from the cloud to the local domain, I managed to break the 1 Gbit/s barrier of my Wi-Fi network at home with 802.11ac and a 160 MHz channel. And since I host a big chunk of my cloud at home, I can make good use of every extra Mibt/s that the network can give me, especially for large file transfers such as virtual machine backups.

And finally, because I spent so much time in the cloud this year, I decided to go in the other direction as well for a while, so I read a great book about the Linux kernel and device drivers, and did what every hacker should do every couple of years: Compile the Linux kernel yourself.

So that was 2021, a very nice mix of going cloud native, wireless networks and personal computing advances at home.