Archive for category General

Austin Editors Guild: “The Technology of Editing” (March 23, 2017)

I’m looking forward to speaking at the March meeting of the Austin Editors Guild.

Here’s an overview of the topic:

Join us this month to up your tech game! We’ll talk about features in Microsoft Office and Word that will help you improve your workflow, editing process, and document management. Don’t worry if you don’t have the latest versions—we’ll discuss both free and paid options for upgrades.

We’ll show demos on how you can use Microsoft Word and OneNote to manage the editing process. You’ll also see new features in action and practical applications for their use, such as real-time document collaboration, advanced formatting features, Word’s new grammar-checking feature, SmartArt graphics, and more. Anil will share real-world examples of how he’s managed his writing and editing projects for a variety of major publishers, lessons learned, and tips for dealing with poorly organized environments and processes.

For more information, visit the Austin Editors Guild Web Site; and view updates on Twitter (@austineditors).

5 Strategies for Moving Your Business to the Cloud (Article)

BizTechLogoI recently wrote an online article for BizTech’s Small Business magazine, titled “5 Strategies for Moving Your Business to the Cloud“.  Here’s the introduction to the topic:
Small businesses can use the cloud to gain scale and ensure that their infrastructure keeps up with their growth ambitions.
When a small company finds itself growing, it often faces serious challenges in maintaining an IT infrastructure capable of keeping up with the rest of the business. Leveraging cloud implementations can provide huge benefits to small companies facing these challenges. However, as with any IT initiative, a sound technology strategy can make the difference between success and failure. Here are some important considerations, based on my consulting experience…
Please see CDW’s BizTech site for the complete (free) article and more cloud-related articles for SMB’s.

Building and Managing Storage Environments for MSPs: Free Webinar on 05/27/2015

I’ll be presenting a Ziff-Davis webinar on the topic of Building and Managing Storage Environments for MSPs.  The topic will cover best practices and considerations for moving from local-based storage architectures to storage-based service offerings.  For more information, or to register for the free webinar, please visit Building and Managing Storage Environments for MSPs.

Optimize SQL Server with Flash Storage: Webinar

On March 12th, I’ll be presenting a free online webinar titled, “Optimize SQL Server Performance with Flash-Based Storage – On a Budget“.  Here’s an overview of what the session will cover:

Are you tired of database latency? Low transaction throughput? Have you created a complicated storage design just to eek out a few more IOPS? If you answered yes to any of these questions then you should consider investigating flash-based storage. A flash-based storage array provides consistent performance, simple storage design, and low latency for SQL Server workloads such as OLTP, Business Intelligence and Data Warehousing.

Register for the webinar to learn more about how moving to flash-based storage addresses many of the pain points that application owners and DBAs face in the spindle world.

SQL Server and storage-related issues are among the most common issues I run into with my clients.  This presentation, sponsored by PureStorage, will try to dispel many of the myths and not-so-best practices, and will include some real-world input from Rob “barkz” Barker, Solutions Architect at Pure Storage.  Be sure to register if you’re planning to attend!

SQL Server Optimization for Developers Presentation in Austin, TX

imageOn April 14th, 2014, I’ll be presenting a session titled, “SQL Server Optimization for Developers” to the Austin .NET User Group.  The free event will opportunities for networking, food and drinks, and (of course) a presentation.

Here’s a brief overview of the topic and the presentation:

Database optimization is a critical component of overall application performance, and sub-optimal configurations can limit reliability, scalability, and the user experience. Unfortunately, many developers see database monitoring and optimization as a black art – something that’s better left to production and operations specialists. This presentation will focus on practical, real-world methods for monitoring and optimizing performance for SQL Server-based applications. Demonstrations will include understanding index types, capturing query data with SQL Profiler, analyzing indexes and using the Database Engine Tuning Advisor. In addition to live demos the content will focus on managing locking, managing schema changes, and application design best practices for developers.

If you’re in the Austin area, I hope to see you there!

Update: You can download the slides from the presentation from my SQL Server Presentations page.  And, coming soon: A full recording of the session, courtesy of UserGroup.tv (thanks, Shawn!).  Thanks to everyone for attending!

Update 2: The entire recorded presentation has been posted on UserGroup.tv: SQL Server Optimization for Developers, along with my previous videos.  Thanks, as always, to Shawn for recording the session.

MVP Award for 2014!

SAM_0545I recently received my 11th Microsoft MVP Award!  I’m really happy to once again be included in the program, and I’ll definitely but the benefits to good use.  Thanks, as always, to everyone at Microsoft for the award and for making the program so valuable!

The Imagine Cup Competition

After a couple of decades of working in IT in a wide variety of different capacities, I still fondly recall my first computer: The Commodore 64.  Apart from playing tons of games, interacting on BBS’s, reading computer magazines, and writing basic (technically, BASIC) programs, I had a lot of fun just learning about how computers worked.  That was still in the early days of home computing.  Even back then, though, I had so many different ideas for great applications and games.  Now, of course, technology that is many millions of times more powerful is available globally and to a huge portion of the world. 

To me, one of the most important goals of being involved with IT is to inspire others to do the same.  There are so many different aspects of application design and development, data management, systems administration, game design, and related fields that it’s a great field with which to excite people.  Backgrounds in science, technology, and math are well complemented by skills in art, literature, entertainment, geography, sociology, and dozens of other fields. 

imageTo In order to help foster that spirit, Microsoft has created Imagine Cup.  This program is as an annual competition that allows groups from around the world to design software and receive feedback from industry judges.  The overall challenge:

Imagine a world where technology helps solve the toughest problems

Competition categories include user experience design, mobile application ideas, and a wide variety of other technologies.  More details and statistics on the Imagine Cup Competition are available from the Imagine Cup Wikipedia Page.  You can also see a summary and a list of winners in that article.

If you’re interested in participating in the competition, see the All Competitions page to get started with a list of different categories and areas of focus.  You can create an account, form a team, and submit your materials using the site.  This year, winning contestants even have the chance to Meet Bill Gates!

I’m currently volunteering as a judge for the User Experience competition, and so far I have been really impressed with the thought, effort, and creativity that the contestants have shown.  Be sure to use the links in this post to find more information!

Microsoft Virtual Academy Courses – Free IT Training

I often get requests and questions related to training, along with general questions about how I keep up with technology.  They range from general requests (“How do I get started with database administration?”), to much more specific (“How can I implement High-Availability for Hyper-V in Windows Server 2012 R2 without purchasing expensive shared storage?”).  There’s often a wealth of information available online, with sources including blog posts, product web sites, training videos, White Papers, and industry publications (online and offline).  The challenge often becomes trying to organize the available information and to manage your learning.

The Microsoft Virtual Academy (MVA) site is a free resource that includes a huge collection of free, online learning materials on dozens of topics.  The content provides both topic-specific (Virtualization, Hybrid Cloud, etc.) and product-specific (Hyper-V, System Center, etc.) content.  In addition to standard online courses, there are also live events.  The content is presented by industry experts (such as Microsoft MVPs), along with Microsoft’s own product developers and managers.

I recently participated in a multi-day Windows Azure Jump-Start series (if you’re interested, the content will be made available on-demand).  You can find, sign up for, and attend events using the Microsoft Virtual Academy Live Events page.

The MVA site also offer some other convenient features.  You can earn “points” on the site for completing training courses and evaluations.  It’s kind of like Xbox Live Achievements, and it helps to see how much time and effort you’ve put into keeping current or learning something new.  You can also add various courses to your My Learning Plan queue, so whenever you have some free time, you can jump quickly into a course.  You can even download an unofficial Transcript to keep track of which courses you’ve finished.

Overall, if you’re looking for a good way to keep up with Microsoft products and industry best practices, I highly recommend visiting the MVA site.

Central Texas GiveCamp: Oct. 18–20

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Does your idea of a perfect weekend involve writing code, eating pizza, and working with other local-area IT professionals?  Well, if you’re a developer, designer, DBA, etc. and you enjoy at least one of the three, this event might be for you. 

The Central Texas GiveCamp event allows area developers to volunteer their time to help local non-profit and charity organizations.  I participated a couple of years ago (unfortunately, not for the whole weekend code-a-thon), and had a great time.  I think it was a great opportunity to meet other developers and to help design and implement solid technical solutions on a tight timeframe (and who isn’t used to doing that?). 

For more information, visit the Central Texas GiveCamp site.

SQL Server Presentation Recordings by UserGroup.tv

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UserGroup.tv is providing free recordings of my recent SQL Server presentations at the Austin Code Camp 2013 event.  While the attendance was excellent, I’m sure some people were unable to attend in-person.  Here are the links to the presentation recordings:

Thanks to Shawn Weisfeld and UserGroup.tv for their hard work!

More [Google] Fiber in Austin’s Diet

imageAustin has long been known as a high-tech city, and it’s one of the many reasons I have loved living here for over 20 years.  Earlier this week, the technology news just got better: Google Fiber is coming to Austin!  We’ll soon be joining Kansas City with access to 1Gbps symmetric bandwidth.  For customers that don’t need that level of performance, they can opt for paying a one-time (or one-year) installation cost for free Internet access from there on.

If you live in Austin, you can visit the Google Fiber Austin page to sign up for more information (when it’s available).  Now, comes the hard part: The wait until the service is available in my area (in Central Austin).  Estimates so far indicate that it will be at least another year before that happens.  Still, it’s good to know that this kind of connectivity is on its way! 

Office 365 / Office 2013 “Office is Busy” Error Message

In general, I’ve been very happy with my Office 365 Small Business Premium subscription, and I use many of the Office 2013 applications all day, every day.  I have especially liked the ability to quickly and easily install Office 365 licenses on other computers, and the seamless way in which they’re automatically configured with the most important settings.

Recently, however, I’ve started seeing the following error message when I try to launch any of the Office 2013 programs:

Office is Busy

We’re sorry, [application name].exe can’t be used right now because Office is busy.  We’re either updating or helping you add or remove some programs.

You can try using [application name].exe again after we’re done.  It shouldn’t take long.

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Contrary to the information, the error message appears to remain indefinitely.  A search of the Microsoft Community Office Forums shows that I’m not alone.

In some cases, the problem occurs even when I have other Office applications open.  For example, if I’m actively using Outlook any try to launch Word or Excel, I’ll get the above error.  From then on, all of the applications fail to launch or work properly.

In some cases, rebooting the computer (something that I do rarely) has resolved the issue, but in others, it has not.  Fortunately, there’s a fairly quick method that seems to work to resolve the problem: In the Control Panel “Uninstall a program” applet, you can highlight your Office 2013 installation (the exact name will vary by your subscription type) and click Change.  You’ll see the following two options:image

For me, the Quick Repair option has worked on each of the dozen or so times that I have had to run it in the last few days.  You can get more information in the support article titled Repair Office programs.  The process takes several minutes, and then results with the following:

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It does appear that all of the Office 2013 updates remain installed and do not need to be downloaded again. 

Unfortunately, the advice on the forums is, at best, an annoying workaround.  I’m not sure what is causing this problem (which never occurred prior to a couple of days ago), but I’ll follow up with Microsoft and see if I can get some information.  If I do get more details, I’ll post them here.

A Quicker, Faster Workaround

Update (04/05/2013): One piece of information from the Microsoft Community Office Forum seems to have simplified the troubleshooting process: For me, simply stopping or restarting the “Microsoft Office Service” has resolved the problem every time it has occurred.  You can do this using the Services applet in Control Panel or by using the command line:

NET STOP “Microsoft Office Service”

I put the above line in a batch file, and I run it whenever the issue occurs.   It only takes a few seconds, so it’s a much better workaround until there’s an official solution.

MVP Award for 2013

I was really happy to find out that I have again received the Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) Award in the specialization area of Windows Server – Virtualization!  I’d like to thank my MVP Lead, Michelle Campbell, and everyone else at the Microsoft MVP program!

Speed Up BitLocker Encryption using Windows 8

I’ve been a huge fan of the BitLocker Drive Encryption feature in Windows desktop and server machines.  I have enabled BitLocker on all of my desktop, mobile, and server computers, plus external drives.  I’ve enabled encryption to help ensure that the data remains safe in the event that the drives are lost or stolen.  From my informal testing, I’ve seen minimal overhead related to encryption, and have experienced very few drawbacks.

One potential issue is the process of encrypting a new drive or device.  In earlier versions of BitLocker, the feature required the entire hard drive to be encrypted.  That includes the free space.  I recently purchased a 3TB USB 3.0 drive and noticed that, from my Windows 7 workstation, the process would take 20+ hours to complete (on a completely blank drive).  Fortunately, I realized that Windows 8 includes an enhancement that allows you to choose to encrypt only the used space on the drive? 

imageThe results?  Encrypting an empty 3TB from a Windows 8 machine (using a USB 2.0) connection took around a minute or so.  Now, I can connect it back to my Windows 7 workstation (all versions of BitLocker are cross-compatible), and start copying the data to the drive.  It’ll encrypt on the fly and will save many hours of needless overhead.  You can also use this approach for internal drives, though the hassle of removing and unlocking those might negate the performance improvement.

This is just one small part of the overall improvements to BitLocker in Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012.  For more information, see the Windows Security article series BitLocker Enhancements in Windows Server 2012 and Windows 8.  It includes an in-depth look at how you can use these features on your servers, and how you can enable BitLocker for Cluster Shared Volumes (CSVs) and manage disk encryption throughout your environment.

Just a little tip, for those of us who are still on Windows 7 but would like to take advantage of faster encryption.

Dell Tech Page One Cloud and Virtualization Articles

imageI recently had the opportunity to write several articles for Dell’s Tech Page One blog.  I always enjoy thinking (and writing/speaking) about topics related to IT architecture changes.  Over the last several years, that has focused on virtualization technology and cloud computer.  A special

Below are links to those articles, with a brief intro for each.

With the seemingly endless list of daily IT tasks and projects, it’s difficult to step back and ask a hypothetical question: How would we build out data center infrastructures if we could completely start over?

The availability of new technology is often the beginning of a new set of challenges for IT professionals. The trick is in finding how to get the benefits of improvements while staying within the constraints of budgets, human resources, time, expertise, and business requirements.

When implemented correctly, virtualization helps reduce complexity, reduce management overhead, and increase overall operational efficiency. Those words should be music to the ears of any data center manager struggling to make their business requirements and technology ends meet.

The enigmatic world of quantum mechanics notwithstanding, it’s difficult to create something from nothing. That’s especially true if you’re an IT professional tasked with meeting storage needs.

A special thanks to Ziff Davis for providing the project and getting this published!