Wednesday, November 23, 2011

If you don't capitalize your units properly, I'll hunt you down and give you a scowl.

People that don't capitalize units are the scourge of the earth. I know this is a bit basic for a blog about Systems Administration, but I have to explain this far more often than I'm comfortable with. Seasoned admins should universally share this pet peeve. When your high school Chemistry of Physics teachers were yelling at you to use a lowercase m for milli and a capital L for liter, he or she wasn't being pedantic. It matters. A lot.

 In the question that I linked to, the user was wondering why his shiny new NAS was only writing at ~10mbps when it's capable of over 40mbps according to the specification and they're using 100mbps networking gear. Everyone should have just cringed, and rightfully so. The immediate conclusion is that the guy is clueless and is assuming that MBps and mbps are the same. Disk throughput is measured in MBps and I assumed that he was comparing it directly with his 100Mbps network. Lo and behold, Occam's Razor strikes again and this simple confusion about units did turn out to be the issue.

I don't want to pile on, but the that user made a recommendation for his company to purchase the NAS for better performance without having a clue about any bottlenecks that might exist in between the user and the NAS. This is incredibly irresponsible and seems like it amounted to throwing money in the trash can. Part of our jobs is to identify bottlenecks in our systems and to do our best to alleviate them when performance needs dictate. Without the basic knowledge of how large the units are that you are working with, it becomes an impossible task.

The moral of the story is greater than "pay attention to whether or not the letter B is large or small". It's about attention to detail. Even if you'd never seen the abbreviation Mbps before, you should be able to immediately identify that it is different than MBps. Once you've made that discovery, the difference between the two is a quick google search away. I know that this is a basic example, but sometimes the answers to more complex solutions are hidden right in front of our faces. We just need to recognize them.

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