Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Sinofsky May be Out But Don't Expect the Same of Windows 8

If you're one of those folks that cheered the departure of Steven Sinofsky last week from Microsoft you may be anxiously awaiting the return of the good old days.  Surely the Start button will make a return and all this business about tablets and touch screens will go the way of Vista.

Don't count on it...

Sinofsky may have ruled the Windows division of Microsoft with an iron fist but he didn't operate in a vacuum even if other Microsoft divisions thought so.  Change was going to happen even if it was going to be painful and potentially risky to Microsoft's relationship with its customers.

That the basic Windows interface had remained unchanged over the last two decades wasn't lost on Steve Ballmer and other Microsoft Executives.  The popularity of touch devices from competitors like Apple and Android showed the direction of the market.  The design of Windows 8 was the response. 

Sinofsky's laser focus on Windows after his installment as division president in 2009 and success with the Windows 7 launch gave him the credentials to move Windows forward.  To many, his removal so soon after the launch of Windows 8 suggests that Windows 8 is a failed product destined to go the way of Microsoft Bob.  Steven Sinofsky was not Gabe Newell, however.

Job performance has never been a problem for Sinofsky but jealous protection of his division was.  Windows has always been the most visible Microsoft product with Office running a close second.  Not coincidentally, both products Sinofsky and his team had intimate involvement with.  Sinofsky was known to exercise complete control over his products to the exclusion of all else.  Much to the dismay of other product teams within Microsoft that were used to a culture of collaboration, Sinofsky's actions proved to be divisive.  A rift that's expressed itself with similar looking but largely incompatible products under the Windows 8 banner.

His departure isn't a reflection of the success of Windows 8, rather it is a symptom of Microsoft's new product strategy.  Touch interfaces have proven themselves as more than a fad with the popularity of tablet devices and smartphones.  Even Apple's desktop staple, Mac OSX, has taken up second position to IOS devices like the IPad and Iphone.  Before Windows 8, Microsoft's only entry into this market was the lackluster Windows Phone and tablet editions.  Neither of which were high water marks for Microsoft's "Windows Everywhere" mantra championed by Steve Ballmer.

Windows may still be the centerpiece of the new strategy even going so far to add  Windows"panes" to the Microsoft logo but Windows development could no longer be done in isolation.  The vision for Microsoft was to have a unified experience across all devices from PC's to toasters.  Sinofsky's culture of separation ran counter to it.  Cloud services and hosted applications can help smooth over the rough spots but ultimately come up short of truly having Windows Everywhere.

There's no denying that touch interfaces are the future of computing.  Just as we wouldn't think of using a typewriter to compose our documents it won't be long till a swipe and tap are more commonplace than a mouse click.  Windows 8 tries to meet that future demand before consumers know they have it.  The fact that the vision borrows a page from Steve Jobs is no accident.  But where Jobs enforced a unity of vision throughout Apple, Sinofsky's focus was not so global when it came to Windows' place in Microsoft. 
Over the next year expect Microsoft to work hard to correct that error.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Hyper-V on Windows Server 2012

This is the latest video series on Server 2012 and specifically Hyper-V.  If you've ever wondered about the Microsoft flavor of Virtualization I've gone ahead and took the plunge for you....

Enjoy this tutorial and overview.

Semi-Competent Tutorials for the mildly interested.... ;-)

Part 1...

Part 2

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Monday, October 15, 2012

Hangin' with Server 2012

I've done a couple of introductory videos just so you can see what it's like to get around in Server 2012.  That means learning to use the interface, basic administration, adding roles and basic AD setup.  If you've managed a 2008R2 deployment 80% is the same but there are a few differences to take note of.  Check it out below.


Part 1

Part 2

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Pitfalls of Virtualization - Part 1 A little history

At the start let me quiet your fears, I'm not going to bash virtualization or the cloud, they're great options.  I'd even go so far as to say they're fast becoming the de facto standard for dealing with your data.

First a little history because contrary to popular belief virtualization was not present at the Big Bang.

When virtualization was in its infancy the promise was great but the future not so certain.  There was more chance of your office PC running a Linux distro than I.T. trusting their infrastructure to a server that didn't have a physical off button.   Virtualization was immature and more often than not when something bad happened there was little chance of recovery.  Worse, compatibility problems with operating systems left many deployments relegated to a corner running a few instances of UBUNTU.  I.T. was still suffering from the implosion of the tech bubble and didn't need another reason to worry about their jobs. 

Sometime around 2007 virtualization became acceptable.  Corporate bean counters liked the idea of doing more with less.  Hardware and storage costs were falling and Virtualization gained credibility when large companies coming up on hardware refresh cycles decided to make the move. 

VMware, Microsoft and Citrix responded with their own offerings promising ease of administration, lower energy costs  and better use of hardware.  It wasn't uncommon, for example, for the average windows server to only be using 40% of its capacity at any time.  Virtualization promised to fix that.

How times have changed.  Now you're hard pressed to find server hardware dedicated to something other than virtualization in any organization of size.   Gone are the days of hovering around the lobby waiting for your RAID controller to show up so you can get your new Exchange server up and running.  Now, a few clicks, an ISO image and you can have a new server online in minutes. 

Unfortunately, virtualization is a victim of its own success.  The bean counters have become addicted to the whole concept of more with less resulting in more downward pressure on  I.T. budgets. 
As a result, more often than not when I run into an organization heavily dependent on virtualization the hardware is at least 5 years old and probably repurposed from something else.  I recently walked into a multimillion dollar company, for example,  that was relying on second hand hardware sourced from EBay to run their virtual server farm!

I'm all for recycling but no server is immortal regardless of the operating system it's running and after awhile hardware will start to fail.  With the rapid pace of Moore's law it's not uncommon to find parts availability for servers relegated to the secondary market within 2 years.   Server hardware still tends to be proprietary and unlike your home computer isn't available at Newegg.  If it's obsolete you roll the dice and hope that hot deal on EBay isn't for something worse than what you already have.

The promise of cheap or free frequently guts reason, however, forcing I.T. departments into less than best practices.

Continued in Part 2

The Pitfalls of Virtualization - Part 2 Virtual Realities!

So it seems that virtualization's benefits can be quickly negated by an overly zealous accounting department.

Still the benefits are considerable. 

The aforementioned leveraging of hardware resources, reduced power consumption and the ability to allocate resources on the fly are undeniable benefits.  We're not quite at plug and play, however, and virtualized environments introduce their own caveats. 

Take hardware compatibility for example.  It's actually more of an issue with virtual environments than physical.  Remember we're dealing with layers of abstraction between your operating system and the hardware. Since virtualization vendors know their product can end up on everything from a re-purposed desktop to server class hardware they know better than to t try to support every configuration.  That means you're likely to be on your own if your chosen platform isn't on their compatibility list.

If your chosen virtual platform doesn't know how to talk to your SAN adapter, for example,  you're at a standstill if it's not on the compatibility list.  Nothing like trolling forums for support while your Fortune 500 company waits.   The same can be said for physical servers but a virtual host usually serves more than one virtual machine which just added an unwanted exponent to your headache. 

It takes some time to figure out the nuances of managing a virtualized environment as well.  Keeping in mind that everything you're seeing is largely an artificial construct and not necessarily reality has found more than one administrator scratching his head.

Ignore that fact at your own peril as It's far too easy to over commit a virtual resource and suddenly find alarms because you've overtaxed your processor and evaporated your storage.   Oh yeah, and all those angry voicemails on your phone.

That brings up another annoyance, licensing.  

While VMWARE, for example, will allow you to have a fully functional virtual host ready to accept as many virtual machines as you can throw at it for free, scaling that up to enterprise level can be an exercise in futility. 

Just like Microsoft, figuring out what you need is never straightforward and usually involves engaging a consultant unless you like to pay for things you don't need.  I've yet to walk into a VMware shop that had the right licensing mostly because the IT director decided to just wing it.  Unfortunately that route usually means the loss of much of the functionality virtualization offers. 

Just for fun, I went online searching for licensing packs for VMware and found a dozen vendors selling 100 concurrent user licenses for $25000.  They all had the exact same description which told me nothing about the product aside from how much better my life would be should I make the purchase.  It makes me miss the days of shrink-wrapped software.  Back then, I didn't need a 5 figure consultant just to figure out how to spend my money!

It seems the more user friendly things get the more money I have to pay someone to explain it to me.

We wrap it up in Part 3

The Pitfalls of Virtualization - Part 3 The Cloud

So if you really don't want to deal with the pitfalls of your own virtual infrastructure you have the option to use someone else's.  

Yes, I'm talking about the cloud which promises unlimited potential so long as your internet connection is working.

Bean counters like the cloud too.  After all to them it's almost free.  No hardware costs, no support overhead and virtually no downtime just a monthly invoice.

That's the promise at least...

Far beyond simple cloud storage from services like Dropbox, software as a service and hosted services via the cloud offered cost savings over the traditional model of keeping it all onsite. 

The highest profile players in the space currently are Microsoft (of course) and Google.  Both are more than happy to rent you their infrastructure for a "nominal" fee. 

The early days of this kind of service tended to over promise and under deliver.  Outages, bankruptcy, vague Service Level Agreements (SLA's) and questionable security hindered adoption.  

Imagine a law firm storing its confidential client files with a cloud provider who suddenly goes out of business. 

A good System Admin knows better than to put all their eggs in one basket but the question of who owned the data in the cloud still remained.  Could they trust that the data would be returned or destroyed if the unlucky provider went under? 

Around the same time Software as a Service(SAS) vendors came along promising universal access to business applications via the cloud.  Data protection showed up via something called software escrow.  Software Escrow promised your data would be safe with a third party should something go wrong.  

Salesforce and Google docs were the first examples but because of the vagaries of their SLA's most businesses decided to stick with their local office suites from vendors like Microsoft. 

Speaking of Microsoft...

Seeing an opportunity to appease the bean counters in the face of resistance to  their ever increasing software licensing costs they came up with Office 365 and Windows Azure.  Moving responsibility for messaging and data to Microsoft's cloud not only reduced infrastructure costs but in some cases headcount.  Why have a legion of IT professionals when any problem could be solved with a phone call?

There's nothing wrong with the logic but sometimes the execution can leave something to be desiredSalesforce seems to have an outage at least once a year  and Microsoft Office 365 users have found themselves relying on smartphone messaging when hosted exchange servers go MIA.  Lest we forget the troubles with Google's cloud services

The hidden costs of cloud services have to come into play at some point.  Nothing's free as many a surprised supervisor has found when faced with a bill for his users going over their mailbox limit.  The purported cost savings in the server room can quickly be offset by the subscription model employed by cloud providers.

Just because I.T. services have moved out of the office and into the datacenter doesn't mean you don't have to pay for them. 

Cloud providers usually have tiered SLA offerings which means how fast they deal with an issue is directly related to how much you're paying.  If it's a system wide issue the SLA goes out the window.

Of course nothing's perfect and highlighting the flaws is no condemnation.  For the most part cloud services have lived up to their claims.  Like anything else the wise IT Pro knows not to rely on anything  exclusively.   Google docs offline? Work with a local copy.   Hosted Exchange services down?  Chances are you have more than one email account available to you elsewhere.

At this point the bloom is off the rose.  Virtualization is approaching the ubiquitous and there's no turning back.  Chances are at least some of the applications you work with every day have at least some portion living in the cloud.

That's not a bad thing just know that it's not the only thing.  As the old saying goes don't put all your eggs in one basket.  

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Windows 8 Enterprise, Don't be so serious!

A review and usage demonstration of Windows 8 Enterprise Eval.

This isn't as dull as you think it'll be...

A very good friend did this up and I did a bit of editing.

Good information about the minor quirks of Windows 8 Enterprise. Enjoy!

Part 1.

Part 2.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Windows Server 8, Microsoft's Attempt at a New Server Paradigm

Article first published as Windows Server 8, Microsoft's Attempt at a New Server Paradigm on Technorati.

Server operating system releases rarely garner much excitement outside of IT circles.  They are the necessary evil coordinating all or our messaging, file handling and online services vital for networked world.  Even if you don't spend your days in a cube for a living and prefer to store your files in the cloud there is a server somewhere making it all possible.

As such they tend to not be very sexy.  In the case of Microsoft, most server operating systems appear on the surface at least to be a stripped down purpose built version of their desktop counterparts.   At their core they are with some important differences..  The primary differentiation is that they've been optimized for better storage, memory handling and security.

Which leads us to the latest offering from Microsoft, Windows Server 8. 

Windows Server 8 Beta was released to the public on March 1st, 2012, one day after the Windows 8 consumer preview.  Hardware requirements are as follows:

Processor - Minimum: 1.4 GHz 64bit processor

Memory - Minimum: 512 MB RAM

Available Disk Space - Minimum: 32 GB

Optical Drive DVD-ROM drive

Display and Peripherals - Super VGA (800 x 600) or higher-resolution monitor


 Microsoft Mouse or other compatible pointing device

Upgrade paths from Server 2008 R2 are supported with other versions of  Server 2008 allowed for the Beta release.  Microsoft makes available a 64Bit ISO and a VHD (Virtual Hard Disk) file as the installation media options.   The VHD option assumes at least Server 2003 and Microsoft Virtual server 2005 (Hyper-V).  VMWARE test installations would likely be better served by mounting the ISO as the install medium for a new VM.

As with all Beta installs, Server 8 should only be deployed in a test environment as there is no installation roll-back functionality.

There are two installation options, Server core which offers little more than a powershell window and a GUI version which adds a system manager applet similar (if not a bit gaudy) to the Server 2008 system manager.  In my use the Server Manager is functional but counterintuitive due to the haphazard  organization of the applets.  As an aside it's not very attractive either, looking much like one of those bad Powerpoint slides we've all had to suffer in a sales meeting.

Microsoft has stated that they want to move away from GUI administration tools on the actual server and instead manage server resources remotely.  That would explain the prominence of powershell and the GUI as a now secondary option for installation.

Microsoft has also touted is Hyper-V version 3.0 as a real challenger to the virtualization space currently dominated by VMWARE.  The new virtualization framework touts better support for more physical CPUs, larger storage volumes and larger RAM sizes.  Improvements in SAN performance are also claimed utilizing ODX (offloaded data transfer) which basically sends commands to the SAN directly instead of attempting to read and write data as though the storage were local.  Hyper V virtual machines are also said to support up to four virtual Fiber channel Host Bus Adapters.

Improvements to Hyper-V may be of most interest to IT departments with complex Hyper-V deployments who will appreciate support built into the management GUI.   Hyper -V also supports a new feature called  Hyper-V Replica which can be thought of as a kind of VM failover mechanism utilizing two Hyper-V VM's that are constantly kept updated. 

Improvements in Microsoft's Web Server, IIS and Remote Desktop services (Terminal Services) are also included with this latest release but what may be most striking has little to do with the dry technical stuff.  Server 8, like it's desktop cousin, has inherited the Metro Tile interface.

You'd be hard pressed to tell the difference between Microsoft Server desktops at a glance from Windows 2000 on.  Aside from tweaks to the start button they generally don't include the flash of their desktop counterparts and as such are fairly plain.

Not so with Server 8.  The Metro Tile interface has replaced the Start button/menu and includes tiles to manage the basic functions of the server.  Additional administrative tiles are available by enabling the option giving you access to most of the familiar tools any Windows admin would recognize. 

At first blush this seems like a pointless addition and more than one IT peer has balked at it especially in light of Microsoft's desire to move away from graphical interfaces.  Take a moment to consider the minimalist strategy Microsoft is now promoting, however and it makes sense. 

The desktop in Windows 8 is little more than a convenience primarily existing for backward compatibility for applications that require it.  Desktop  based applications can create a tile in Metro but will launch on the desktop instead of directly from Metro.

With the Metro tiles, senior administrators now have more control over the level of administration they allow to junior staff.  With virtually all aspects of the operating system controllable via Group policy it's not inconceivable to lock junior IT staff into only those functions they need to have with no opportunity to circumvent their limited access. 

Microsoft has not yet set a release date for Server 8 but it's likely that it will be within a few months of the desktop OS release.  Does that mean that Server 8 will replace current installations overnight?  That's unlikely considering that many companies are only now moving to Server 2008 R2 as legacy applications catch up to embrace 64 bit platforms.  In my own experience, there's generally a 2 year lag before a new server operating system starts to gain significant market share over its predecessors.  The most likely driver will be the improved virtualization for companies looking to move from VMWARE and improved resource and access management functionality.

Time will tell if Server 8 is embraced as many IT organizations chose to ignore the last Microsoft server  release,  For many IT organizations Server 2008 offered no real advantage over Server 2003 other than better 64 bit hardware support.  Many organizations also choose to skip versions which may translate into better adoption of the new server OS for IT organizations still using Server 2003. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

SOPA Gives Rise to the Voice of the Internet Community

Article first published as SOPA Gives Rise to the Voice of the Internet Community on Technorati.

January 18th, 2012 found an Internet community that may have finally shook off its timid boy in the basement image.  This was the day when browsing to found the logo covered with black duct tape and Wikipedia showing an anti-SOPA legislation page instead of that article about Carrie Nation that you were looking for.

Countless Internet websites and content providers took up arms, so to speak, and expressed unity with the movement.  Google offered the opportunity to sign a petition against SOPA/PIPA and had 4.5 million signatures in 24 hours. broadcasted all of their programming in black and white, censored their own content with black bars reminiscent of declassified documents like those seen on investigative news shows.

Information from proponents of the legislation cite the need to stop piracy and preserve intellectual property rights.  Those against claim dangerous ambiguity in the wording and technical issues that would essentially put the U.S. government in the role of a proxy to your Internet browsing and break a number of current and future security measures in the process.  Arguments against also highlight the ineffectiveness the measures would have on stopping piracy as well as degradation of the user experience.

Former Senator Chris Dodd and current MPAA CEO  has called the actions of participating web content providers a "gimmick" with further commentary reminiscent of the former President Bush's "You're either with us or you're with the terrorists" rhetoric.

Sweeping measures to combat illicit activity aren't new to U.S. politics.  With ax-handle diplomacy Carrie nation set the stage for the 18th Amendment to the U.S. constitution.  It took the 21st amendment to attempt to reverse the resulting rise in organized crime and alcohol related deaths related to dubious sources of bootleg alcohol. 

It's an issue not well suited to the 30 second sound bite regardless of how traditional media chooses to frame it.   The devil is in the details and it is the details that have opponents to SOPA/PIPA up in arms.

More information is available from a number of sources too numerous to list here but a simple google search, a viewing of any of's programs from January 18th or a visit to Tim O'reilly's google plus page are good places to start.

Friday, January 6, 2012

The new revenue stream

Originally published on Technorati as "The New Revenue Stream."

Remember way back before the Iphone or the I anything for that matter?  Those were the days when we went out and bought a piece of technology and whatever else we needed for it and Boom! we were pretty much done.  When we wore it out we went and bought a new one.

Getting a cell phone was a pretty simple proposition.  You picked the device and how many minutes you thought you'd need and paid your bill every month.  Now you'd be hard pressed to find a phone without features you'll never use but are charged for anyway.  Not to mention overage charges for data or unlimited plans that really aren't unlimited either cutting you off or degrading your service over a preset limit.

Everything's a subscription now.  Seems like you never stop paying.  Services like Netflix started it.  Used to be you'd pay a small subscription fee and get your choice of DVD's every month.  What made them successful was the elimination of late fees and the highway robbery of the chain video rental stores.  Now it's streaming movies at 8 bucks a month to any device that can use the service.  Even if you don't use it.

Yes, it's wonderful that you can go to Itunes and just buy the song you like for 99 cents and leave the rest of the selections on the curb .  Of course you've bought a lesser quality version of the song for roughly the same price as the same song on CD but hey, it's in your Itunes now, so long as you don't lose your password...

You can even subscribe to Microsoft Office 365 to essentially "rent" the use of office applications.  Too bad if you miss that monthly payment and want to open your Word document.

I can go to and back up my computer to the cloud automatically, for a fee of course.  That fee goes up if I have more than one computer and/or external device to back up by the way.

Gee, used to be I got a backup program with my operating system or I could get a better one and that was it.  I didn't have to subscribe to anything.

Buy an IPAD or an Iphone and you're not likely to have much fun with it unless you visit the app store which generally involves a purchase or subscription depending on what you choose from it.  Oh, and don't forget that 2 year contract and/or ridiculous initial cost of the device.

Let's not forget that our workplaces will have limits on our bandwidth and most ISP's impose bandwidth limits on how much data you can use per month.

Too bad if you were backing up you Terabyte Hard drive to Carbonite...

The point is that more and more products seem to be introduced whose very design is to work with this subscription model.  Product features tend to be stripped down for the sake of it.  Even the latest version of Windows dumped their email client in favor of the useless free Windows Live suite or online applications such as Hotmail or Gmail.

 I wonder when they'll dump notepad...

Yes it's true that application suites were prohibitively expensive but if you didn't need to be on the cutting edge you could always find a deal on the previous version.  You didn't have to keep paying for it either.   It seems we've been led to believe that the a la' carte model lowers the barriers of entry to productivity and recreational apps but the truth is that we're just spreading out our buying patterns. 

With every app you buy you end up on another mailing list.  There's also this false ubiquity that anything in the cloud is secure and accessible.  Yes, it may be so long as you pay the subscription.  Let's also hope they don't go out of business taking your data with them.  Read the Terms of Service,  if they're gone, so's your data...

There's nothing wrong with making applications more accessible but to rely on the subscription model and the cloud exclusively  is dangerous.  I'd hate, for example, to lose the ability to update my resume if I had to cancel my office 365 subscription after losing my job. 

I sometimes chafe when I hear some pundit advocating how the cloud should be our primary data repository.  Really?  You have that much faith in a web page with an e-commerce portal to secure your data? 

I can't accept that a commercial entity has my best interests at heart thus I have no faith in the assumption that they do.  Yet when I look around I see a consumer mindset that accepts the premise as reasonable. 

Whatever happened to Caveat Emptor?  I guess they don't teach that in schools anymore...