Friday, December 19, 2008

Seasons Greetings and Happy Holidays

Hey everybody,
To end the year off with a bang, I just received my final University subject grades – I passed which is great. I was hoping for a Credit, but mustn’t have done as well as I hoped in the exam. But the great news is I have now officially completed my Masters degree. Graduation is in April ’09.

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas, Season’s Greetings and hope you all have a great New Years.

It’s been a pretty exciting year, and I’m hoping 2009 will be even better!

Cheers :- )


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Microsoft – You can do much better

Hey everybody,
I’ve been out and about over the past few months and have met up with quite a number of CTO’s, CIO’s and IT Ops managers and I’ve got a big problem with 3 technologies from Microsoft:

- Exchange direct push Versus Blackberry
- Virtual Server / Hyper-V Versus VMWare
- Terminal Services / Remote desktop Versus Citrix

All of the companies I visited had recently chosen not to implement Microsoft’s solutions, instead opting for the competition – Despite the fact that they had to pay significantly for them.

All but one of the managers I had spoken to said that they didn’t even bother with a technical trial of the Microsoft solutions mainly because they had been told that the competitor’s products were far more mature and were more reliable.

Only one of the managers actually knew why they went for a VMWare / Blackberry and Citrix environment and said that they had run tests on the comparable Microsoft solutions, which is commendable.

All of the Microsoft solutions here are free (with the correct versions of the software and CAL purchases), thus saving significant money in a large scale implementation. I know there are very good reasons as to why one would pick VMWare over Virtual Server or Blackberry over Exchange or Citrix over Terminal Services.

My main concern here is that most of the IT managers I spoke with didn’t even bother to find out about the Microsoft solutions or run a trial simply because they were advised otherwise or that they had their own opinion about it.

I personally think this is quite sad – I believe these products are great and I would always recommend the Microsoft offerings (unless there were special requirements which the Microsoft offerings didn’t address).

In my mind it all comes down to advertising and general awareness of the Microsoft product offerings. Microsoft – I think you guys can do this better. You need to be out at industry events promoting your products, you need a better advertising campaign (don’t get me started on the “I’m a PC" ads), you need to be pro-actively seeking out companies that are looking at running projects and you also need to be getting involved with the guys in the trenches to try and turn around this negative publicity. Lastly – Microsoft – You just need to get people excited and inspired with your technology!

Anyway – That’s just my rant for the day.
Hope you are all well.

Phil P

Monday, October 27, 2008

How do I keep up-to-date with all that is happening in IT?

Hey everybody
I’ve had a few people now ask me how I keep up-to-date with the latest technology trends and innovations. The answer is fairly simple – Use lots of different news sources along with attending lots of IT gatherings, events and conferences.

From a news perspective – I find Blogs are the best way to stay on top of the latest IT news and I use the integrated RSS reader in Outlook 2007, which is an easy method of collating them into the one view.

The Blogs that I read regularly are:
The Clustering and High Availability Blog from the MSDN team

Michael Kleef ::: MSFT

Microsoft Security Bulletins

Network World on Security

Network World on Servers

Robert Hensing’s Blog

The Sobelizer – Robert Scoble

Microsoft Security Vulnerability Research & Defense

Sunbelt Software’s Blog

The Enterprise Engineering Centre Blog

Windows Mobile Team Blog

Windows Server Division WebLog

Windows Virtualization Team Blog
You Had Me At EHLO..

And of course – The IDEAS Insights Blog – The company I work for

The other news site I always scan over is SlashDot – “News for nerds, stuff that matters”

Other than regularly reading these Blogs, I also like to attend as many industry events and conferences as I can – Microsoft’s TechEd, Cisco’s Technology Solutions, HP’s Technology At Work, CeBIT, product launches and other various vendor and end user events and conferences around the place.

The other piece of news this week is the Microsoft System Centre Virtual Machine Manager (SCVM) 2008 has been RTM’d, which is good news, especially with my Physical to Virtual (P2V) conversions I was talking about in my previous blog post.

Also – Further to my post about Data Centre’s in a Box – It looks like Microsoft has taken this to the extreme and is using containers to run servers in, but inside a building.

Each container is 40 foot long and can contain up to 2,500 servers. Apparently they are extremely energy efficient with a Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) rating of 1.22

It also appears that the latest Google data centre may be heading in the same direction

This is an interesting twist on the Data Centre in a box concept – It will be interesting to see how that pans out.

In other news - I’ve just booked in my final Uni exam – It’s booked in for the 24th November – I’m very excited about the prospect of having it all done, now just to focus on the last assignment due in 2 weeks time.

Phil P

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Thoughts on Virtualisation

Hey everybody,
I’ve just submitted my 2nd last assignment for my Masters degree, so I thought I’d take some time to update my blog post.

As I write this I’m finishing off migrating our production development system from a virtual server on Virtual Server 2005 over to Hyper-V (Windows 2008). So far so good. The new server is much quicker and I can now allocate up to 2 virtual CPU’s for Windows 2003 (up to 4 for a Windows 2008 guest OS).

I started thinking about a recent LinkedIn discussion where I was shocked at the perception people had about Microsoft’s virtualisation platforms – Words like this were thrown around:

  • “Go with VMware who is the leader of the pack. It's been around for a long time, and it is using efficient memory”
  • “VMware are several years ahead of these new players. So, don't tried the inferior products, and go with the best for now”
  • “VMware is the market leader and their technology is proven”
  • “It's not mature yet”
I personally don’t believe any of these above statements are correct – Other than the fact that VMWare has been around for longer than MS Virtual technologies (not by that much though).

Hyper-V can do most things that VMWare can, and it’s considerably cheaper. The big thing that Hyper-V can’t do is “ live hot swapping” in a clustered environment.
More information on this here.

I came across an interesting article published earlier this month where the PacLib Group commissioned a study to find out what it would actually cost to migrate their environment over to a virtualised environment. The outcome is it would cost $25K for installation and $25K for software for a VMWare installation. This is one of the most interesting quotes I have read in a long time from David Furey (the IT Manager at The PacLib Group): - “You’ve got to question whether it’s worth paying $50,000 for that. I know the VMware camp go on about features like VMotion, but for $50,000 I could pay someone to move my virtual machines for me.”

The functionality David is talking about is the live hot swapping in VMWare (that Hyper-V doesn’t have) – But one seriously needs to ask – How much is that functionality actually worth to the business? Is it worth the 10 seconds or so of downtime you save when comparing it to a Hyper-V clustered environment? Perhaps it is important for your business to have the VMWare functionality – But it needs to be evaluated.

The one thing I sorely miss at the moment is some way to perform a Physical to Virtual migration (P2V). In MS Virtual Server 2005, this was fairly complicated, although do-able using the Virtual Server Migration Tools coupled with Automated Deployment Services (ADS) – All were free provided you had Windows 2003 Enterprise.

With Hyper-V the only way to perform a P2V migration (using the Microsoft tools) is via the System Center Virtual Machine Manager (SCVMM) 2008 – Which so happens this software is in Beta, and it would eventually be a purchasable product.

I’m not saying VMWare is no good – It’s great – I just think people need to have more of an open mind about the solutions that they look at and evaluate all options. I suspect that over time we will see more of what the PacLib Group went through as people start to question whether the extra features of VMWare are actually worth the money given the various virtualisation options around now.

Anyway – That’s it from me.

5 weeks to go for my Masters degree and I’m done :- ) Can’t wait.

All the best.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Its up – The new Microsoft advertising campaign to take on Apple featuring Jerry Seinfeld

I’ll let you decide what to think – Check it out here first..

My reaction – I was quite disappointed really. Microsoft has been given so many things it could throw back at Apple (as the Apple ad's did to Microsoft), but instead the analogy was comparing shoes. I really didn’t get it.

I bet the guys who wrote the Apple ad's are absolutely rolling in laughter at this attempt.
The Apple ads actually focus on the technology (albeit from a slapstick view), but nonetheless they are incredibly appealing to all, and convey the Apple message – This advertisement didn’t have anything about the technology and in my opinion was not appealing.

Come on Microsoft – You can do much better than this!!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Windows Server 2008 – What it means from a techo’s perspective

Hey everybody,
I’ve now installed Windows 2008 Enterprise x64 onto a really nice HP ProLiant DL580 G5 (4x 2.9GHz Quad Core CPU’s with 12GB RAM, and 8x 146GB hard drives in a RAID-5 array) server.

My experience so far has been really great. Windows 2008 appears to have been well thought out and well designed.

Some stand out new features that I love in Windows Server 2008 includes:
Ability to extend or shrink a partition on the fly
This is a very cool feature with Windows Server 2008. It lets you shrink and expand a hard drive partition on the fly without the need for a 3rd party application. You can even expand and shrink the operating system partition on the fly without the need for a reboot. This is a very exciting development for me as I’m always adding more disks to the RAID array, and it’s now easy to extend the partition out.

Bare metal backup and recovery (without the need to go offline for backup)
For me this is a really exciting development. This feature allows you to take a full disk image (using Volume Shadow Copies), and can save it to either a network drive or an external USB disk. Previously to get a similar type of bare metal backup you would have had to use something like Ghost, however these products usually required the server to be offline to be able to get the image. With Windows Server 2008 this feature can be run on the fly, and can also update the original backup taken incrementally. In the event you need to recover the server (for example the OS partition is corrupted), you can boot off the Windows DVD, and then enter the Recovery console and elect to restore one or more partitions from the backup image. I don’t view this as part of our daily backup routine, but I do view this as part of our disaster recovery solution, and will take updated snapshots once a week or so.

Power savings
Whilst I haven’t dabbled with this yet, Windows Server 2008 comes with many features to save power such as the ability to fine tune how much power the hardware components are using

Terminal Services remote Apps
Windows Server 2008 has some very exciting new terminal services capabilities. The big one for me is that you can enable a specific application to be able to be run remotely, and then the on the client side, you place a short-cut to the application on the terminal services server and it will be run just like it was installed on the client. But without the need to be in a full terminal services session (full desktop console)

Read Only Domain Controller (RODC)
Windows Server 2008 also has the ability to be a Read Only Domain Controller (or RODC). This is great for environments where you might not be able to fully guarantee the server’s security (physically). This means that the RODC cannot be written to or updated from an Active Directory perspective (only read from).

Windows High Performance Computing (HPC) Server 2008

For the first time ever – Microsoft is releasing a High Performance Computing (HPC) version of its operating system. The HPC bits actually sit on top of a vanilla installation of Windows Server 2008 (64-bit only).This version is intended to compete in the high end of town, and be run on a 64-bit environment natively and can scale up to thousands of CPU cores. It is a purpose built operating system for clustering and has better systems management, job scheduling, networking interfaces and storage capabilities over the vanilla version of Windows 2008 Server.

Just a warning for all of you who are thinking about deploying Windows Server 2008 into your environment – Make sure you check with all of your 3rd party software suppliers to make sure they fully support your new environment. I’ve had massive issues with our anti-virus products as well as our 3rd party backup applications. Luckily the products I am using are supported, so they are working with me on a fix.

Anyway – That’s all from me on Windows Server 2008 – A quick sum up in 2 words: I LOVE IT.


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Foobar for VMWare - Why can't I start my virtual servers today?

Hey everybody,
I am now done and dusted with those 2 subjects for my Uni degree, and I now only have one left –
On wireless technologies. I’ve got 3 weeks off on holidays, so I’m going to get some R&R, plus I need to start thinking about upgrading my MCSE certs to MCITP Enterprise (for Windows Server 2008).

I was going to be blogging about Windows Server 2008 today, but the big news today is VMWare are in the headlines for the wrong reasons. Apparently if you have the latest version of ESX (3.5.x Update 2) you will be unable to boot your virtual servers up today (the 13th Aug) or ever after until a fix is released.

See the official Knowledge Base Article here:

Nothing has been said about what happens to virtual servers already running (presumably nothing will happen until you try and reboot your virtual servers), however VMWare have announced a licensing bug where the software cripples itself on the 12th August 2008 (presumably this functionality was supposed to be for the demo version, and should have been un-locked as part of the registration process).

The immediate workaround that VMWare have announced is just to roll back the hosts system date and time (not that it’s much of a work-around), but I’d say a patch will be coming out within the next few hours to correct this problem.

Anyway – That’s it from me for the minute – I’m currently building up a really nice HP ProLiant DL580 G5 server with Windows 2008 for one of our production servers, so I’ll be back in the next few days with my experiences from that.


Friday, July 11, 2008

Just a note to let you all I’m still here :-)

For me the next month will be pretty heavy – I’m wrapping up 2x university subjects at the moment which will mean that I only have 1 subject left before I finish my Masters degree. All being equal I will then have it finished by the end of this year.

One of my subjects is quite hard – I’m studying Encryption – The standards I’m learning about are
DES, 3DES and RSA. Not only am I having to learn them at a high level, I have to learn the mathematics behind them. For DES and 3DES this is not so much of an issue (as there is little maths involved), but RSA is extremely complex and involves large Prime numbers and Mod maths.

The other subject isn’t too hard – It’s focused on IT Security (more on the ethics side than the technical side), but with a focus on learning about Linux – The 3 flavours I’m learning include Red Hat, Fedora Core and Ubuntu.

Some exciting technology developments have happened over the past week:
HyperV (the new Hypervisor for virtual servers running on Windows Server 2008) has been released to manufacturing (RTM). This means that anybody who has an appropriately licensed Windows Server 2008 can run virtual servers in full production mode

- The new 3G iPhone – Apple have released the new 3G iPhone in Australia. I’m currently looking for a new phone, and the iPhone looks like it would suit me down to the ground. Although I must say when I compare it to other midrange to high-end mobile phones of around the same price, it does look like a number of the iPhone’s features are now obsolete – For example the phone only has a 2MegaPixel camera – Other new phones are coming out with 5MegaPixels. Another example is a built in FM radio, most other phones from Nokia or SonyEricsson do have a built in radio. If the iPhone had a built in FM radio I’d be sold, but at the moment I'm not convinced.

Anyway – I better get back to my Uni work – I’ve got 2 assignments due in 2.5 weeks time, and then the final 2 exams on the 4th and 5th August.


Monday, June 23, 2008

Data Centres in a box – What’s the go?

Portable all-in-one Data Centres are starting to become more prevalent. First was the APC Data Centre in a truck, and then came the Sun Portable Data Centre in a container and more recently (and more extreme) a floating Data Centre on a cargo ship.

I’m sure there are more businesses out there who are selling their own spin on the portable Data Centre, but what does it actually mean to have one of these services available to you?

I think that the most common use for these will be as a ‘service’ meaning you rent the ‘box’ for a period of time and contained within that box is a plethora of server equipment, networking kit and some form of portable high-speed internet connection (Satellite?) of which will either come pre-configured or self-configured.

I think the uses of these portable Data Centres are fairly limited however, and are probably confined to a few key areas:
- Disaster Recovery – As long as you can get your hands on one of these portable data centres fairly quickly (depending on business SLA’s), these could be very useful in providing a big punch fairly quickly without the need for costly ‘on standby’ equipment – You just need the space to put the truck, container or ship.
- Companies that have a large requirement to be very mobile – For example a news network, or a TV network covering motorsport, an events company that has a large IT dependency or even a geographical research / materials company (land or water)

I suspect the use for a floating Data Centre would be fairly limited – And probably for quite illegal activities (international waters). Which brings about an interesting question – Who’s laws would the data centre be liable to follow? And who would enforce them?

Anyway – That’s it from me – I’m back from holidays now, so you will start to see some more activity from me over the coming weeks.

Have a good one : - )

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Microsoft LiveMesh – What’s it all about – And my initial experience

As I write this, I am installing the latest web based application from Microsoft called LiveMesh onto my laptop.

I’m not sure what to realistically expect, however the marketing catch phrase from the LiveMesh site “Live Mesh puts you at the center of your digital world, seamlessly connecting you to the people, devices, programs, and information you care about—available wherever you happen to be”.

This statement instantly gets me thinking about a seamless way of storing and accessing my files from any device that I have. I suspect that I’m not unlike most people – I have a work laptop, a personal PC and a mobile phone (running Windows Mobile).

Because I spend so much of my time at work I sometimes have my personal files on my work laptop (and vice versa). One such example is my current Uni assignment (on Cryptography). I do quite a bit of work on these assignments during my lunch break, and then I save the files off to a USB thumb drive to copy over to my home PC.

I know there are other various “cloud computing” type web sites and applications around that let you store your files online, however they are a hassle to use.

The Microsoft LiveMesh experience seems to be promising more than just another online repository for your files – And a quick overview of its features it looks like it just very well might live up to its promises. These features include:
- Multiple devices synchronised with the latest content from the LiveMesh site - This could include not only your own PC’s, but family and friends PC’s that you want to share files to – For example photo’s
- The ability to access the files from the LiveMesh site directly (no matter what PC you are using) – For example at an Internet CafĂ©
- The ability to structure your LiveMesh storage using Folders. From the looks of things these folders can be replicated back to the PC
- Remote Desktop connection sharing – Now this could be pretty cool indeed

The LiveMesh application currently only supports Windows XP and Vista – It looks like future enhancements will include synchronisation capabilities to your Windows Mobile Smartphone and also Mac OS.

So – It looks like Microsoft are making some pretty big promises here – I’ve just completed the installation on my Windows Vista laptop, and I’ll also install it on my home PC (Windows XP) in the next day or so, and will let you know what transpires.

Have a good one : - )

PS - The graphics do look pretty slick – Here are a couple of snap-shots:

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Welcome and about me :-)

Hey everybody,
I’m Phil, and I thought I’d start a technology oriented blog about my thoughts and experiences in this wonderful industry.

First up – A little about me - I am currently a Systems Engineer for a small but global IT Analyst company. I manage all aspects of the IT infrastructure globally which includes everything from PC's to servers, networking equipment, email systems, internet connectivity and web delivery systems for all of our office and customer delivery locations.

I’m also a volunteer Systems Administrator for the online dive forum

I have just completed my MCSE on Windows Server 2003, however I plan to obtain an MCITP: Enterprise Administrator (the MCSE equivalent for Windows Server 2008)

I'm also currently studying a Masters degree (Networking and Systems Administration) via distance education with Charles Sturt University, which I aim to complete at the end of this year.

Software wise I’m very lucky in that I have grown up with Microsoft technologies – My first PC that I actively tinkered with was running DOS 6, and I have had lots of experience with every Microsoft operating since (including Vista, which I have been running on my production laptop for over a year now) – I’ll be blogging more about Vista a little later on.

From a Server Software perspective I’m familiar with most of the various applications around, including Exchange, SQL, SharePoint, IIS, ASP.NET, LiveComms Server, VirtualServer, VMWare and Hyper-V (in Windows Server 2008).

From a Server Hardware perspective I've had most experience with HP servers and solutions. I have also used Dell and IBM servers; however my preference is definitely HP. If I’m feeling particularly vocal one day, I’ll tell you why I think HP produces far superior servers than its competitors.

Outside of technology, my interests include:
- SCUBA diving – I’m a PADI Rescue Diver, but have done most of the work for the DiveMaster course (just need to do the exams if I want it).
Extreeme Underwater Ironing
- Boating
- Motor sport - V8 Supercars
- Watching movies
- And sometimes a quiet night on the couch with a good glass of red wine

Please feel free to drop me a line about anything IT - I’m happy to share my experiences, thoughts or comments about anything, and am happy to get comments or feedback!

Over the next few weeks, I have a number of exciting technology projects coming to fruition, one of which is beta testing a new Microsoft product called
LiveMesh. From the LiveMesh site "Live Mesh puts you at the center of your digital world, seamlessly connecting you to the people, devices, programs, and information you care about—available wherever you happen to be"

I’ll be posting shortly with my initial feedback.

Anyway - Hope you find this blog valuable.
Phil P