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…
Archive for category Systems Admin
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.
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!
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:
- Recording: SQL Server Reporting Services
- Recording: SQL Server Performance Monitoring and Optimization
Thanks to Shawn Weisfeld and UserGroup.tv for their hard work!
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.
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:
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:
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.
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?
The 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.
I 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!
The Windows 8 Release Preview is now available to anyone’s who is itching to try out the latest (and last) publicly-available build before the final release of the products. Consumer-types can Download the Windows 8 Release Preview from Microsoft.com. The bits have also been posted to Microsoft TechNet and Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN). For now, my downloads seem to be going pretty quickly.
As the products are getting close to release, I’ll plan to post some tips and info to this blog over the next few weeks and months. Feel free to comment if there’s anything you’re particularly interested in reading about. I might have posted this a little sooner, but all of my bandwidth is currently allocated to download the installation media and VMs.
Evaluating and learning about complex server-side software can be quite a challenge for the busy IT pro. Often, you’re just trying to work with a feature or two for evaluation purposes, but you find yourself spending significant time just trying to setup the pre-requisites for the environment. Add in hassles related to licensing, and it can so much effort that many of us don’t end up taking the time.
While the widespread adoption of virtualization has made the process of provisioning a test environment and installing software simpler, free, online Microsoft Virtual Labs make the process even easier. Basically, all that’s required is a web browser on the client side. When you choose to launch a Virtual Lab, a server cloud will spin up a new VM, create a browser-based RDP connection, and will include all the necessary software. To make the process even simpler, you’ll see a sidebar that includes downloadable, step-by-step evaluation details and guides. The following screenshot shows an example of a SQL Server MSDN Virtual Lab that I spun up to learn more about configuring the new PowerView feature.
TechNet Virtual Labs
Microsoft TechNet Virtual Labs are focused on providing IT professionals (such as systems administrators and data center administrators) with pre-built evaluation environments that showcase various features and technology. At the time of this writing, there are numerous labs focused on Windows Server 2008 R2 features, the System Center suite of products, Forefront, and (my personal favorite) Private Cloud guides.
Architects and developers haven’t been left out either: MSDN Virtual Labs include a long list of software development-focused labs, including ones for Visual Studio, Office Applications, SQL Server 2012, SharePoint, Team Foundation Server, Windows Azure, and many more related technologies.
A Few Tips
Using an RDP session (especially, a browser-initiated) one isn’t exactly like having software installed on your own computer. However, it’s a reasonable trade-off for most of us that want to quickly try out or learn about some new feature. Here are some additional tips that can help make the experience more user-friendly:
- Limitations: While it might be tempting to cause havoc on the hosted VMs, most are locked down to prevent such shenanigans. Operations like changing IP addresses or machine names are restricted, so it’s best to “stick to the script”.
- RDP Window Resizing: In at least some Virtual Labs, you’ll need to connect to multiple VMs through a secondary RDP connection. The default resolution and size for this window is quite small. To get a bigger viewable area, first resize the Remote Desktop Connection Manager window, and then connect (or disconnect and reconnect to the VM). This way, you should be able to get close to the 1024 x 768 resolution that many applications require.
- Keyboard Shortcuts: Those of us that rely on keyboard shortcuts for simpler and quicker navigation and administration will often need to resort to the mouse to perform certain commands. Examples include the use of the Windows key (which will execute locally) and task switching.
- Screen and Input Lag: I have a solid, fast Internet connection, but I experienced a significant amount of screen lag when connecting to several Virtual Labs. Perhaps this is unavoidable, but to make the best of it, use the extra time to review the available documentation (or rejoice in the time you saved from having to setup the entire environment yourself). 🙂
- Time Limits: Virtual sessions have time limits (90 minutes for all of the labs I worked with), so it’s a good idea to set aside some uninterrupted time to finish the lab in one shot. Of course, you can always revisit the same lab later, though you’ll lose your “progress” and will likely need to repeat steps in the evaluation guides.
- Software Versions: I noticed that in some labs, earlier versions of server applications were installed (for example, SQL Server 2012 RC0 in the screenshot above). It takes significant effort to update software and the related lab instructions, so that’s definitely understandable. I didn’t find any major issues in the labs that I tried out, but it is something to keep in mind.
- Using RSS to keep up with new Virtual Labs: The list of Virtual Labs appears to be growing quickly. Both the MSDN and TechNet Virtual Lab sites have RSS feeds that can provide you with a quick and easy way to learn about new labs as they become available.
OK, perhaps it doesn’t get much geekier than decorating your office with large, complicated posters of technical knowledge. But I’ve always been a fan of Microsoft’s Component Architecture Posters (though I rarely have the opportunity to actually print and display them). These posters are designed to convey an large volume of information in a way that is easy for readers/viewers to consume and understand. They’re somewhat like the “infographics” many sites and publishers use to convey information in an easier-to-consume way.
To download your copy of the posted in PDF format, just visit the Microsoft Download Center page: Windows Server “8” Beta Hyper-V Component Architecture Poster (published March 2012). The screenshot is a very small screenshot of just one tiny portion of the overall poster. Just a couple of notes on terminology changes:
- Windows Server “8” Beta is now officially named Windows Server 2012
- SMB 2.2 is now officially known as SMB 3.0
- All information is current as of the “beta” version, and some relatively minor details (like VM CPU and memory limits) might change prior to the official release.
Thanks to John Howard’s post on the Windows Virtualization Team Blog for the information. I think we can look forward to an updated poster sometime prior to or soon after the general availability of Windows Server 2012. I’ll update this post if/when that happens.
Migrating to a new operating system can be tricky, with some special “gotchas” for various applications. While Microsoft has done a great job in minimizing driver changes that can impact application and hardware compatibility, there are always some exceptions. One particularly problematic piece of software for me has always been Cisco’s AnyConnect VPN client. I rely on it for connecting to my clients’ networks and, for the most part, it works well on Windows 7.
While testing the Windows 8 Consumer Preview, though, I ran into some problems. While the standard x64 installer for the client seemed to work properly, the client would automatically disconnect after authenticating with the VPN server. I’d receive the following error message:
Secure VPN Connection terminated locally by the Client.
Reason 442: failed to enable Virtual Adapter
Thanks to some really helpful posts online (references below), I found that the solution was to make a minor change to the Registry. First, using RegEdit, find the following Registry path:
You should see a key called “DisplayName”. Simply change its value by removing the unnecessary characters at the beginning of the name. In my case, I was left with “Cisco Systems VPN Adapter for 64-bit Windows”, and everything worked fine when I tried to connect again. It’s a strange bug (and one that I wish was better documented), but I have been up and running after this change on three different computers.
If you’re unfamiliar with editing the Registry (and the inherent dangers therein), the below links will provide more details).
Update for Windows 8 Release Preview:
The above Registry path on my most recent installation seems to have changed; on my primary computer, the correct path is:
Fortunately, the DisplayName key change worked fine for me.
The Cisco AnyConnect VPN client seems to be aging, and support is difficult to come by unless you have a Cisco support account. Fortunately, there are other third-party commercial and freeware alternatives. It has been a while since I’ve used any of them, but one that I see mentioned often is the VPN Client for Windows from Shrew.net. Feel free to post a comment if you’ve had any experiences (good or bad) with VPN alternatives.
One of the most annoying Windows desktop-related issues I have run across over the past several years is related to Power Management. I routinely use sleep mode (with hibernate on my mobile computers), and rarely reboot my computers. In fact, on my primary computer (which sees a lot of virtualization and development-related action), I tend to reboot the computer weekly, or even less often. However, power management has not always worked as well as I would have liked. It seems that there are always applications and device drivers that want to interrupt what you do.
One such offender was Microsoft’s own Windows Media Center in Windows 7. While I didn’t know it at first, after deploying Windows 7 to my new workstation, my computer was automatically waking up each morning before I did (and I usually wake up pretty early). I tracked down the issue by running the “powercfg –lastwake” command. While it doesn’t always provide the most useful information, below is the result I received:
C: \Users\Anil>powercfg -lastwake
Wake History Count – 1
Wake History [O]
Wake Source Count – 1
Wake Source [O]
Type: Wake Timer
Owner: [PROCESS] \Device\HarddiskUolume2\Windows\System32\services .exe
Owner Supplied Reason: Windows will execute \Microsoft\Windows\Media Center
\mcupdatescheduled scheduled task that requested waking the computer.
Disabling “wake timers” in my power configuration profile didn’t seem to help. This pointed me to the “Scheduled Tasks” feature, where I was able to drill down to the source task. I unchecked the option to allow this task to automatically wake the computer, and all went well – no more automatic power-on signals at ~3:00am. Of course, the same approach could be used to troubleshoot other wake-related issues.
Knowledge of Power
While it’s not always easy to find, Windows OS’s contain a wealth of monitoring information and reports that can help track down various issues. One example is the built-in “System Diagnostics” report that can give you some insight into how your computer is managing power.
Unfortunately, I have still run into other power management-related issues, and nothing I have done has seemed to help. For example, on two different Windows 7 installations, I have had an issue where the monitors would automatically come out of power-saving mode. I regularly use three monitors, and want them to go into a low-power mode when I log off the computer. The monitors power off correctly, but they seem to wake at random times, even when no mouse, keyboard, or other devices are connected (or allowed to wake the computer). I’ve tested everything from potential Wake-on-LAN issues to installing and reinstalling software to no avail. I suspect that the issue might be a USB-to-DVI adapter that I have used on both computers, but I do need to use that (and unplugging it and uninstalling the drivers didn’t seem to help). If anyone has any suggestions, I’d be happy to try them!
It’s no secret that IT professionals and their organizations have been significantly affected by the downturn in the economy. Those of us that have been through the so-called “dot-com” days can see how much things can change within a few years. Fortunately, at least some companies are developing resources to help IT professionals weather the downturn. I’d go a bit further in saying that these otherwise dismal times can provide significant opportunities for those that are willing to invest in their skills and their profession.
The Microsoft Thrive web site is a free resource that is designed to help IT professionals in a variety of ways. For example, the site includes the following goals and areas:
- Advance Your Career
- Enhance Your Technical Skills
- Align IT with Business
Some of the content is Microsoft-focused, but much of it applies to just about any area of IT specialization.
I’m honored to say that I’ve been chosen as the Thrive IT Pro of the Month (see Thrive IT Pro of the Month: Anil Desai)! I recorded a brief (~9 minutes long) presentation that covers, among other things, some recommendations for IT pros to get ahead, how IT pros can demonstrate their value, details on technology-focused topics and even a mention of the importance of hobbies.
The entire audio presentation is available from download using the previous link. Here’s an excerpt from the written transcript:
As an independent consultant, I’m fairly diversified in the area of IT. I’m also used to the ups and downs in the IT industry, starting from the dot-com days in the late 1990’s to today. I use a variety of different specializations to fill in the inevitable downtime between projects. So, I’m fairly fortunate in that I’ve been able to maintain my business through the recent crunch.
However, the downturn in the economy has certainly had an impact on my clients, especially in the area of prioritization. Many organizations have focused on cost-cutting and many organizations have removed or scaled-back many of their non-essential projects. Those changes can sometimes translate into lay-offs, increased work for remaining staff, and short-term changes at the expense of long-term gains.
All of this provides some serious challenges (as well as some opportunities) for IT professionals. One change is that it really puts the emphasis on IT professionals’ ability to work as a strategic part of their businesses. I’ve heard it said that people know when IT departments are doing their jobs when they don’t know that IT departments are doing their jobs. The idea here is that IT is traditionally seen as a behind-the-scenes force (or sometimes just as a cost center). Business leaders might feel that IT provides little strategic value to the overall business.
Tough economic environments bring this issue to the forefront: IT professionals must understand overall business goals and must be able to apply the right technical solutions to solve business problems. And, they need to demonstrate their value within and outside of their IT groups. For those IT pros that have been able to focus on just the technical aspects of their skillset, this is a good time to branch out into the rest of the business world.
Feel free to e-mail me if you’d like the entire transcript. And please post here if you have any questions, comments, or recommendations for your IT peers.
IT operations groups and datacenter managers are always searching for new ways to reduce costs while still meeting security, configuration, and compliance requirements. Fortunately, there are numerous methods by which organizations can achieve these goals. On February 25th, I’ll be presenting a free, live webcast on the topic of The 2010 Data Center: Driving Cost-Efficiency, Security and Compliance. Here’s an overview of the topic from the webcast’s web site:
Thursday, February 25, 2010
10AM PST / 1PM EST
With the new decade comes new opportunity to implement the best technologies and practices for IT. Join this FREE live webinar to learn how to cost-effectively plan, implement and manage a 21st century data center to drive greater efficiency, security and compliance.
You’ll hear from leading experts about ways organizations are leveraging technologies such as virtualization and configuration management to build flexible, resilient, cost-efficient and high-performing data centers for 2010.
Join now to:
• Get a blueprint to plan and implement IT best practices to modernize, consolidate, and secure your technology environment
• Hear how to cost-effectively drive improved security and compliance across your IT infrastructure while staying agile and competitive
• Learn about the benefits of a combined solution for configuration assessment with configuration change auditing for improved data center operations
The presentation is arranged by Focus.com and is sponsored by TripWire. I’ll begin the presentation with an overview of technical best practices. Then, Barak Engel from EAmmune will provide specific information on products, technologies, and approaches you can use to achieve these goals. We’ll wrap up by taking live questions from the audience. The entire webcast should last under an hour.
IT people tend to be known for a lot of things (both good and bad), but the classic geeky poster seems to be a mainstay for most technical professionals. Among block diagrams, Dilbert comics that take thinly-veiled shots at clueless management, and software architecture posters, it seems like there’s something for everyone.
Of course, posters can actually be informational and useful. Microsoft has recently made a Windows Server 2008 R2 Feature Components Poster available for free download. While it would be difficult to print this out (it’s roughly 44” x 24” in full size), it provides a really clear, concise overview of the new features in Windows Server 2008 R2. The list of sections includes:
- Active Directory Domain Services
- File Services
- Remote Desktop Services
The content helps illustrate that the R2 release isn’t just a minor upgrade – there’s probably a lot more in here than most administrators are aware of.
You’ll also find a sidebar of acronyms and plenty of useful notes and tips. While it’s no replacement for complete documentation, I think these posters do a great job of providing a lot of information in a limited space.