Posts Tagged ‘Server’

Microsoft Windows Server 2012 Tips

August 16th, 2012

One of the benefits of working for Dell Compellent is having the privilege to collaborate with some very smart people who are subject matter experts in areas of technology I don’t get as much time to spend time on as I’d like to.  I get to share information with team members about vSphere, as well as Exchange, SQL, *nix, Oracle, and you might have guessed it… Microsoft Windows (including Hyper-V).  One of my colleagues has been working with Windows Server 2012 lately and he drew up a quick guide on some of the findings he had made.  Not only was he gracious enough to share it with his teammates, he was more than happy to share with the community when asked.  When I say community, of course I’m referring to readers of this blog.  So without further to do, here are some Windows Server 2012 (and perhaps even Windows 8) tips to get you started.

Navigating the New Server 2012 GUI

The look and feel of the Server 2012 GUI is quite different than Server 2008. While most of the familiar options and features are still available, the process of getting to them is quite different, and in some cases, more difficult.

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1)      The “Start” button no longer exists in Server 2012.  To expose Start, jiggle your mouse in the lower left corner of the desktop and the Start option will appear as shown above.  This is a bit cumbersome in RDP sessions and takes some getting used to.

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2)      The Start Menu presents applications and other options as tiles.

3)      To access Lock and Sign out, click on the User in the upper right for a drop-down menu.

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4)      To access All Applications, right-click on any tile under Start, and then an options bar will appear at the bottom of the screen.  On this options bar, click on All Apps in the lower right.

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5)      Under All Apps, you can find all the rest of the familiar (but now more difficult to find) options such as Command Prompt and Run.  To make these more easily accessible, pin them to the taskbar.

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6)      Another hidden menu exits off the right side of the desktop.  To access it, move your mouse to the far right or lower-right corner of the screen and hold it there for a couple seconds.   Again, this is cumbersome in RDP sessions and takes some getting used to.

7)      As you can see above, the Restart and Shut down options are now buried a few layers deep so accessing them is a bit tedious.   Some customization suggestions below will help alleviate this.

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8)      To stop the Server Manager window from automatically starting every time you log on, edit the Server Manager Properties and check the box Do not start Server Manager automatically at logon.

Customizations to Facilitate Better User Experience with Server 2012

You may find yourself a little frustrated with the changes introduced with the Server 2012 GUI because many apps/options/tools have been relocated and are therefore more difficult (and more time consuming) to find.

Below are some quick and simple customization changes to “restore” some of the of the Server 2008 look/feel/agility to the 2012 GUI.

1)      The first step is to install the Desktop Experience as found under Features.  Once installed, then the (My) Computer icon can be added back to the desktop.

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a)      Launch Server Manager from the taskbar.

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b)      Click on Add roles and features to launch the Add Roles and Features Wizard.  Under Features, check the box for Desktop Experience and then complete the wizard (requires a reboot).

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c)       After rebooting, from the Desktop, right click and choose Personalize, Change Desktop Icons, and add the desired icons such as Computer and Control Panel.

d)      Right click on the Desktop again, and under View, set icon size to Small, and set Auto Arrange and Sort By options according to your preference.

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2)      Customize the taskbar by pinning shortcuts for I.E., Run, Command Prompt, and other frequently used apps (as found under Start and All Apps) that you want to be quickly accessible.  For directions on how to access the Start and All Apps menus, see Page 2.

3)      Right click on the taskbar, select Properties, and select Use Small taskbar buttons, and under the Toolbars tab, add the Desktop toolbar.

4)      If you desire to add the Background Info (BGI) utility to your Windows 2012 server desktop, then complete the following steps:

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  • From your network share or software repository containing BGInfo, copy the folder BGInfo to C:\BGInfo.  Edit the BGInfo.bgi config file to customize (if desired) the BGInfo settings.  (this is the latest 64-bit version of BGInfo)

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  • To automatically refresh BGInfo each time you log on to the server, add a reg key (string value) called BGInfo with value of C:\BGInfo\LaunchBGI.batto:HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run

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  • If using mRemote, change the Display Wallpaper setting to Yes under the configuration settings for your server (the default setting is No).  Otherwise the BGInfo screen will not be passed to your display.

5)      To work around the cumbersome process of having to navigate to log-off, shutdown, or reboot commands under the hidden menus, place shortcuts to these operations on the Server 2012 desktop.  To make this process quick and easy, pre-defined shortcuts can be saved on a network share and copied down to each server installation.

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  • From the network share, copy the desktop shortcuts to Libraries\Documents\Public Documents on your 2012 server.

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  • Once copied, open the Desktop_Icons folder, and copy and paste the icons found there to the public desktop (a hidden folder) which can be accessed at C:\Users\public\desktop (manually type this path in Windows Explorer as shown above to get to it).
  • Add or create other shortcuts as desired here so they will show on the public desktop.
  • By placing them on the public desktop, they will be there for all users, and will be preserved even when the server is sysprepped.

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6)      When finished, your desktop will look similar to the above screen capture:

  • (My) Computer and Control Panel icons added to the desktop
  • Shutdown, Logoff, and Restart icons (which are shortcuts to the shutdown command) added to the desktop.  This is much quicker than having to access these options from the hidden menus on the left or right sides of the desktop, and it skips having to provide a reason for shutting down.
  • Shortcut to launch Disk Manager added to the desktop (add other shortcuts as desired)
  • Shortcuts to I.E., Run, and Command Prompt added to the taskbar
  • Desktop toolbar added to the taskbar
  • Background Info (BGInfo) provides for a blue background with the server name and other essential server specs on the desktop.  This will automatically refresh at each logon due to adding LaunchBGI.bat to Run in the system registry, and it can be refreshed manually at any time by clicking on the LaunchBGI icon on the public desktop.

Sysprep Suggestions

1)      When building a new gold image of a Windows 2012 server, include the above customizations before running Sysprep to allow cloned copies to boot with these modifications in place.  Most of the changes will be preserved in the sysprep image saving configuration time.

2)      Other suggested modifications you may want to consider making to a Windows 2012 image before sysprepping it to use as a gold image it include:

  1. Enable RDP
  2. Install Adobe Reader
  3. Using Roles and Features, install .Net 3.5 (set the path to \sources\sxs when prompted); Failover Clustering, MPIO, and Hyper-V
  4. Disable the firewall
  5. Disable I.E. security
  6. Disable User Account Control security (set to never notify)
  7. Fully patch the server
  8. If a physical server, run the applicable driver and firmware management/update utility to apply the latest drivers and firmware.
  9. Set the time zone to Central
  10. Install JRE (version of your choice, both the 32bit and 64bit versions)
  11. Other apps and features as desired

Know thy open snapshots

December 2nd, 2008

VMware snapshotting is a wonderful and powerful technology that affords IT and Developer staff great flexibility and recovery options with virtual machines (VMs) that weren’t so flexible with physical machines or flat out did not exist. With this technology comes the responsibility of using it properly and knowing its limitations. Snapshots have a shelf life that varies somewhere between the moment the snapshot was created and infinity. Boy, that was real helpful wasn’t it?

Let me see if I can explain a little better. When a snapshot is created, a delta file is created on the VMFS volume and in the folder where the VM resides. The initial size of the delta file is 16MB. The purpose of the delta file is to maintain the delta changes to virtual disks since the snapshot was taken. This would be any disk write I/O activity inside the guest VM OS.

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Disk write I/O inside a guest VM may be seldom or it may be very active. It depends on the role of the VM and more specifically the software and features installed inside the VM. When the initial 16MB delta file fills to capacity with the delta changes it maintains, it dynamically increases its size by another 16MB. Once again, if and when the delta file fills to capacity with delta changes, it grows by another 16MB. For those who excel in math, our delta file is now 48MB in size. Do you see the pattern? The delta file will continue to grow in 16MB increments to a maximum size of the parent file (and in some cases very rapidly!) unless one of a few conditions is met:

  1. Someone closes the snapshot
  2. Someone creates an additional child snapshot (perpetuating a potential problem)
  3. The snapshot file somehow becomes corrupted before or during closing of the snapshot (bad news)
  4. The VMFS volume where the VM and delta file are stored runs out of available storage space (update your resume. All other VMs on the same VMFS volume, snapshotted or not, as well as VMKernel swap and VM logs are now also out of write space)

Let’s connect the dots. The amount of time a snapshot should be left open is going to vary because of factors identified above. The amount of available VMFS storage, the rate at which the delta file is growing since the VM was snapped, number of VMDKs snapped, decaying VM disk performance as the delta file becomes fragmented across non-contiguous spots on disk, time to recovery if the snapshot is lost and the VM has to be restored, your personal comfort level, etc. To compound the anxiety, there are likely other VI administrators in your shop or automated backups creating and leaving snapshots open that you are unaware of on a regular basis. The urgency to have all open snapshots on your radar has increased.

Unfortunately in the current builds, VMware doesn’t give us real good (or automated) visibility of open snapshots. I liken it to handing a loaded gun to a child – it’s only a matter of time before an accident happens. That analogy is quite extreme but it gets my point across on the importance of preventing such an accident from happening. What we have right now from the Virtual Infrastructure Client console (as well as a few of the hosted product consoles) is called the Snapshot Manager. Snapshot Manager displays open snapshots and their hierarchy – but only when we open Snapshot Manager and that’s on a VM by VM basis. Very tedious.

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So how do we gain better visibility of snapshots that’s not going to tie up a bunch of our valuable time? Fortunately there are some good 3rd party solutions available for free to help us out. A few that I like are Xtravirt’s Snaphunter, RVTools, and Hyper9.

Snaphunter is a simple piece of code that you install on an ESX host and schedule scanning and emailed reports via CRON. I get two Snaphunter reports emailed to me daily at noon (1 for PROD storage, 1 for DEV storage):

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RVTools is a .NET Windows application that you can run from your desktop and get visibility of all VMs managed by a VirtualCenter instance. In addition to snapshots, RVTools shows a bunch of other cool stuff. This utility is worth checking out:

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Hyper9 is an up and coming enterprise architected product (currently in beta, GA to release in early 2009) which will report on open snapshots as well as a many other facets of the virtual infrastructure:

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Snapshots are so easy to create and there in and of itself lies its Achilles heel – snapshot sprawl and lack of native tools from VMware to keep them under control and keep us safe from danger.

Go forth and virtualize – but let’s be safe out there.

VMware Server 2.0 installation error

November 15th, 2008

I ran into an installation error this afternoon with VMware Server 2.0 on Windows Server 2003 R2.  It was a dialog box that popped up and said “The System Administrator has set policies to prevent this installation“.  The error prevents the installation from proceeding and offers only one course of action which is to click “Ok” and the installation terminates.

The workaround is as follows:

  1. Click Start
  2. Click Run
  3. gpedit.msc
  4. Drill down to Computer configuration
    1. Windows Settings
      1. Security Settings
        1. Software Restriction Policies
  5. Right click Software Restriction Policies
  6. Choose Create New Policies
  7. On the right hand side, right click Enforcement
  8. Choose Properties
  9. Down below, choose All users except local administrators
  10. Click OK
  11. Close Group Policy
  12. Open a Command Prompt
  13. Run the command gpupdate /force
  14. When local group policy is finished updating, re-run the VMware Server 2.0 setup

VMware earns multiple Redmond Triple Crown awards

November 8th, 2008

The November 2008 issue of Redmond magzine, the independent voice for the Microsoft IT community and formerly known as Microsoft Certified Professional Magazine, is bubbling over with VMWare virtualization news this month.  They have announced the 2008 Reader’s Choice Awards Triple Crown achievers.  The prestigious Triple Crown award is described by Redmond as follows:

“To recognize the dynasties in our annual Readers’ Choice competition, Redmond is introducing the “Triple Crown,” a new award for products that have won (at least) three Readers’ Choice honors in a row.”

VMware GSX Server (retired but replaced by the free VMware Server) won the Triple Crown in the “Best Virtual Server Product” category as well as taking “ISV Winner” honors.  Redmond goes on to explain GSX easily won over Microsoft Virtual Server 2005 which was the only other product in the category.  No surprises there.  Like today’s comparison of VMware ESX and ESXi to Microsoft Hyper-V, GSX Server was years ahead of Microsoft in terms of development.

VMware Workstation dominated the more competitive “Best Virtual PC Product” field (5 products) and, like VMware GSX Server, was also named “ISV Winner”.  Microsoft Virtual PC for Windows, a technology Microsoft bought its way into by purchasing from Connectix in February 2003 along with Virtual Server, was honorably mentioned as a runner up.  Microsoft came to the realization that the product they had been developing was not capable and started over from scratch.  VMware’s latest Workstation 6.5 offering is sure to continue embarrassing the competition with features like Unity and enhanced record and reply technology.

Read more about Redmond’s virtualization category and other categories here.

The same issue also contains three other VMware related articles:

  1. Maritz:  VMware’s Answer to Microsoft?”  An interview with VMware CEO Paul Maritz whom they labeled “The Microsoft Menace” on the issue’s cover.
  2. VMware Wants It All” Editor In Chief Doug Barney talks about VMware’s future technology announcements and contemplates how they will fit together and will they work?
  3. Cisco and VMware Collaborate on Next-Gen Data Center” The companies’ new products could change the virtualization game.