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.