Windows Server 2008 R2 offers very significant improvements

I don't understand why Microsoft virtually diminishes the value of the R2 release. I bet that many people out there perceive R2 to something like a Service Pack, which is mostly about bug fixes. However, Server 2008 R2 has quite an improved performance and feel to it!
Support of clustering and "live migration" of virtual machines are very important functionality. But even something "small" like the hot add/remove of SCSI disks is a great value to administrators.
I sure don't like everything that comes out of Redmond, but Hyper-V had a quality level way above MS average from the start, and the team is continously getting it better and more complete. Good job guys!

Published: Sep-03-09 | 0 Comments | Link to this post

Server 2008 R2 & Windows 7 VM on MacBook Pro ...what a great combo!

I just upgraded my Windows Server 2008 installation on my 2 year old MacBook Pro. I dared and did an inplace upgrade to R2, as I didn't want to go through all the hassle of reinstalling the different drivers for the MacBook Pro again. I was happy to find that the upgrade process was straight-forward with no major obstacles: only the error message that comes up to warn about the Hyper-V service, which as stated should be switched off for the upgrade ...except John Howard clarifies that it shouldn't!
Almost all my drivers survived the upgrade, except for the Bluetooth capability (it looks like the Bluetooth stack Spence Harbar created for Server 2008 no longer works with R2).
I also had configured several "Vista-like" features for my Server 2008  (a great list of suggestions can be found here, here, and here). As one would expect, some of those settings were deactivated/overwritten by the new install, but that is no real problem either.
What made me really happy was to see the improved performance and responsiveness of the whole setup, across the board. One key fact stands out here: the memory requirements of the new "Windows 7 Ultimate" virtual machine I then installed are about 50% lower than the Vista virtual machine I had been running so far: it uses no more than 450MB, as can be seen here:
Windows 7 RAM Requirements
This is great news, as I like to run only my core applications such as Office off the Host, use a dedicated Server VM for SharePoint development, and have a separate VM to trial new software, so to avoid to screw up my host.
As my MacBook Pro model doesn't allow me to use more than 4GB of RAM I was  previously limited to running only 1 VM at a time. No I can keep 2-3 VMs running with no recognizable performance problems.
I was close to buying a new machine, which I usually do every two years, but with the new setup I'll probably be able to postpone that for quite a while :-)
Update: A friend of mine passed the Bootcamp 3.0 drivers on to me ...and I was very happy to find that FINALLY it is possible to "tap/click" using the MacBook's trackpad.

Published: Aug-21-09 | 0 Comments | Link to this post

System Center Data Protection Manager SP1 offers great "Asset protection"

I don't know who invents these cumbersome product names at Microsoft ...but the product certainly is much better than the name suggests.
With the Service Pack 1 (SP1), which was released a couple of months ago, the product has been improved to a level that will make it very hard to ignore when it comes to backup needs for assets that are stored in SharePoint, SQL server, Exchange Server or any kind of Hyper-V virtual machines. See an overview of the latest improvements here.
From our perspective the product has numerous outstanding features. "Item-level" restore of SharePoint assets comes to mind first, but it is the deep integration with several of the major Microsoft server products - a strategy that Microsoft has played time and time again - which makes it increasingly harder for any competitor.
Also, the simple and elegant way of implementing a two-stage backup process (disk and - optionally - tape) is just great. So far only Iron Mountain is offering a hosted solution for tape-backup, which I believe is a very good way to implement this. So far they have been "hush hush" about the pricing on this solution, so I wonder if it's really available yet, but I guess it's just a matter of time for them, or their competitors, to make this available.
The DPM install process altogether is not too bad, but there are a few things that have to be configured manually. There are also still a few major issues to be aware of, when implementing the latest release, especially with the Hyper-V support. It might just take the "famous 3rd release" for DPM to gain mainstream acceptance, but I am sure it won't be long before this will be out.
Another potential issue is around Firewalls, as the solution requires the install of an "agent" on the managed servers. In our experience, disabling the local firewall, installing the agent, and then re-enabling the firewall worked fine, but there are reports from people that came across the need to do some more manual work to open up the specific ports, e.g. as mentioned here.
The one potential problem that did take us a good couple of hours to track down was not specific to DPM itself, but to our ISA server that provides a VPN tunnel/gateway: even though the respective ISA rule was set to "Allow all outbound trafffic" the RPC filter had to be disabled in the System Policy editor and the firewall rule.
To sum up, the current release is definitely great value, as it makes not just backup, but also restore, so simple. Do yourself a favor, especially if you have been backing up your SharePoint data with nothing but stsadm, look at least at this document to get yourself convinced about the great added value of SCDPM. Also, here's the overview page for the SharePoint&SCDPM integration.

Published: May-08-09 | 0 Comments | Link to this post

A Cloud for Everyone

Hype seems inevitable for business. Microsoft just joined the bandwagon and announced Azure. Meanwhile, Richard Stallman clarifies that this most likely will lead to the same kind of lock-in with one vendor as we've seen it many times before. But this time it's worse, it bears incredible privacy issues.
Well, while we wait to see what great offers will come via cloud computing, let's just remember what the promise is all about. The first thing that comes to mind is highly-available solutions, paired with little need for knowledge to set up these rather complex multi-server solutions. Then there is the promise of lower cost (but then we know that the cost will be just as before once they have the majority of us consumers on the hook, right? ;-) However, even a single server that's well-connected to the internet in many countries still costs you an arm and a leg (try Dubai!). And even in "first world" countries like Germany it is quite typical to pay as much 2000 Euros per month just for a dedicated 100MBit line, which is less than an arm but still more than most small businesses would like to invest into what is only a small part of the overall investment into their portal solution.
Enter Strato: they're one of two major mass market hosting companies in Germany and offer servers starting at slightly above 200 Euros a month (includes the rent for server and the shared 100MBit internet connection) that are spec'ed well enough to run a small server farm on them. The offer is well hidden on their site, so here's a direct link to the XLW-5 and XPro-5 servers.
There's a couple of caveats though:
- they come with a Web Server Edition of Windows Server 2008, which is pretty useless. They also only sport 1 Network card, whereas for Hyper-V you really need 2. However, you can get their KVM (Keyboard, Video, Mouse) service hooked up for a little extra money per month to compensate for that.
- Installation of the new OS version is a bit tricky, but nothing a good geek couldn't find a solution for (did I just call myself a geek? ;-) The biggest challenge was that the virtual network adapter of the virtual ISA server had to be set to a MAC address that matches the MAC address of the physical network card of that server, as otherwise traffic will be blocked by the Strato internal routers.
Static MAC address
The connection to the internet is quite excellent (even though it is not a dedicated line) as most of Strato's customers are consumers that download from the internet, rather than upload to it.
The net result with this setup is an enormous yearly saving over a comparable dedicated internet connection. So, while we await the cloud computing to hit us, here's a very real opportunity for small companies to save as much as 20k Euros per year on each physical server.

Published: Nov-09-08 | 0 Comments | Link to this post

The Virtual ISA Server

ISA Server and SharePoint get along very well. E.g. the Alternate Access Mappings concept in SharePoint 2007 ties in well with the link mapping capabilities of ISA Server 2006.
Then again, Hyper-V is a perfect platform to run a SharePoint server farm. So I was wondering when we first started deploying SharePoint on Hyper-V at the end of 2007, whether we could also virtualize the load-balanced ISA servers with it. That would be so much easier to administrate altogether!
I found this article that confirmed my gut-level feeling: Understanding Networking with Hyper-V. This clearly looked like the Host server could be entirely disconnected from the network, and that all traffic would have to go through the virtual ISA servers, making this a pretty secure virtual solution!
Well, we weren't quite there yet! After a successful installation of the ISA servers we later experienced quite some problems with the load-balancing and, through trial and error, solved the problem by using Legacy network adapters for the ISA servers.
A couple of weeks later Ben Armstrong hinted in the right direction, stating that Offloading was the cause of the problem. Mark Wilson summed it up quite well, again a few weeks later, and in June, Microsoft finally released some definitive information about the issue.
Long story short: ISA Server 2006 works great on Hyper-V. We are using it both for load-balancing ISA servers and SharePoint Web Frontends and it hasn't let us down once in all these months.
Of course, one can still add more hardware-based firewalls as a first-line defence for additional security. However, I love the additional functionality the ISA Server offers, on top of the security it provides.

Published: Nov-04-08 | 0 Comments | Link to this post