The musings of an IT Consultant


July 14, 2008  1:07 PM

Vista to XP Downgrade on Laptops with No Floppy Drive

Raj Perumal Raj Perumal Profile: Raj Perumal

For those of you that don’t know, Microsoft provides the ability to legally downgrade your copy of Vista to Windows XP if it’s Vista Home Premium or higher on your laptop. The only requirement is that you have a copy of an XP CD to do this.

However most new laptops have SATA hard drives in them and you cannot access them during the Windows XP Installation sequence. When you try and specify a driver by pressing F6 it automatically asks you to insert a disk in your floppy drive and obviously that is not an option unless you have a portable floppy drive.

Don’t fret, there is an easy solution. There is a program called Nlite that is free to use and allows you to create a bootable XP cd from existing media. What it will do is allow you to integrate the SATA drivers into the installation CD so you have no need to hit the F6 key for the floppy drivers.

You can also integrate service packs and set other options with the program. Goodbye floppy!

-RP

July 14, 2008  3:50 AM

The Confusion with Hyper-V and 32 bit vs 64 bit

Raj Perumal Raj Perumal Profile: Raj Perumal

Now that Hyper-V is available, I know a lot of people are raring to go ready to try it out. I know a few people have been bit by not knowing the system requirements, especially in regards to 32 bit vs 64 bit so I figured I’d mention a bit about it here.

Hyper-V as many people know is available with Windows 2008. You can also get a version of Windows 2008 without Hyper-V. I suspect this is due to trying to avoid any anti-trust issues. Anyways, the Hyper-V component is available in both 32 bit and 64 bit versions of Windows 2008. This is where the confusion comes in. If one doesn’t read the available documentation clearly, one would assume that Hyper-V works in both 32 bit and 64 bit 2008, but then that person would be wrong. You see the tools available to manage Hyper-V are available in both 32 bit and 64 bit Windows 2008, however you can only run Hyper-V on a Windows 2008 64 bit box. If you were to try and do this in a 32 bit environment it just would not work.

 You can however run a guest os (a guest os is an operating system you run inside a virtual machine) in 32 bit mode inside of Hyper-V. If you want to run a 64 bit guest os you can do that as well. So if you want to build a cheap test box for yourself then you will have to buy a 64 bit processor and build a workstation for yourself and install Hyper-V on that. There will be no reusing of an old 32 bit system to run a Hyper-V test box.

If you do want to virtualize in a 32 bit environment I  suggest you check out VMWare, you can easily do it with any of the VMWare products. Until next blog, have fun virtualizing!

 -Cheers, RP


July 12, 2008  6:20 PM

Check your thermals…

Raj Perumal Raj Perumal Profile: Raj Perumal

With it being summer, it’s got me thinking about heat on a daily basis. Especially server room heat. I’ve been through my fair share of server rooms and I’ve seen all sorts of solutions to the ever increasing heat problem. It seems more and more applications require a specific server to run; and more and more software requirements state that this piece of software can’t run on the same box as that piece of software. This leads to purchasing more servers and ends up leading to a lot of power draw and more heat in your server room.

Some people decide to cool servers the proper way by installing the proper cooling units into their server rooms, and other people decide to go the old fashioned way by leaving the server room door open or by putting a lot of home based oscillating fans in the room. Unfortunately this leads only to two very bad things, poor physical security and recirculation of hot air over the already warm servers.

If you need to cool your server room and don’t have the proper cooling, you seriously need to figure that into your next budget so you can have it. Also see what you can do to consolidate the roles of your servers so you have less servers taking up valuable space in your server room and also less servers generating heat.

 As I’ve mentioned before, Blade servers and VMWare are a very good idea for server consolidation. Not only are they good for saving power but they are great for keeping the heat down. Also with Windows 2008 out now and Hyper-V, there really is no reason not to try and virtualize even if you are not a VMWare expert. Any way you slice it the thermal savings will be substantial.

 -RP


July 10, 2008  2:02 PM

Windows 2008 and Itanium Feature Support

Raj Perumal Raj Perumal Profile: Raj Perumal

I recently tried to implement Windows 2008 on an HP Integrity server and wanted to share a bit about my experiences. One of the things that Microsoft says is they support Windows 2008 on an Itanium box.

 I was able to install Windows 2008 in Full installation mode on the Itanium box. The first thing I noticed is that there were only 2 roles available to me. I suppose I could install some Itanium based apps on the server and it would be good for that, but I couldn’t really use the box to do much else.

The other thing I noticed is that the much touted Windows 2008 Core mode installation is not supported on Itanium systems. As well there is no Hyper-V support on Itanium either. So realistically speaking, if you want to use a 64 bit system for Hyper-V you can’t use ia64, you are limited to x64.

So essentially unless you need to run something specific to Integrity servers you should  stick with x64.

 -RP


July 5, 2008  7:30 PM

Power Planning

Raj Perumal Raj Perumal Profile: Raj Perumal

One of the most overlooked items during a server implementation is power planning. I have seen many administrators get excited about ordering their new servers or other network equipment, plan the outage for the day of the install and then once they have all their equipment realize that they can’t even plug them in because they either have the wrong type of outlets or they don’t have enough circuits or UPS’.

 Here are a few tips to follow when power planning:

  • Always get dual power supplies for your servers, it doesn’t cost much more to purchase these and it’s worth the extra money.
  • Always plug dual power supplies into separate UPS’ and plug the UPS’ into separate circuits. There is no point plugging them into the same UPS and/or circuit. This gives you a single point of failure and basically defeats the purpose of having two power supplies in the first place.
  • Power strips for racks with readouts for the amount of amps being drawn are great for seeing how much of a load your are placing on circuit. Many different companies sell these.
  • A cheap meter for measuring the draw on a piece of equipment can be your best friend in troubleshooting issues. Sometimes a large enough power spike during boot up can trip a breaker and you can use a meter to determine what’s going on.
  • Use an online power calculator before your installation day to determine how many circuits, UPS’, power cords, etc. you will need for all of your equipment. Then budget accordingly. It can be quite embarrasing if you don’t think about this beforehand and you get stuck up the creek without a paddle on the implementation day.
  • If you are worried about increased power costs, look into blade systems and virtualization. The amount of money and energy you can save is quite substantial.
  • Do some reading on electricity if you don’t understand all the terms. There are plenty of resources out there on the web.

-RP


July 4, 2008  1:54 PM

VMWare Tools in Windows Server 2008 Core

Raj Perumal Raj Perumal Profile: Raj Perumal
Cisco, Exchange security, Hubs, Networking services, Server management, Services

Hi folks, if you have ever used VMWare before, then you will be familiar with the VMWare Tools. This is a set of tools you can install into a guest os in VMWare to allow better functionality with your virtual machine. However this is a graphical install and it isn’t exactly clear how to run VMWare Tools if you have installed Windows Server 2008 in Core mode in your virtual environment.

Just recently I ran into this problem while running some testing and was able to do it by choosing to install VMWare tools first and then changing drive letters to the d:. Then I ran the setup.exe file to start the VMWare Tools installer.

This started the VMWare Tools gui. However this throws a DLL error on the screen. Just go to task manager during the install and kill the rundll process. Then click past any errors and the install should finish without a hitch. I used the “typical” install mode.

Then reboot the virtual machine and when the server comes back up you should have a working guest os with Windows Server 2008 Core and VMWare Tools installed!

-RP


July 2, 2008  3:09 PM

Installing BES in a Virtual Environment

Raj Perumal Raj Perumal Profile: Raj Perumal

Hi folks, today I’d like to talk about BES installations. I find that BES is one of those server installations that lends itself well to virtualization. You see I like to run BES on it’s own server so if you need to reboot it or perform any maintenance, it won’t affect other services.

Of course buying a brand new server just for BES isn’t exactly cost effective. This is where virtualization comes in. Using VMWare you can easily setup a tiny VM with minimal resources just for BES. The downside to this however is that how are you going to plug in a BlackBerry directly to the BES server via USB cable if you need to troubleshoot a BlackBerry device that isn’t synchronizing properly wirelessly?

Well the solution to this is actually pretty straightforward. In most virtualized environments you will usually have one server that is not virtual (a management server as I like to call them), that allows you to manage the virtualized environment with all the administration tools installed on it and perhaps even backup software to backup or replicate the virtual machines to another location. On this same server you can just install the Blackberry Management console and point it at the BES server. This way you can plug in USB devices to the physical management server and the devices will communicate with your virtual BES server.

-RP


June 28, 2008  5:40 PM

Server consolidation

Raj Perumal Raj Perumal Profile: Raj Perumal

There is one commonality here in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Lots of servers, using a lot of power. Being a province that generates our own Hydro, we have pretty cheap electricity without having to worry about the expense of power like other provinces or states do. However this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be a little more green to help out the rest of the world.

It is quite often I will see server rooms filled with racks and racks of servers with no heed paid to virtualization at all. A lot of people believe it or not, still haven’t even heard of it as they are busy focusing on other things in their business and don’t keep their ear to the ground in the IT world. It’s at times like these that I like to point out the benefits of virtualization.

You can easily take an HP C3000 blade enclosure (this enclosure, aka the “shorty” is targeted at the SMB market) and fill it with server blades, a tape blade and a storage blade, and consolidate racks worth of servers down into 6U of space. Then you can install VMWare ESX Server on the server blades and potentially have tons of virtual machines per blade server. If you haven’t looked into these technologies lately I suggest you do, they are the next big thing in IT and have just been getting better and better.

 By doing this you can save your company money on power, thermal, physical space constraints, and sheer amount of servers and racks you have to buy. Also by implementing VMWare on a blade enclosure, you increase the level of redundancy you have greatly over what you would typically have in standard configuration of one server installation per rack mounted server by taking advantage of the features available to you in VMWare and in the blade enclosure.

 -RP


June 27, 2008  3:56 PM

The value of taking the time to image servers…

Raj Perumal Raj Perumal Profile: Raj Perumal

Hello again! Today I wanted to talk a little bit about the value of imaging servers. What I mean by this is using a software product like Ghost or Acronis to take an exact image of the disk partitions so you have a nice “point in time” copy of a server.

You see there are times when you need to perform maintenance or patching to a server in order to fix something but you might be unsure of what the outcome will be. I have seen lots of small patches or upgrades bring down a server to the point where the technician needed to reinstall the operating system and restore data from backup. Normal backups are great, however they typically take a lot longer to restore which in the end causes more down time for the client. If you just take an image of a server then you can easily restore that image in a short amount of time if whatever you did causes an issue.

I have been on tech support calls with certain software vendors before where the technician on the line has told me to do certain things and that it shouldn’t affect anything. Then I make the recommended change and it instead blew up everything! If it wasn’t for the image I took beforehand I would have been faced with a long recovery time.

My personal favourite imaging software is Acronis True Image Echo Server for Windows. I’ve used it many times for imaging servers.

-RP


June 26, 2008  2:28 PM

Any doesn’t always mean Any…

Raj Perumal Raj Perumal Profile: Raj Perumal

Hi folks, here’s another little tidbit from the wonderful world of firewalls. In the consulting world I have had to work with my fair share of firewall products. From SMB based devices all the way to the larger Enterprise products. There is one thing that I have run into time and time again and that is the dreaded “Any” rule/object. The reason I say dreaded, is because sometimes what is assumed by Any can end up causing you a ton of headaches.

A lot of firewalls have the ability to create a rule where you can specify to allow Any traffic from Any to Any. Unfortunately as people have found, Any doesn’t always mean Any. What I mean by this is that despite what Any implies, what in actuality happens is that the firewall still ends up blocking some things. When this happens, a network administrator might end up troubleshooting everything and still come up short trying to figure out why things aren’t working properly in the network. I have heard lots of network admins tell me “But I have the firewall configured with an all-open any to any rule for testing! It should work!” and of course it doesn’t. Now not all firewalls are this way but there are some where you will run into this.

So what’s the solution? Turn on detailed logging, and watch the logs for denied traffic. Also using a packet sniffer like Wireshark or Microsoft’s own Network Monitor (found on your server CD by using add/remove components) can help you to determine how the traffic is flowing and what is happening to it. At that point you will be able to determine if a firewall is blocking the traffic or not and be able to fix your problem by creating a rule to allow that type of specific traffic through.

-RP


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