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Ok, I don't know if this is/was a sys admin urban myth, but when I was a student I heard of technique to help sys admins monitor a server without actively and constantly checking on it.

What they would do is route something like CPU usage or network saturation to a white noise generator. They would play this in the background at low volume, and if some unusual activity occurred the noise would sound different (volume, tone?) They would then check on the server using the regular console tools.

My question is, has anyone tried this? Does such a program or technique exist?

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I've never heard of this before but it sounds plausible, and a pretty neat idea too. –  David Z Jul 17 '09 at 17:12
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Reminds me of the 6th sense I think we all have ... "Why can I hear a CD drive spinning up" or "Why are the heads resetting?" –  Aiden Bell Jul 17 '09 at 17:36
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Yeah, I know when my CPUs are being fully stressed by the fan speed. I could even tell a client that his slimline Dell was doing the daily AVG virus scan by the fan sound. :) –  blndcat Jul 17 '09 at 18:03
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This would work great for one server, but once you had an entire server room full, I doubt this would be a workable solution. –  Keith Jul 17 '09 at 18:42
    
Sounds to me like "The Matrix" for blind people. Seriously though, neat idea... but I think the white noise would drive me nuts after a while. LOL –  KPWINC Jul 17 '09 at 21:12

10 Answers 10

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Real

This was certainly possible, and used, on at least some makes of older mainframes (1970s, early 1980s). The console (a Teletype, if you have ever seen such a thing) had a small speaker and a volume control. When this was turned up the audio output was indicative of the work the CPU was doing. Much of the work was off-line batch work and with practice it was possible to recognise certain distinctive 'signatures' of some jobs in normal mode and the shrill whine of a job in a loop. As the console would become sluggish when the machine was very busy the main use of the speaker was to allow the operator to check whether a job was progressing (the sound would usually vary) or stuck. On the lighter side, it also allowed jobs to be written to create certain signatures, for example a, somewhat atonal but recognisable, "Jingle Bells".

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thanks! I choose this answer because it is probably the source/root of the story I heard. –  blndcat Oct 2 '09 at 4:59

During the LISA 2000 (Large Installations System Administration) conference, Michael Gilfix and Alva Couch presented a paper: Peep (The Network Auralizer): Monitoring Your Network With Sound (PDF). While this research used jungle sounds instead of white noise, the idea is the same.

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I heard about this years ago, but had lost all reference, leaving me sounding like a loony when I told people. Nice to have some evidence that I'm only partially crazy. –  Bevan Jul 18 '09 at 10:43

Solaris has an option to snoop ( the equivalent of tcpdump ) which produced some audio when a packet was sent or received. This was used so you could hear the network.....

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Interesting idea. If you do a packet/second to Hz conversion, a 100Mb ethernet could get up to 8.3 KHz, presuming a standard MTU, which is certainly in the human audible range. –  sysadmin1138 Jul 17 '09 at 18:03

Don't use this on your production system. Just use Nagios. Please.

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Thanks, no I don't think anyone would use it as a replacement for a real monitoring solution. I was just asking out of curiosity since it was something I heard about over 10 years ago but never confirmed was true or not. –  blndcat Jul 18 '09 at 2:24
    
OK, just checking :-) –  Matt Simmons Jul 18 '09 at 3:40

I played with this a while back to "listen" to my mysql servers pagecache utilization : ) http://xtat.rapidpacket.com/blog/posts/what_querycache_sounds_like/

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This seems like a really original technique to me :)

However, while being original, it is also a bit unpractical. What if I am working with my headphones on? You can use SMS to notify people, responsible for particular hardware/software. You can xmpp, or, hell, even email notifications.

Still, very original.

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I've tied perfmon/wmi to SAPI ("Danger Will robinson!!) and I've tied counter alerts to kick off media player but never to w white noise generator. This really only works if you have exception based reporting set up, but it's fun for a while.

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I first heard this story in 1985 from a couple of sysadmins. It was and "old" story then as well. Slightly different details, but still the same story.

I guess if you are alive long enough, all things will be new again. Now where did I put those bell bottom pants.....

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Well as someone who works in datacenters, I have found that for severe problems white noise level changes are something you can detect almost subconciously. So when something starts overheating you can hear it and find it pretty quickly.

The problem is that when something starts making less noise than it was, it can be hard to find (ie quick -- find the quiet!)

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not white noise, and i dont have a linux box to test with now, but

cat /var/log/syslog > /dev/dsp

or some other log

or i was thinking about using beep and feed the cpu load into it to change the frequency

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