I have finally returned from vacation and dug out from all of the clutter that always seems to accumulate while I am gone. While I wish that I was still in the Caribbean soaking up the sun, I’m ready to get back to business.
In a way my vacation was quite the eye opener for me. No, I didn’t spend my time off optimizing a cruise ship’s or a hotel’s datacenter. Rather it was what happened in my own datacenter while I was gone that was an eye opener.
What happened was a lesson in evolution. Not evolution in the sense that I think that my great, great, great grandfather was a chimpanzee, but in the sense that one of my servers has evolved.
Because I write about so many different types of topics, I had to convert the entire second floor of my home into a datacenter. I spend an astronomical amount of money on hardware each year, and believe me when I tell you that you don’t want my electric bill.
Back in the spring I decided that I could cut costs by buying a really high performance server, and using it to host virtual machines rather than using dedicated hardware for all of my lab servers. Normally, I attach battery backups to all of my production servers, but I never bothered to buy a battery backup for this machine, because it wasn’t actually a production machine. It is just hosting fifty or so virtual server images, many of which I blow away and recreate on a regular basis.
A couple of months ago though, I started working on a new book. The book’s labs all build on one another, so I have been forced to create virtual machines and maintain them for longer than I normally do.
While I was on vacation, we had several power failures that took this server offline. The power fluctuations corrupted the hard drive containing the operating system. When I remembered that all of the virtual machines that I needed for my book were on the machine and that I have a fast approaching deadline, my heart sank (at least until I remembered that I do back the machine up).
I put a new hard drive in the server, restored my backup, and all was right with the world again, or so I thought. Initially, the RAID array containing all of my virtual machine images seemed to be undamaged. This morning though, I booted one of the virtual machines that I had not used since before my vacation and had a bit of a surprise. I was not able to open any of the management consoles. Every time I tried I received a Class not Registered error.
This error message usually means that a critical DLL file is no longer referenced in the system registry. Since I was up against a deadline I took the lazy way out and reapplied the latest service pack. This corrected the problem quickly and easily. Even so, the whole situation made me realize that servers can go from trivial to mission critical without anyone really realizing it. It has me thinking about what other precautions I need to take to safeguard other machines on my network.
I just wanted to let everybody know that Microsoft is having a HUGE Windows event on Friday. The event is taking place in Redmond, but will be simulcast on the Web using Live Meeting. It is a must attend for anyone who is interested in Windows 7. Here is the agenda:
|8:15 – 8:30||Kick off||Mithun Dhar|
|8:30 – 9:30||Keynote/Why Vista!||Chris Henley|
|9:30 – 10:45||The Case of the Unexplained||Mark Russinovich|
|10:45 – 11:00||Break|
|11:00 – 12:15||Building Differentiated UI Applications Using Composite WPF||Glenn Block, Bob Brumfield & David Hill|
|12:15 – 1:00||Lunch|
|1:00 – 2:00||Best Practices for Developing for Windows for Windows Standard User||Crispin Cowan|
|2:00 – 3:00||Windows Security and Bitlocker||Byron Hynes|
|3:00 – 3:15||Break|
|3:15 – 4:00||(Windows 7 + Windows Server 2008 R2) Teaser Session||Byron Hynes|
|4:00 – 5:00||Windows for everyone!||TBA|
You can register for this event online at:
I also wanted to let everyone know that I am going to be on vacation starting tomorrow. Therefore, the next updates to my blog will be sometime during the last week of December.
With the end of 2008 quickly approaching, it’s nice to kind of take a look back and see what the big IT trends of the year were. I don’t think that too many people will disagree with me when I say that virtualization was huge this year. Even so, virtualization if going to continue to evolve in the next version of Windows.
Today, there are a lot of people who run Windows Vista on the desktop, but who use Microsoft’s Virtual PC or a similar solution to run Windows XP in a virtual machine. That way they can continue to run applications that are otherwise incompatible with Windows Vista.
Windows 7 is going to introduce a concept called Enterprise Desktop Virtualization. The basic idea is that you will still be able to create virtual machines, but applications running within those virtual machines will appear to be running natively (and locally) on the Windows 7 operating system.
Microsoft hasn’t released a lot of details yet about how this will work, but I suspect that Enterprise Desktop Virtualization is probably going to use some of the same technology as Smart Grid.
As much as I like Windows Vista, I have always found it to be a bit chatty. Sure, it is important to know if a problem exists that is preventing updates from being installed, or something like that, but if I am working on an assignment, the last thing that I want is a pop up message distracting me while I’m trying to work.
Some of Vista’s pop-up messages are important, but some are downright ridiculous. In fact, I saw one this morning that takes the cake. I was working on producing a video tutorial for one of the TechTarget sites and I decided to render the movie and play it back so that I could see how it had turned out. Not wanting to disturb those around me, I plugged in my headphones. Vista actually gave me a pop up message telling me that headphones had been plugged in. Not only was this message distracting, but it blocked part of the screen that I was trying to watch the video on.
I think that Microsoft has finally gotten the message about Vista’s excessive pop-ups and nag screens. In Windows 7, Microsoft has pledged to deliver a lot fewer disruptive messages.
OK, I know what you are thinking… The pop-up messages are annoying, but some of them are important. What Microsoft has done is to create a new Control Panel applet called the Action Center. The Action Center is going to be a centralized place where you can go for the latest tasks and notifications. The Action Center consolidates all of the alerts generated by ten different Windows features including:
· Security Center
· Problem Reports and Solutions
· Windows Update
· Windows Defender
· Network Access Protection
· Backup and Restore
· And User Account Control
Now, whenever an issue occurs that needs your attention, Windows will display an icon in the notification area. When you click on this icon, Windows will take you to the Action Center so that you can address the issue.
Today I had to deal with a situation that I don’t think that I have ever run into before. On Thanksgiving I had a disk in one of my RAID arrays fail. Being that it was Thanksgiving and all of the stores were closed and I had a bunch of relatives in town, I couldn’t just go to the store and get another drive. It wasn’t the end of the world though, because the volume that failed was a RAID 5 volume, so I still had access to my data. That being the case, I just got online and ordered another drive.
On Saturday the new drive still hadn’t arrived, and a second drive on the array failed. That failure meant that I lost access to the volume. Because of the nature of the server, the failure didn’t effect anybody other than me, so getting the array back online wasn’t critical.
Today the drive came in, and I picked up another drive at the store to replace the second failed drive. I shut down the server (Windows Server 2003 R2 SP2), replaced the drives, and brought the server back online.
The problem that I ran into was that two of the drives in the array still had data on them, and two were blank. For some reason, Windows saw the array as two separate, non functional arrays, with four drives each.
To fix the problem, I shut down Windows. Since I was using a hardware based array, I booted the machine into a special array configuration utility that exists at the BIOS level. The utility identified two of the disks as orphans. I deleted the orphans, and was left with an array set that was corrupted. Therefore, I deleted the array set, and then booted Windows. This time, Windows saw the array as gone. I was then able to use the array configuration utility to recreate the array group. From there I recreated the volume, and restored my backup.
Over the last several weeks, I have tried to give you as much information about Windows 7 as I can. Writing anything in depth about Windows 7 at this point is a little bit tricky though. Shortly after the Professional Developer’s Conference, Microsoft released a pre-beta copy of Windows 7 and a couple hundred pages of documentation. Although none of that material is protected by my non disclosure agreement with Microsoft, the first beta release of Windows 7 is. I want to bring you as much material as I can on Windows 7, but I am having to be extremely careful not to accidentally disclose anything that is in the current beta, but that was not in the pre-beta build.
Having said that, there is one thing that I will tell you about the current beta. Anything can change by the time that the product is eventually released, but right now Windows 7’s resemblance to Windows Vista is uncanny.
I have to tell you that I am actually a little bit concerned about Windows 7’s future. Many in the industry are referring to Windows 7 as Windows Vista R2. Microsoft has already made public that Windows 7 is built on a Windows Vista kernel. The perception that I have gotten from talking to various people in the industry is that Microsoft is trying to build the operating system that Windows Vista “should have been”. The new operating system is supposed to offer better performance, fewer nag screens, and Microsoft is saying that any applications that will run on Vista will also run on Windows 7.
To me these all sound like positive things, but I have seen quite a few Web sites on which people are saying that they already hate Windows 7. In my opinion it’s a little unfair to render judgment on a product that’s still over a year away from being completed. Even so, I do think that it would be short sighted on Microsoft’s part if they were to make Windows 7 look and feel just like Vista. There has been a tremendous backlash against Vista, and I think that it is going to be important for Microsoft to market Windows 7 as a completely new operating system, not as Windows Vista Part 2.
In most of the organizations that I have worked in or done consulting work for, the end users had quite a bit more influence over IT policies than they probably realize. Although there are exceptions to every rule, I have found that it is the end users who do the businesses “real work” and that the business sets its IT policies according to the businesses needs. What this basically means is that the end users have to have the necessary resources to do their jobs. Over the years I have witnessed plenty of situations in which end users were vocal in their disapproval of a particular hardware or software product and the IT department eventually caved to the pressure.
It is no secret that there are plenty of companies that are still using Windows XP and have chosen not to adopt Windows Vista for whatever reason. I have always worked under the assumption that this was primarily related to hardware and software compatibility issues or budget constraints. Tonight something happened though that makes me wonder how much end user influence might be playing into the revolt against Vista.
Normally when I need computer hardware I order it online. At the moment though, I am working on another book and have a fast approaching deadline for a couple of chapters. This evening I realized that I was going to need another computer in order to make some of the labs in the book work, and that I wasn’t going to have time to order a system off the Internet.
That being the case, I went shopping at an electronics store. I don’t want to name names, but I will tell you that this is a national chain, and you would know the name if I mentioned it.
At any rate, I picked out a system, and the sales person actually tried to sell me a downgrade to Windows XP (certain Windows Vista versions automatically qualify for a free downgrade license). I didn’t really want to get into a long conversation with the sales person, so I politely declined. He started telling me that I really needed Windows XP, because Windows Vista was far more prone to viruses than Windows XP is. I guess he has never heard of Data Execution Prevention or some of the other antimalware mechanisms in Vista. To make a long story short, the sales guy was relentless in pushing Windows XP. He told me all kinds of stories about Vista’s shortcomings, some of which were true, others of which were not.
The point is that I can’t help but wonder if this is the type of misinformation that consumers are normally bombarded with. If this type of thing does happen on a normal basis, how much of that misinformation eventually makes its way back into the workplace and ultimately influences the company’s IT policies?
As someone who writes about networking for a living, it probably comes as no surprise to most of you that I’ve got my house jam packed with high end computers so that I can recreate various configurations that are typically used in enterprise environments. Even so, my desktop machine that I am writing this blog post on right now is a little bit… shall we say, dated?
It’s really not that bad. The machine is about three years old, but it was considered high end when I bought it. The fact that it only has two GB of RAM hasn’t really been an issue for me, because I don’t typically push this particular machine to the limit.
This week though, I have been working on some projects that are a bit out of the ordinary for me, and I have been placing a much heavier work load on the machine. What I have found is that Vista behaves really oddly when memory gets low.
In Windows XP, and in most previous versions of Windows, low memory causes the machine to slow down, and the hard disk starts thrashing as pages are swapped to virtual memory. This happens with Vista too, but my experience has been that there comes a point when Vista starts becoming “stupid”.
For example, I tried opening several different Web pages. The first four sites that I tried to go to would connect, but none of the site’s content would be displayed. When I tried to open yet another browser window, DNS connectivity failed. Somewhere in the midst of the chaos, Outlook lost its connectivity to my Exchange Server, and it started becoming very difficult to get Windows to close applications.
I’m not saying that these exact symptoms are going to occur any time that Vista gets low on memory. What I am saying is that if you are trying to troubleshoot a situation in which Windows Vista or Windows Server 2008 (which uses the same kernel as Vista) starts behaving erratically, then memory is the first thing that I would check.
If you have been reading my blog lately, then you know that Windows 7 is just off the horizon, and that Microsoft recently released something called Windows Azure. On top of that, Service Pack 2 for Vista and for Windows Server 2008 is currently in beta testing. My point is that when it comes to Windows, things tend to change very quickly. So how can you keep up?
Unfortunately, I can’t answer that question, but I can tell you what forks for me. Probably the most important thing that I do to stay on top of what is current is that I read everything that I can get my hands on. In fact, the various TechTarget newsletters are an excellent source of current information.
Microsoft also provides on demand Web casts that I use for training purposes. Not all of the Webcasts are relevant to what I do, so I have to pick and choose, but the Webcasts are definitely helpful, and you can play them at any time. You can find the most recent Webcasts at: http://www.microsoft.com/events/webcasts/ondemand.mspx
I also think that it is important to understand both the capabilities and the limitations of current Windows operating systems. Thoroughly understanding the current operating systems will help you to better understand why Microsoft is making certain changes to future operating systems. I personally like to read various guides to the certification exams. The reason why I use more than one is because each author presents the material in a slightly different way. Of course I am biased in that I like my own certification books too (http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_ss_gw?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=%22Brien+Posey%22).
While I am on the subject of training materials, I also like the training videos produced by a company called Train Signal (www.trainsignal.com). In my opinion, their training videos are first rate, and are often easier to follow than written text.
Finally, I try to go to quite a few IT conferences each year. Yes, traveling to a bunch of conferences is expensive, but conferences give you a first hand look at what’s going on in the IT industry. They also give you the opportunity to interact first hand with the people who are driving the industry.
Being that I write about Microsoft products for a living, I spent the weekend shopping for hardware to run Windows 7 on. Although Microsoft has given me a pre beta build of Windows 7, there seems to be a definite lack of hardware specifications. Maybe it’s buried deep within the documentation somewhere, but the only thing that I have been able to find so far is a statement on several non-Microsoft Web sites stating that Windows 7 will run on hardware that’s designed for Windows Vista.
Without a doubt, the biggest Windows 7 feature being shown off right now is its touch screen functionality. Some in the media have likened Windows 7’s touch capability to having the best iPhone features bundled into a PC.
Wanting to get the full experience, I started shopping around for a good touch screen monitor. What I found during my research is that Windows 7 uses a feature called multi touch. Essentially, this means that the monitor can recognize and respond to multiple points of contact simultaneously. Right now, there are several touch screen monitors on the market, but I have yet to find any PC compatible monitors that support multi touch.
From what I am reading, pretty much all of the major monitor manufacturers will release multi touch monitors several months from now. A company named Albatron has created the 22 inch multi touch displays that Microsoft is using during the Windows 7 development, but sadly, they have yet to begin selling these monitors to the public. Albatron currently estimates that their 22 inch multi touch display will sell for roughly about twenty percent more than its non touch sensitive counterpart.