Tag Archive for Microsoft

Amazon AWS Tips and Gotchas – Part 2 – AWS EBS & RDS MS SQL

Continuing in this series of blog posts taking a bit of a “warts and all” view of a few Amazon AWS features, below are a handful more tips and gotchas when designing and implementing solutions on Amazon AWS, including EBS and MS SQL on RDS.

For the first post in this series with a bit of background on where it all originated from, see here:

For more posts in this series, see here:
Index of AWS Tips and Gotchas

AWS Tips and Gotchas – Part 2 – EBS & RDS
  1. You cannot increase the size of EBS volumes without stopping the instance. If you are designing scale-out / high availability solution then this is not a big issue as you should be able to take some downtime on any individual node, but that downtime is going to be fairly significant, and the larger the volume, the more downtime you will incur. The actual process looks like this (summary below):
    • Stop the instance
    • Snapshot the volume
    • Create a new volume from the snapshot, with your new larger size
    • Detach the old volume
    • Attach the new volume and start the instance back up

    This is one of those features which is bread and butter for a vSphere or Hyper-V admin, and could be done online in seconds with the vast majority of guest operating systems.

    I think it really highlights the key difference between designing for AWS Cloud, and a traditional enterprise virtual infrastructure. In a solution where most of your hosts are ephemeral, this should not be a big issue. If you try to take a traditional enterprise approach, you may find yourself in hot water, having to take service downtime to make simple changes.

    I suggest where possible / appropriate, avoid using EBS and use alternative options such as S3 which can scale on demand.

  2. Similar to resizing EBS volumes, you cannot hot-resize an instance, or indeed resize them / change their type in place. In order to change instance type you need to detach any EBS volumes (including root volumes if you wish to maintain them too), terminate the instance, create a new one and re-attach your volumes.
    Obviously you cannot re-attach a root volume if you are using instance storage (ephemeral) for this, so make sure you use EBS backed volumes if you want to maintain your root volumes for any scale-up elements of your solutions which cannot simply be re-created from a bootstrap script.
  3. If your application depends on Microsoft SQL, you are going to be in for a fairly unpleasant surprise! It is not currently possible to resize MS SQL volumes on Amazon RDS once they have been deployed! At all. Full stop. Nada.AWS MS SQL - say what nowThe recommendation from AWS is to deploy your estimated future capacity requirement from day one! Not very cloudy at all…Your only growth option when you hit your initial capacity limit is to migrate all the data to a new RDS instance and take some application downtime to fail over.This can be minimised by using things like log shipping from the source instance to get the target as close to up-to-date as possible, but you will still need to shut down and swing your applications, and frankly it’s a risky headache which would be better avoided if possible, and certainly not something you want to be doing on a regular basis.Probably best to design for your estimated growth, and add a percentage on top.

Find more posts in this series here:
Index of AWS Tips and Gotchas

Amazon AWS Tips and Gotchas – Part 3 – S3, Tags and ASG

Windows Server 2012 MCSA Upgrade 70-417 Study Guide and Exam Experience

Sat and passed the 70-417 exam this week so thought I would get a few thoughts down for the benefit of the handful people who may still be planning to sit it. Yes, I know it’s Windows 2012, and I am writing this in 2016, but I’ve been a bit busy the last few years doing “other stuff”. 🙂

Preparation Materials

The list of materials I used to prepare for this exam were relatively few, and were certainly very inexpensive!

  1. Upgrading Skills to Windows Server 2012 Jump Start on Microsoft Virtual Academy – not massively in depth, but a great introduction to the new features in 2012.
  2. What’s New in Windows Server 2012 R2 Jump Start on Microsoft Virtual Academy – again, a good overview on the new changes. This of it as the foundations on which to build your new skills!
  3. Pluralsight training: Dipped in and out of the 70-410 / 70-411 / 70-412 courses for areas I needed additional knowledge. The quality of course material on Pluralsight is second to none and they are always my go-to video training provider. The only shame is that they don’t have a specific 70-417 course, which you can get on their biggest competitor (CBT Nuggets).
  4. Pluralsight: Windows Server 2012 Remote Desktop Infrastructure.
  5. Exam Ref 70-417 Upgrading from Windows Server 2008 to Windows Server 2012 R2 (MCSA) by J.C. Mackin. This was by far the single most effective aid to learning all of the new features, as well as passing the exam! If you only have time to use one study aid, this is the one to invest in. It’s also only just over a tenner! I will definitely be investing in these official guides for my future MS exams (if I do any – see below!).
  6. Followed the blueprint on the MS 70-417 site, to confirm that I had a reasonable understanding of each of the areas tested.
  7. Spent a number of hours installing and configuring as many of the different new / updated features in Windows 2012 R2, on my home lab (Intel NUC Nanolab). In terms of getting to know what the different configuration options and processes are, this is invaluable!

Exam Experience and Tips
This exam is unlike most other MS exams (or indeed other vendor exams) in that it is broken down into three distinct sections, covering each of the three equivalent exams (70-410/411/412). Once you complete each section, you cannot go back to the previous one. Personally this is not a massive issue for me as my exam technique is to answer and move on. If I’m unsure, I go with my gut feeling as this is probably more likely to be right than anything I come up with spending 10 minutes wavering back and forth between answers!

Taking this three section element a step further, your final grade is actually based on the lowest score of each section. Worse still, if you don’t meet 70% in any one section, even if you ace the other two, you fail the exam. No pressure then! I believe it varies, but I had less than 60 questions, roughly split three ways between the sections.

Everyone is going to have their strengths and weaknesses but I personally found the middle section the trickiest, passing by relatively small margin, but the first and last were not too bad.

It felt to me like the typical mixed MS bag of easy marks from simple questions, and the insanely difficult “how would you know that one setting or feature unless you had implemented it in some obscure use case”. This is perhaps where I feel sometimes MS exams are not very realistic, and don’t actually test your real world understanding / skills. This has become even worse in the past few years, as you are now expected to memorise literally hundreds of PowerShell commands, many of which you will probably never use, or could check using the ISE when you need to.

In terms of tips, my number one suggestion is that you definitely make sure you know all of the key PowerShell commands required by the blueprint / exam guide. Beyond that practice as much of the configuration as you can in your home lab, as you will be expected to know which “nerd knobs” to turn and buttons to click to achieve some activities.

Closing Thoughts on the Current State of Microsoft Exams
I have stated this openly previously, but I will say it here again. I strongly object to the concept of certifications which are linked to a specific product version, having an expiry date. There is absolutely no benefit to the individual, or indeed the industry to have someone take the same exam over and over again every couple of years, and any particular version is only “current” for 3-5 years anyway.

Do employers of vocational degree graduates expect you to go back to University every couple of years and re-take your finals to prove you understood the content? Of course not! They take your degree as proof that you understood the subject matter at the time, and that you have gained skills and experience both from that time and subsequently.

The other joke here is that the technical certifications themselves do not actually prove that you truly know how to do the job anyway, especially with the prevalence of brain dumps, and IMHO are only a gateway and aid to recruiters. Unless you’re a contractor, the further you progress in your career, the less potential employers actually seem to care about these certifications anyway. They appear to me to be seen as a “nice to have”, but your experience and skills are far more important.

For this reason I have decided that even as a self professed certification junkie, it is very unlikely that I will take my new MCSA 2012 and upgrade it all the way to the MCSE, largely due to the 3 year time limit and re-certification requirement. I would far rather spend my limited time learning other new technologies (for example AWS, Docker, Vagrant, etc) with or without certification, and using those new skills to progress my career.

I don’t think there is any doubt that the new Microsoft is making a great many positive decisions under Satya Nadella’s leadership, but the organisation’s decision to expire certs is not one I can get myself behind.

HP Discover Europe 2014 – Day 2 Roundup

Day 2 started early with the first sessions beginning around 8.30am. I won’t bore you with the details of my day, but I will go through three really great new products / features I spent time learning about. Much of the info below came from slides, or discussions with product managers / engineers, so should not be taken as gospel!

HP OneView
I have to admit I have been a little lax in having a look at OneView as yet. I took the opportunity at the event to have a chat with some of the OneView engineers, and take the hands on lab. If you haven’t already done so, and you have any HP kit on premises, I strongly suggest you take a look at this product! I’m not going to go into any depth here, except to describe one of my favourite features.

OneView has the ability to connect into your servers, storage, and fabric, then auto-deploy, configure and manage your environment, end-to-end. An example of this might be if you are provisioning a new server. OneView can create new volumes based on specific policies, auto-configure all of your SAN zoning between your server initiator and targets (with single initiator, multiple target or single initiator, single array options only for now), then build the OS, configure and mount the storage on the server. How cool is that?

HP OneView

HP OneView

This is currently based on a specific subset of vendors, mainly only HP and Brocade AFAIK, but other vendors are being added in the future.

Having played with it in the lab, I can confirm that it is pretty easy to learn and use, with most information and configurations layed out reasonably intuitively in the BUI.

For more information on OneView see HP’s site.

ProLiant Gen9 Features
As I understand it, one of the key strategies behind the new ProLiant range is to ensure that HP are not losing on price / value against some of their less pricey competitors (who shall of course remain nameless as you know who they are already!). The premise here is that instead of buying top of the range servers with all the wizardry built in by default (with an appropriately top of the range price!), you can start with a base unit and only add the features you actually need. A prime example of this being that you don’t need a storage controller if you just boot from USB for a hypervisor!

This strategy has led to the removal (by default, you can configure it back again) of things like 10Gb FlexibleLOM network ports, front panel fault indicators, the onboard RAID card is now a plugin module, etc. The theory being that the Gen 9 servers, though newer, should actually come in at a better price point than their Gen 8 ancestors. The marketing shpiel is that the new Gen 9 servers deliver “the right compute for the right workload at the right economics every time”.

HP Gen 9

HP Gen 9

Cheesy marketing slogan? Absolutely!

Do they seem to deliver on this? From some of the indicative pricing I’ve seen so far, I’d say yes…

Just as a quick overview of the new ranges:

  • 10 Series (DL60 / DL80 Gen 9)
    • The 10 series is designed to be an entry level model for SMBs. These also now come with dual PSU as a CTO option, which suddenly makes them a lot more attractive in my mind.
  • 100 Series (DL160DL180 Gen 9)
    • This is not the same as the old 100 series machines from the G7 era and before. It is effectively equivalent to a DL3x0e (entry) machine in the previous generation ranges.
  • 300 Series (DL360 / DL380 Gen 9)
    • This now equates to the original DL3x0p series of machines, and has the maximum scalability and performance in mind.
The following (poor photo sorry) is a great slide which just lists out the key differences between each model in the range:
HP Proliant DL80/180/380 Gen 9

HP Proliant DL80/180/380 Gen 9

I suggest checking the quick specs for more info!

3PAR File Personas
As regards one of my favourite announcements from the entire event (apart from The Machine, which I will do a post on some time in the future), I was able to gather some more info on the awesome new File Personas announcement.

The first, most notable fact was that the HP are so confident in the resilience of their new arrays, that they are offering a 99.9999% Availability Guarantee! Many SLAs in the IT industry are not necessarily a guarantee of a claimed level of availability, but more a level of commercial risk accepted by the vendor or provider. That said, going with “Six Nines” definitely shows belief in your product set!

HP 3PAR File Personas

HP 3PAR File Personas

A few nuggets of info I gleaned from attending the File Personas breakout session were as follows:

  • Priority Optimisation will work but is not currently certified as supported. The following technologies are inherited from block persona, and are supported from day one:
    • Wide striping
    • Replication
    • Thin Provisioning
  • From a multi tenancy perspective, the initial release will only utilise up to one Active Directory source per array (not per Virtual File Server) as the controllers each have machine accounts in your domain, which is somewhat disappointing as a service provider who always asks “can it be multi-tenanted?”. It will provide up to 4 IPs per virtual file server, and these can be on separate VLANs and trusts may be used, so there is some scope for flexibility.
  • Licensing and configuration of virtual file servers is always based on multiples of 1TiB (note TiB not TB), but you can then use quotas to subdivide your file store allocations below this.
  • The $129 per TiB is based on the amount allocated to a virtual file server, irrespective of the back end storage or thin provisioning utilisation. You will not be forced to license the entire array. For example:
    • You have an array with say 100 TiB of usable space
    • 10TiB allocation to a virtual file server
    • 5TiB in use by end user files
    • 10TiB of license required

The price point seems genuinely good value to me. Compared to the cost of purchasing, powering and managing something like a Windows File Server Cluster, it’s really a no-brainer!

That should just about do it for today! Final day tomorrow will be mainly comprised of a few more sessions followed by a looooong wait for my flight home…

Disclaimer: As an HP customer, HP kindly provided my accommodation and entry to the HP discover event, but there was no expectation or request for me to write about their products or services.

HP Discover Europe 2014 – Day 1 Roundup

It’s been a pretty interesting day here at my first HP Discover, and I thought I would jot down a few thoughts about the day. Many of my opinions and thoughts are slightly biased by the fact that I also attended my first VMworld only last month, at the same venue, so it has been very interesting to compare the differences…

The first thing that really jumped out at me is the level at which the conference appears to be targeted, from a technical perspective. There is definitely a much more business user focussed feel to the event, with many more “people in suits” around, though still plenty of opportunity to get your geek on with the engineers in the Discover Zone. This seems to be reflected in the content at the sessions I have attended so far, which seem to be more around business objectives and solution value, rather than deep dive technical specifics. I guess part of this is driven by the target audience, and part by the vast array of HP products represented. There simply isn’t enough time or space to be able to deep dive on every HP product!

HP Discover at Fira Barcelona Gran Via

HP Discover at Fira Barcelona Gran Via

Speaking of space, although HP Discover is only slightly larger than VMworld (around 11,000 attendees vs 9,000), they actually utilise halls 4 & 5 of the Fira Barcelona Gran Via as well at halls 6 to 8.1. If you thought you had sore dogs by the end of VMworld, you can multiply that up by another 50% for HP Discover; the place is simply vast! If I am fortunate enough to be invited back next year, I may have to try to sneak in a scooter!

It's Mahooosive!

It’s Mahooosive!

My morning was mainly spent taking in a few sessions including a very interesting panel discussion on SDN, Network virtualisation and BYOD, hosted by the inimitable Ethan Banks (of PacketPushers).

For me, the keynotes continued the themes I have mentioned above.

I wont go into all of the specifics of all of the announcements as I’m sure there will be plenty on the blogosphere who will do it better justice than I can, but there were a couple of bits and bobs which were particularly interesting to me personally and I recommend people check out, including:

  • 3PAR 7200c/7440c/7450c
    The new 3PAR 7000c line of mid tier arrays, which has been evolved somewhat with the usual increases in capacity, but more interestingly, the ability to present both block and file direct from the controllers using the new file personas feature which the LonVMUG’s own Craig Kilborn did a great intro on. The pricing looks interesting too at $129 per TB, which even at list price would be very good value as long as you don’t have to license all of the usable storage in your array, whether you need it or not; something I want to find out asap! 🙂
  • HP Enterprise Services for Office 365
    At a high level this seems to be the ability to have HP manage your Office 365 environment either within the standard MS DCs, or potentially within an HP DC. For me this is a step in the right direction, but where it would get really interesting would be if they could extend it all they way out to a customer DC, where I could then potentially look to use things like Exchange in Online Mode, for compatibility with remote desktops (RDS/XenApp etc).

In the afternoon I spent some time in the Discover Zone having a chat with a number of technology experts. A couple of nuggets which stuck for me were:

  • HP will (at last) be providing a Storage Spaces certified JBOD solution early next year; something they have been missing for no discernable reason.
  • DL80 servers now have dual PSU capability if purchased as a CTO SKU. If all you need is a bunch of compute hosts for your vSphere farm, booting from USB and using FC/iSCSI storage, then you wouldn’t go far wrong considering these, or even the DL60 range…

In the evening I attended the UK&I Customer Reception at the W Barcelona, which was highly enjoyable, thanks HP!

Overall, a very interesting and enjoyable day one event, and great to see HP still continuing to innovate. By the time I hit my room this evening, both my feet and brain were tired out!

Tomorrow I plan to take in some more sessions, have a nose around the tech preview zone at some point and revisit one or two of the converged systems stands, as well as have a play with OneView.

A RedHat Red Hat

A RedHat Red Hat!


PS – Marketing award of the day has to go to the guys from RedHat. You couldn’t look anywhere without seeing a sea of Scarlet Fedoras within hours of the start of the day! Must try to grab one tomorrow for my kids… 🙂

Disclaimer: As an HP customer, HP kindly provided my accommodation and entry to the HP discover event, but there was no expectation or request for me to write about their products or services.

%d bloggers like this: