More than 50,000 views

Wow, what can I say? The YouTube videos that I have created how now surpassed a total of 50,000 views since I uploaded the first video. For those that have watched the videos, I thank you, for those who have provided feedback and comments, I also thank you but I would especially like to thank all those people who have chosen to actually subscribe to my channel (which you can find at The next target that I would like to achieve with the videos is 100 subscribers. The current count is about 85 and rising.

Once again to anyone who has taken the time to view the videos I thank you very much. Roll on 100,000 views!

One virtualization too many

Being so chuffed at converting all my physical machines to virtual machines I decided that maybe it was time to look at Virtual Server 2005 R2 as an option.

The good thing about Virtual Server 2005 is that it can use Virtual PC images directly which saves any messy conversions. The bad things are one – it has to go onto a Windows Server box (Virtual PC can go on Windows XP or Server) and it also needs IIS for its management console. It certainly does provide some additional flexibility but to my way of thinking makes things more complicated that I really wanted but hey I’ll give it a go.

So I copied the existing virtual PC hard disk across from the original XP host machine, configured a new virtual PC in Virtual Server 2005 and bang the image was up and running. Wow, that was easy I thought. Maybe Virtual Server is the way to go? Everything seemed to be going along swimmingly until I began to notice a number of unexpected reboots of the newly created virtual PC. Then I started to get errors about disk corruptions and messages saying the virtual PC hard disk was locked and therefore the virtual PC wouldn’t start.

Hmmm…what is the problem here? Thinking, thinking. Ah ha, noticed that most of the issues seemed to happen at the top of the hour. This was also was the time that our Shadowprotect was running creating image backups of our host machine hard disk. So it appears that Virtual Server 2005 machines don’t like imaging software like Shadowprotect. My guess would be that this is because the virtual PC hosted by Virtual Server 2005 has no idea that an image is being taken and doesn’t invoke Volume Shadow Copy. Thus the virtual server hard disk (apart from being HUGE) doesn’t get ‘frozen’ by VSS and thus issues arise. Just my guess mind you.

So in the end I shut down the Virtual Server 2005 image, copied the virtual PC hard disk back to the original XP machine, fired up Virtual PC on the original XP Machine and then launched the original virtual PC (with the updated virtual hard disk – no other changes made). Guess what? It just powered up without any issues! Clearly another benefit of using Microsoft virtual technology (ie virtual hard disk inter-changeability).

So in my experience it appears that if you have Shadowprotect (or any other imaging disk software for that matter I suspect) and you are running virtual machines (again my guess is you’ll see this whether you use Virtual PC, Virtual Server or VMWare) then you are going to have problems, that may lead to all sorts of virtual PC reboots and possible disk corruption. As I said I am not exactly sure of the specific cause but I am in the process of speaking to Storagecraft (the makers of Shadowprotect) about the issues.

You have been warned.

I found another 512MB in my HP server

Every time I install a HP with SBS I always install 4GB of RAM. Why? Well, simply put this is the limit of SBS 2003 (since it run Windows Server 2003 Standard edition) and memory is so cheap these days. In some systems (SBS Standard) sure it is probably an overkill but you never know, so 4GB it is. Problem is with HP servers you never get access to the whole 4GB of RAM. Usually about 512MB goes missing.

Missing where you ask? Well, I understood that it has to do with the motherboard and memory reserved for PCX controllers (and what not) that is never really used anyway so it just get wasted. I always accepted that as fact since I generally didn’t have much time to muck about on clients systems. However, after recently virtualizing all my server onto a single HP server with exactly 4GB of RAM I decided that I wanted to know where that lost memory actually went to, since the more RAM I have on my server the more RAM I can give my virtual machines.

So after doing some poking around I found the following link that talks about the missing memory. Now, it appears to access the memory above 4GB of RAM in Windows systems that support it (ie Windows Server Enterprise and Datacenter) you need to add the /PAE switch to the boot.ini. What does the /PAE switch do? Well, here’s a link from Microsoft that explains the function of the /PAE option.

So, because my HP server is running Windows 2003 Enterprise and has exactly 4GB of RAM I decided I had nothing to lose by giving it a go. Guess what? After the reboot I now had exactly 4GB of RAM! That’s at least 512MB more than what I had prior to adding the /PAE switch.

Hmmm…upon reading the HP link a little closer and doing some more poking about it appears that the /PAE option maybe valid on HP systems with exactly 4GB of RAM even if they are running Windows 2003 Server Standard (ie SBS 2003). Now, not having a 4GB SBS 2003 HP server to test this on I need to find a (non-production) system that I can test this on to see if it does in fact give back the 512MB consumed on SBS 2003 systems with 4GB of RAM installed.

So, if you have a HP server running SBS 2003 with exactly 4GB of RAM it may be worthwhile adding the /PAE switch to the boot.ini to see if you recover the “lost” 512MB of RAM. It shouldn’t work on SBS 2003 but it may do because it has something to do with HP machines specifically. Like I said, I haven’t actually tried this on a HP system running SBS but it certainly worked on a HP server running Windows Enterprise Server.

If someone out there wants to test the /PAE switch and let me know if it does recover the RAM I’d be grateful but in the meantime I’ll just have to bide my time until we get a new SBS order so I can test it for myself.

Help Microsoft Office videos

Video number 38 is up

So it’s a New Year right? So it is about time for new video right? Right! So we have just posted our latest ‘How to’ video onto YouTube. This video shows you how to create a rule to block web sites using ISA2004 (which is part of SBS 2003 R2 Premium).

The video covers the creation of the rule as well as the impact of the rules and its (options) on a networked workstation. The video was created with the latest Camtasia Studio Version 5 so hopefully there will mean improved outputs. I am still fiddling with all the options and optimisation settings to produces the best results. Camtasia Studio Version 5 also allows the overlay of captions which looks like it will be handy as I flick between server and workstation. I still haven’t quite worked out how to manually get the zoom in option going but the software seems to do this pretty well on its own but I’d still like to know how to do it myself.

Ah well, more playing with the software and maybe actually reading the help pages will not doubt assist in this matter. So I hope that you enjoy the latest instalment and as always feel free to send you comments and abuse to where I may or may not respond depending on how much you say you like it! 😉

Post virtualization thoughts

I think that I have achieved my goal of reducing the number of machines on which my network runs. There is plenty of good about this: 

  • less power consumption therefore a greener planet.
  • less hardware to maintain.
  • an ability to tune the RAM for each virtual to exactly what I want. Thus, if the web server is using 203MB then I can set up a virtual machine with say 233MB of RAM and use the remaining ( you’d normally have to put 256MB physically into a machine so I can scrimp 23MB for another virtual machine) somewhere else.
  • I get better utilization out of my hardware (ie things like the processor are now running at 50-60% instead of 5-6%).
  • I can ‘freeze’ each virtual PC rather than having to completely shut down the machine If I need to do maintenance.
  • I can copy/backup a virtual machine by simply copying files. Sure they are big files but now if I want to migrate to faster hardware I do a simply copy and then fire up the virtual PC on the bigger, better, faster machine – upgrade done.
  • I can quickly isolate a virtual PC from the network by removing the mapping of the virtual network card from the physical network card. This is great for maintenance tasks that may affect the network.

There are obviously some bad things as well:

  • Disk performance is slower since all machines share a single physical disk which gets thrashed more.
  • If I get a corrupt virtual PC image then I lose the whole virtual PC.
  • I have a single piece of hardware that can still fail and if it does ALL my virtual machines are out of action.
  • Virtual technology doesn’t give as good performance as physical machines.
  • Converting physical machines to virtual machines does take some fiddling.
  • Working with virtual PC files requires much greater transfer times since the files are GB’s in size. A simply cut and paste can take 10 minutes.

Some other comments I’d make on the process I took:

  • Sure I could have used Windows Virtual Server but Virtual PC is quicker and doesn’t require IIS. Also the virtual PC images are more easily moved. Not being an expert in Virtual Server I’m sure eventually that the virtual PC images will end up in Virtual server, my thinking is that if machines are already virtual PC’s then they are going to be easier to move to virtual server should I choose.
  • VMware conversion is something that needs more research, I have done it very successfully with workstation images using Shadowprotect but servers appear to be a different kettle of fish.
  • Virtual PC’s don’t like non-Windows environments. Shadowprotect boots in virtual PC but man is the network transfer slow.
  • If you are migrating a production environment spend the time and do it properly, don’t try and do it off the top of your head. You’ll make mistakes and the conversion process will take twice as long. Sit down and define the steps you can take and what the roll back is.

In conclusion, I have no doubt that virtualization is the way of the future, it has too many advantages to ignore. Virtualization can work in an SMB environment but there are still some considerations to take into account (eg speed). Now that everything is converted I’ll keep posting what I find as I’m sure I’m bound to uncover some more interesting lessons.

The transformation is almost complete – Part 3

This is the final part in the saga of my intention to migrate all my network equipment (servers and workstations) into virtual machines on a single piece of hardware.
In our last episode you may remember that I had ended up doing a swing migration of my SBS 2003 server onto a new machines. After a few hiccups I had it all working. Now the final task was to migrate the stand alone ISA 2004 server I use as a firewall device.
ISA 2004
Ok, so this machine does nothing except host ISA 2004 as a firewall and web proxy. It only has a small disk and very few apps installed. My concern was because it has two network cards that there might be issues (and I was right).
So, the first attempt was again to do a Storagecraft image of the original machine and then simply do a restore to a new clean Microsoft Virtual PC (no more attempts to migrate to Vmware, two strikes were enough to convince me that I needed to do more research to understand the process). After imaging the server I restore into a Virtual PC and Windows booted but I started having all kinds of issues with ISA 2004. My guess is that this stemmed from changing both network cards in the machine simultaneously. Now I could have sat down and tried to resolve things but since this was a firewall machine  and I’d never be completely sure whether I had fixed everything, I decided that it would be better (and quicker) to rebuild a new machine from scratch. Besides, there wasn’t much software to install and once I had ISA 2004 running I “should” be able to simply import the rules from the old ISA box straight into the new box (in theory).
After installing Windows Server and then ISA 2004 I exported the firewall rules from the old server and attempted to import them into the new server. On attempting this I was greeted with the following :

Hmmm, not good, catastrophic failure eh? Thinking, thinking, thinking. Bing! Ah ha, the new ISA 2004 server doesn’t have ISA 2004 Service Pack 3 installed. Installed that and now the import works! Yeah.
Problem was that ISA still wasn’t working correctly. When I looked at the rules I saw that they still referred to the old listener, so I changed that, still no go. I cleaned up the rules, removing what I didn’t need. Still no go. I checked the configuration and network cards. Still wouldn’t work. When all else fails try a reboot. Guess what? It worked after that. So even if you make changes to ISA 2004 you may still need to reboot for them to take effect.
Ahhhhh, finally done. All the machines are now virtualized and I can dispose of all the old hardware. It had taken a long while and there were plenty more bumps in the road that I expected but I had managed to do what I had set out to achieve.
In my next post I’ll summarize what I found along the way with some more thinking about the whole virtualization concept as I think it has particular relevance in the SMB market. For the record I’ve gone from 6 different pieces of hardware into a single piece. If that doesn’t cut my electricity bill I don’t know what will!