The musings of an IT Consultant


August 4, 2008  4:13 AM

Portable Apps



Posted by: Raj Perumal
Portable Apps, PortableApps.com, USB Flash drives, USB key

Sometimes the key to being a good consultant is having the right tools at the right time. There are a lot of tools out there, some complex and some simple and straightforward that I use on a regular basis.

One of the easiest ways to carry tools around is on a USB flash drive. There are many self contained executable programs out there that will run off of a USB flash drive enabling you to use them on the go. This is especially handy to the consultant that is always on the move.

One of the simple suites of apps I like to carry around on my USB flash drive are from PortableApps.com. There you can find a lot of nice useful apps for your flash drive.

 -RP

August 3, 2008  10:46 PM

Citrix XenServer also Available for Free



Posted by: Raj Perumal
Citrix, ESXi 3.5, Hyper-V, Virtualization, VMWare, XenServer, XenServer Express Edition

Amongst all the hype about Hyper-V and VMWare’s ESXi 3.5, I think a lot of people tend to forget about the other offerings out there. Hyper-V is essentially free, available for a very low cost if you buy the Windows 2008 version with it on it. Frankly, I don’t know why you would buy the version without it. I certainly can’t think of a good reason. Also VMWare ESXi 3.5 is free now due to the recent announcement from VMWare. Based on this, it’s quick to get caught up in the virtualization fun since you can acquire either product quite readily.

 However, there is another alternative. You can try out Citrix XenServer Express Edition from Citrix. This is due to the latest acquisition by Citrix. The Express Edition version allows you to run 4 virtual machines for free. You can get it at this link here.

 -RP


August 2, 2008  8:16 PM

Bare Metal Hypervisors



Posted by: Raj Perumal
bare metal, bare metal hypervisor, Citrix, Citrix XenServer, ESX Server, ESXi, ESXi 3.5, Hyper-V, hypervisor, IT consultant, IT Consulting, Level 1 hypervisor, level 2 hypervisor, Microsoft, Virtualization, VMWare, XenServer

With Hyper-V out now, the virtualization marketing machine from all the different virtualization companies is in full swing. The battle is on and it looks like it’s going to be an ugly one. With virtualization pros on either side spouting the virtues of their product and claiming why one is better than the other.

Within the past few days I have read about a ton of cost comparisons between all the different offerings out there between Hyper-V, XenServer, and VMWare. I think at the end of the day, you need to delve a little deeper and look at the differences between the technologies that make up these products and what they mean to you and your business.

 One of the core differences that is important to me (and might not be important to you, depending on your needs) is the level/classification of hypervisor that is employed by the various companies. VMWare and Citrix both offer what are called level 1 or type 1 classification hypervisors. These are hypervisors that install on bare metal without an underlying OS. Whereas Microsoft offers Hyper-V only installed as a role on Windows 2008. This is what is called a level 2 hypervisor or type 2 classification hypervisor.

This is important because anytime you have a virtual product using a level 2 hypervisor, the hosting OS gives a larger footprint to attack and can compromise the security or stability of the box more than a level 1 hypervisor would. Now for non mission critical servers this wouldn’t be much of an issue, but for mission critical virtual machines this could be the difference between choosing which virtualization product is right for you.

However, it is said that Microsoft will be developing a level 1 hypervisor. We will have to wait and see how this progresses, because once this comes out, the lines will be even further blurred between the different competitors.

-RP


July 28, 2008  8:03 PM

VMWare’s ESXi vs Hyper-V, the details on what free really means



Posted by: Raj Perumal
ESXi, ESXi 3.5, Hyper-V, hypervisor, IT consultant, virtual machines, Windows Server 2008

I was speaking to a co-worker today and he pointed me towards Mike’s blog at http://mikedatl.typepad.com/mikedvirtualization/2008/07/esx-35i-for-fre.html. After reading through it, it was obvious he had made some really great points.

 Microsoft has offered Hyper-V for free essentially with Windows 2008 but it doesn’t include the cost of Windows 2008 itself. ESXi on the other hand is a bare metal Hyper-visor which requires no OS for it’s installation and requires no purchase of Hyper-V.

 Also, in my humble opinion, once you grow out of the SMB market and start moving up, the features of VMWare trounce what Microsoft has to offer with Hyper-V. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure Microsoft will continue to develop their offering and play catch up, but VMWare is there right now at what I find a very reasonable price.

 -RP


July 27, 2008  7:27 PM

VMWare’s Virtual Infrastructure Client in a 64 bit OS



Posted by: Raj Perumal
64 bit, ESX, IT consultant, VI Client, Virtual Infrastructure Client 2.5, Vista 64 bit, XP 64 bit

For those of you getting into VMWare, you might try and install the VI client on your machine. If you have a 64 bit OS such as XP or Vista 64, you will get an error message saying you can’t install it because it’s only supported in a 32 bit environment.

The long and the short of it is that VMWare has made some changes to the client that might cause issues in 64 bit so the developers blocked 64 bit installations intentionally. You can still get around this however.

My personal favourite way is to just install a VM on your computer with a 32 bit OS and then run the client out of there. There are other things you can do is well and I suggest you read this link found here about the situation.

-RP


July 25, 2008  2:30 PM

Monitoring in the Managed Services Industry



Posted by: Raj Perumal
Consulting, Kaseya, Level Platforms, Managed Services, Managed Services Platforms, monitoring, MSP, MSPs, N-Able, SNMP monitoring

One of the key parts of any Managed Services offering is the ability to provide adequate monitoring to your clients. There are many pieces of software out there that claim they can do othe job of providing full monitoring for a Managed Services environment. These products are typically called Managed Services Platforms (MSPs).

 I’ve had the good fortune to use and try many MSPs and the one thing I have learned is that they all have their advantages. There really is no one good platform, it’s more about which platform makes the most sense for your Managed Services Business as they all have their own strengths, weaknesses, and focus.

 The key is to find a MSP that matches your offerings to your clients. The only way to do this is with a fully functional trial. When trying out software like this, your best bet is to install it in a test pilot scenario and use it as if you were supporting a real client. Give it all the same administrative attention you would give a product that you already own and are using. This way you can see how it works for you in your day to day consulting.

 Some of the more popular MSP companies out there are Kaseya, Level Platforms and N-Able.

 -RP


July 24, 2008  3:16 PM

VMWare to offer ESXi for Free



Posted by: Raj Perumal
ESX 3.5, ESXi, ESXi 3.5, ESXi 3.5 differences, eWeek, Hyper-V, hypervisor, service console, VMWare

Hi folks, if you haven’t already heard the exciting news, VMWare is going to be offering their ESXi product for free starting July 28th! This is obviously being done to compete with Microsoft’s Hyper-V. This is great news in my opinion as it will really foster great competition between the two products and can only result in both companies putting out better products for the consumer in the long run. You can read more about it here in eWeek’s article.

 One of the questions I’ve received is what is ESXi 3.5 and how does it differ from VMWare’s other product ESX 3.5? The major difference is that ESXi 3.5 has a small footprint of only 32MB and it doesn’t have a service console like ESX 3.5 has. This means that a lot of agents (like backup agents) that rely on the service console to run will not work with ESXi 3.5. However as the product matures we will see more and more support for it. In the meantime you can still run backups as you normally would on a physical server. 

 Here is a link to a knowledge base article at VMWare that also explains some of the features that are not present in ESXi 3.5.

-RP


July 19, 2008  9:44 PM

Windows Vista to Windows XP Downgrade Driver Woes



Posted by: Raj Perumal
dv6700, dv6898ca, dv6898ca notebook, Geforce 8400M GS, HP Pavilion dv6700, HP Pavilion dv6898ca, Motorola SM56 Modem, Nvidia Geforce 8400M GS, Realtek RTL8101, Vista downgrade, XP Downgrade, XP Drivers

I have run into  a few people who needed/wanted to downgrade to XP from Vista which came with their laptops when they bought them. There are a lot of good deals to be had with laptops in the big box electronic stores and they all come with Vista pre-installed. In order to downgrade you need to first create recovery CDs so you can re-install Vista later if you ever decide to go back to it. Then you need to use oem XP media to downgrade your license and call Microsoft to activate XP. Of course after doing all of this you might run into some driver issues….

 I recently ran into this problem with the HP Pavilion dv6898ca notebook. On the bottom of the notebook it is also referred to as the HP Pavilion dv6700. However I found out that it’s exact model name is the HP Pavilion dv6898ca. I was able to downgrade the OS, and even found most of the drivers online at HP’s web site. But unfortunately the wired network card driver for the Realtek RTL8101 NIC, the video card driver for the Nvidia Geforce 8400M GS video card and the modem driver for the Motorola SM56 soft modem were missing from the HP web site. I was able to get the modem to work by using the Vista driver provided on HP’s website. But there was no luck with the network card driver or video card driver.

I contacted HP technical support and they were able to provide me with the XP network card driver link at ftp.hp.com/pub/softpaq/sp38001-38500/sp38329.exe.   However they couldn’t find a driver for the Nvidia Geforce 8400M GS video card that came with the notebook. I was finally able to get it to work here with the driver from this link: http://drivers.softpedia.com/get/GRAPHICS-BOARD/NVIDIA/NVIDIA-32bit-ForceWare-GeForce-Go-15655.shtml.

I hope this helps out you folks trying to do the downgrade. The moral of the story is to contact the vendor if you are trying to find drivers for a notebook, and if you still can’t find them, Google is your friend!

-RP


July 19, 2008  2:40 AM

The Perception of Managed Services



Posted by: Raj Perumal
computer support, Information Technology, IT Consulting, Managed Services

Being in the consulting field as long as I have, I have encountered pretty much every reaction to Managed Services offerings. Some people openly embrace it and love the idea of a consulting company completely taking care of everything for them, and other people get quite scared fearing for their jobs and don’t want anything to do with it.

 Managed Services (in the IT world), if you haven’t heard of it before, is basically a company providing a service to your business to take care of all your IT needs and concerns for a flat monthly fee. The service isn’t time based typically, instead it’s based on how many users, machines, sites etc. you might have. The company providing this service will usually provide to you a set of service levels for different urgency levels of service required and will provide regular maintenance and support to your company. They will also act as trusted advisor to your company, using their experience to consult with you on which IT direction you should take your company based on your IT needs.

 The Managed Services company not only acts as your “tech”, but also acts as your “CIO” and everything in between. Doing this can allow you to focus on your core business instead of having to worry about IT. Managed Services typically works well for SMB companies and more and more people are starting to discover it. Whether you have an IT team or not, there is no need to fear. Managed Services companies work great with or without IT teams; it just changes the roles a little bit. If a company already has an existing IT team they can use the Managed Services company to provide support where they would otherwise not want to focus their valuable time and effort and instead be freed up to work on more “important” things.

 Managed Services isn’t about taking away IT jobs from hard working individuals; it’s about working with these individuals towards the common goals and success of your core business.

 -RP


July 18, 2008  12:45 AM

VMWare and Snapshots



Posted by: Raj Perumal
ESX, redo, Snapshot, VMWare, VMware performance

This is one of those things you learn the hard way. The ability to snapshot a VM in VMWare is a great feature, but unfortunately if left unattended could grow to be a bit of an issue. Snapshots are great if you need to make changes and need to quickly undo them.

However once you take a snapshot, VMWare starts creating another file which is essentially a copy of all the changes that are happening since the snapshot. Once you are sure you are done with your work you should remove the snapshot instead of leaving it there. By leaving it there, the other file can grow quite large and affect the performance of your ESX server. Also if you finally do decide to remove the snapshot much later on, then the VMWare server will have to write all those changes back into the virtual machine. The more time that has passed, the more changes that need to be written. This can also slow down a server and I have even seen it crash ESX servers to the point where the virtual machines were still running but the ESX server itself couldn’t be managed at all from Virtual Center.

So the rule of thumb is to take a snapshot before rolling out a patch or update of some sort, do your testing and then remove the snapshot in a quick amount of time so it doesn’t have time to grow out of control.

-RP


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