Posts Tagged ‘Microsoft’

Software Defined Single Sign On Database Creation

July 2nd, 2013

I don’t manage large scale production vSphere datacenters any longer but I still manage several smaller environments, particularly in the lab.  One of my pain points since the release of vSphere 5.1 has been the creation of SSO (Single Sign On) databases.  It’s not that creating an SSO database is incredibly difficult, but success does require a higher level of attention to detail.  There are a few reasons for this:

  1. VMware provides multiple MS SQL scripts to set up the back end database environment (rsaIMSLiteMSSQLSetupTablespaces.sql and rsaIMSLiteMSSQLSetupUsers.sql).  You have to know which scripts to run and in what order they need to be run in.
  2. The scripts VMware provides are hard coded in many places with things like database names, data file names, log file names, index file names, SQL login names, filegroup and tablespace information.

What VMware provides in the vCenter documentation is all well and good however it’s only good for installing a single SSO database per SQL Server instance.  The problem that presents itself is that when faced with having to stand up multiple SSO environments using a single SQL Server, one needs to know what to tweak in the scripts provided to guarantee instance uniqueness, and more importantly – what not to tweak.  For instance, we want to change file names and maybe SQL logins, but mistakenly changing tablespace or filegroup information will most certainly render the database useless for the SSO application.

So as I said, I’ve got several environments I manage, each needing a unique SSO database.  Toying with the VMware provided scripts was becoming time consuming and error prone and frankly has become somewhat of a stumbling block to deploying a vCenter Server – a task that had historically been pretty easy.

There are a few options to proactively deal with this:

  1. Separate or local SQL installation for each SSO deployment – not really what I’m after.  I’ve never been much of a fan of decentralized SQL deployments, particularly those that must share resources with vSphere infrastructure on the same VM.  Aside from that, SQL Server sprawl for this use case doesn’t make a lot of sense from a financial, management, or resource perspective.
  2. vCenter Appliance – I’m growing more fond of the appliance daily but I’m not quite there yet. I’d still like to see the MS SQL support and besides that I still need to maintain Windows based vCenter environments – it’s a constraint.
  3. Tweak the VMware provided scripts – Combine the two scripts into one and remove the static attributes of the script by introducing TSQL variables via SQLCMD Mode.

I opted for option 3 – modify the scripts to better suit my own needs while also making them somewhat portable for community use.  The major benefits in my modifications are that there’s just one script to run and more importantly anything that needs to be changed to provide uniqueness is declared as a few variables at the beginning of the script instead of hunting line by line through the body trying to figure out what can be changed and what cannot.  And really, once you’ve provided the correct path to your data, log, and index files (index files are typically stored in the same location as data files), the only variable needing changing going forward for a new SSO instance is the database instance prefix.  On a side note, I was fighting for a method to dynamically provide the file paths by leveraging some type of system variable to minimize the required.  While this is easy to do in SQL2012, there is no reliable method in SQL2008R2 and I wanted to keep the script consistent for both so I left it out.

Now I’m not a DBA myslef but I did test on both SQL2008R2 and SQL2012 and I got a little help along the way from a few great SMEs in the community:

  • Mike Matthews – a DBA in Technical Marketing at Dell Compellent
  • Jorge Segarra – better known as @sqlchicken on Twitter from Pragmatic Works (he’s got a blog here as well)

If you’d like to use it, feel free.  However, no warranties, use at your own risk, etc.  The body of the script is listed below and you can right-click and save the script from this location: SDSSODB.sql

Again, keep in mind the TSQL script is run in SQLCMD Mode which is enabled via the Query pulldown menu in the Microsoft SQL Server Management Studio.  The InstancePrefix variable, through concatenation, will generate the database name, logical and physical file names, SQL logins and their associated passwords.  Feel free to change any of this behavior to suit your preferences or the needs of your environment.

————————————————————————————-

— The goal of this script is to provide an easy, consistent, and repeatable

— process for deploying multiple vSphere SSO databases on a single SQL Server

— instance without having to make several modifications to the two VMware provided

— scripts each time a new SSO database is needed.

— The following script combines the VMware vSphere 5.1 provided

— rsaIMSLiteMSSQLSetupTablespaces.sql and rsaIMSLiteMSSQLSetupUsers.sql scripts

— into one script. In addition, it removes the static database and file names

— and replaces them with dynamically generated equivalants based on an

— InstancePrefix variable declared at the beginning of the script. Database,

— index, and log file folder locations are also defined with variables.

— This script meets the original goal in that it can deploy multiple iterations

— of the vSphere SSO database on a single SQL Server instance simply by modifying

— the InstancePrefix variable at the beginning of the script. The script then uses

— that prefix with concatenation to produce the database, .mdf, .ldf, .ndf, and

— two user logins and their required SQL permissions.

— The script must be run in SQLCMD mode (Query|SQLCMD Mode).

— No warranties provided. Use at your own risk.

— Jason Boche (@jasonboche, http://boche.net/blog/)

— with special thanks to:

— Mike Matthews (Dell Compellent)

— Jorge Segarra (Pragmatic Works, @sqlchicken, http://sqlchicken.com/)

— VMware, Inc.

————————————————————————————-

 

:setvar InstancePrefix “DEVSSODB”

:setvar PrimaryDataFilePath “D:\Program Files\Microsoft SQL Server\MSSQL10_50.MSSQLSERVER\MSSQL\DATA\”

:setvar IndexFilePath “D:\Program Files\Microsoft SQL Server\MSSQL10_50.MSSQLSERVER\MSSQL\DATA\”

:setvar LogFilePath “D:\Program Files\Microsoft SQL Server\MSSQL10_50.MSSQLSERVER\MSSQL\DATA\”

 

USE [master];

GO

 

————————————————————————————-

— Create database

— The database name can also be customized, but cannot contain

— reserved keywords like database or any characters other than letters, numbers,

— _, @ and #.

————————————————————————————-

CREATE DATABASE [$(InstancePrefix)_RSA] ON

PRIMARY(

NAME = N’$(InstancePrefix)_RSA_DATA’,

FILENAME = N’$(PrimaryDataFilePath)$(InstancePrefix)_RSA_DATA.mdf’,

SIZE = 10MB,

MAXSIZE = UNLIMITED,

FILEGROWTH = 10% ),

FILEGROUP RSA_INDEX(

NAME = N’$(InstancePrefix)_RSA_INDEX’,

FILENAME = N’$(IndexFilePath)$(InstancePrefix)_RSA_INDEX.ndf’,

SIZE = 10MB,

MAXSIZE = UNLIMITED,

FILEGROWTH = 10%)

LOG ON(

NAME = N’$(InstancePrefix)_translog’,

FILENAME = N’$(LogFilePath)$(InstancePrefix)_translog.ldf’,

SIZE = 10MB,

MAXSIZE = UNLIMITED,

FILEGROWTH = 10% );

GO

 

— Set recommended performance settings on the database

ALTER DATABASE [$(InstancePrefix)_RSA] SET AUTO_SHRINK ON;

GO

ALTER DATABASE [$(InstancePrefix)_RSA] SET RECOVERY SIMPLE;

GO

 

————————————————————————————-

— Create users

— Change the user’s passwords (CHANGE USER PASSWORD) below.

— The DBA account is used during installation and the USER account is used during

— operation. The user names below can be customised, but cannot contain

— reserved keywords like table or any characters other than letters, numbers, and _ .

— Please execute the scripts as a administrator with sufficient permissions.

————————————————————————————-

 

USE [master];

GO

 

CREATE LOGIN [$(InstancePrefix)_RSA_DBA] WITH PASSWORD = ‘$(InstancePrefix)_RSA_DBA’, DEFAULT_DATABASE = [$(InstancePrefix)_RSA];

GO

CREATE LOGIN [$(InstancePrefix)_RSA_USER] WITH PASSWORD = ‘$(InstancePrefix)_RSA_USER’, DEFAULT_DATABASE = [$(InstancePrefix)_RSA];

GO

 

USE [$(InstancePrefix)_RSA];

GO

 

ALTER AUTHORIZATION ON DATABASE::[$(InstancePrefix)_RSA] TO [$(InstancePrefix)_RSA_DBA];

GO

 

CREATE USER [$(InstancePrefix)_RSA_USER] FOR LOGIN [$(InstancePrefix)_RSA_USER];

GO

 

QuickPrep and Sysprep

May 2nd, 2013

Those who manage VMware View currently or have used it in the past may be familiar with desktop customization which is required to provide a unique identity on the network for each View Composer VDI session in a pool.  If you’ve got a pretty good Microsoft background, you’re probably already familiar with Sysprep – Microsoft’s tool for customizing Windows server and desktop OS deployments.  VMware View Administrators have an alternative tool which can be used for desktop customization called QuickPrep.  For all intents and purposes, QuickPrep was designed to accomplish many of the same tasks Sysprep did, but the obvious advantage QuickPrep has is that the code and development belongs to VMware and as a result can be tightly integrated with products in VMware’s portfolio.

I was on a call this morning with VMware Senior Technical Trainer Linus Bourque (Twitter: @LinusBourque Blog: http://communities.vmware.com/blogs/lbourque Cigars: yes) when he pulled up a table slide which was the result of VMware KB Article 2003797 Differences between QuickPrep and Sysprep.  For those who are curious about the similarities and differences between the two (like me), look no further.

From the KB Article:

QuickPrep is a VMware system tool executed by View Composer during a linked-clone desktop deployment. QuickPrep personalizes each desktop created from the Master Image. Microsoft Sysprep is a tool to deploy the configured operating system installation from a base image. The desktop can then be customized based on an answer script. Sysprep can modify a larger number of configurable parameters than QuickPrep.
During the initial startup of each new desktop, QuickPrep:
  • Creates a new computer account in Active Directory for each desktop.
  • Gives the linked-clone desktop a new name.
  • Joins the desktop to the appropriate domain.
  • Optionally, mounts a new volume that contains the user profile information.
This table lists the main differences between QuickPrep and Sysprep:
Function QuickPrep Sysprep
Removing local accounts No Yes
Changing Security Identifiers (SID) No Yes
Removing parent from domain No Yes
Changing computer name Yes Yes
Joining the new instance to the domain Yes Yes
Generating new SID No Yes
Language, regional settings, date, and time customization No Yes
Number of reboots 0 1 (seal & mini-setup)
Requires configuration file and Sysprep No Yes
Note: A Guest Customization script is required in vCenter Server to use Sysprep. Sysprep is bundled in with Windows 7. For Windows XP, an appropriate Sysprep program needs to be installed on the vCenter Server.
For information on installing Sysprep tools, see Sysprep file locations and versions (1005593).
For more information on the use of Sysprep and the Guest Customisation wizard, see the Customizing Guest Operating Systems and Installing the Microsoft Sysprep Tools sections of the vSphere Virtual Machine Administration Guide.

Monster VMs & ESX(i) Heap Size: Trouble In Storage Paradise

September 12th, 2012

While running Microsoft Exchange Server Jetstress on vSphere 5 VMs in the lab, tests were failing about mid way through initializing its several TBs of databases.  This was a real head scratcher.  Symptoms were unwritable storage or lack of storage capacity.  Troubleshooting yielding errors such as “Cannot allocate memory”.  After some tail chasing, the road eventually lead to VMware KB article 1004424: An ESXi/ESX host reports VMFS heap warnings when hosting virtual machines that collectively use 4 TB or 20 TB of virtual disk storage.

As it turns out, ESX(i) versions 3 through 5 have a statically defined per-host heap size:

  • 16MB for ESX(i) 3.x through 4.0: Allows a max of 4TB open virtual disk capacity (again, per host)
  • 80MB for ESX(i) 4.1 and 5.x: Allows a max of 8TB open virtual disk capacity (per host)

This issue isn’t specific to Jetstress, Exchange, Microsoft, or a specific fabric type, storage protocol or storage vendor.  Exceeding the virtual disk capacities listed above, per host, results in the symptoms discussed earlier and memory allocation errors.  In fact, if you take a look at the KB article, there’s quite a laundry list of possible symptoms depending on what task is being attempted:

  • An ESXi/ESX 3.5/4.0 host has more that 4 terabytes (TB) of virtual disks (.vmdk files) open.
  • After virtual machines are migrated by vSphere HA from one host to another due to a host failover, the virtual machines fail to power on with the error:vSphere HA unsuccessfully failed over this virtual machine. vSphere HA will retry if the maximum number of attempts has not been exceeded. Reason: Cannot allocate memory.
  • You see warnings in /var/log/messages or /var/log/vmkernel.logsimilar to:vmkernel: cpu2:1410)WARNING: Heap: 1370: Heap_Align(vmfs3, 4096/4096 bytes, 4 align) failed. caller: 0x8fdbd0
    vmkernel: cpu2:1410)WARNING: Heap: 1266: Heap vmfs3: Maximum allowed growth (24) too small for size (8192)
    cpu15:11905)WARNING: Heap: 2525: Heap cow already at its maximum size. Cannot expand.
    cpu15:11905)WARNING: Heap: 2900: Heap_Align(cow, 6160/6160 bytes, 8 align) failed. caller: 0x41802fd54443
    cpu4:1959755)WARNING:Heap: 2525: Heap vmfs3 already at its maximum size. Cannot expand.
    cpu4:1959755)WARNING: Heap: 2900: Heap_Align(vmfs3, 2099200/2099200 bytes, 8 align) failed. caller: 0x418009533c50
    cpu7:5134)Config: 346: “SIOControlFlag2” = 0, Old Value: 1, (Status: 0x0)
  • Adding a VMDK to a virtual machine running on an ESXi/ESX host where heap VMFS-3 is maxed out fails.
  • When you try to manually power on a migrated virtual machine, you may see the error:The VM failed to resume on the destination during early power on.
    Reason: 0 (Cannot allocate memory).
    Cannot open the disk ‘<<Location of the .vmdk>>’ or one of the snapshot disks it depends on.
  • The virtual machine fails to power on and you see an error in the vSphere client:An unexpected error was received from the ESX host while powering on VM vm-xxx. Reason: (Cannot allocate memory)
  • A similar error may appear if you try to migrate or Storage vMotion a virtual machine to a destination ESXi/ESX host on which heap VMFS-3 is maxed out.
  • Cloning a virtual machine using the vmkfstools -icommand fails and you see the error:Clone: 43% done. Failed to clone disk: Cannot allocate memory (786441)
  • In the /var/log/vmfs/volumes/DatastoreName/VirtualMachineName/vmware.log file, you may see error messages similar to:2012-05-02T23:24:07.900Z| vmx| FileIOErrno2Result: Unexpected errno=12, Cannot allocate memory
    2012-05-02T23:24:07.900Z| vmx| AIOGNRC: Failed to open ‘/vmfs/volumes/xxxx-flat.vmdk’ : Cannot allocate memory (c00000002) (0x2013).
    2012-05-02T23:24:07.900Z| vmx| DISKLIB-VMFS : “/vmfs/volumes/xxxx-flat.vmdk” : failed to open (Cannot allocate memory): AIOMgr_Open failed. Type 3
    2012-05-02T23:24:07.900Z| vmx| DISKLIB-LINK : “/vmfs/volumes/xxxx.vmdk” : failed to open (Cannot allocate memory).
    2012-05-02T23:24:07.900Z| vmx| DISKLIB-CHAIN : “/vmfs/volumes/xxxx.vmdk” : failed to open (Cannot allocate memory).
    2012-05-02T23:24:07.900Z| vmx| DISKLIB-LIB : Failed to open ‘/vmfs/volumes/xxxx.vmdk’ with flags 0xa Cannot allocate memory (786441).
    2012-05-02T23:24:07.900Z| vmx| DISK: Cannot open disk “/vmfs/volumes/xxxx.vmdk”: Cannot allocate memory (786441).
    2012-05-02T23:24:07.900Z| vmx| Msg_Post: Error
    2012-05-02T23:24:07.900Z| vmx| [msg.disk.noBackEnd] Cannot open the disk ‘/vmfs/volumes/xxxx.vmdk’ or one of the snapshot disks it depends on.
    2012-05-02T23:24:07.900Z| vmx| [msg.disk.configureDiskError] Reason: Cannot allocate memory.

While VMware continues to raise the scale and performance bar for it’s vCloud Suite, this virtual disk and heap size limitation becomes a limiting constraint for monster VMs or vApps.  Fortunately, there’s a fairly painless resolution (at least up until a certain point):  Increase the Heap Size beyond its default value on each host in the cluster and reboot each host.  The advanced host setting to configure is VMFS3.MaxHeapSizeMB.

Let’s take another look at the default heap size and with the addition of its maximum allowable heap size value:

  • ESX(i) 3.x through 4.0:
    • Default value: 16MB – Allows a max of 4TB open virtual disk capacity
    • Maximum value: 128MB – Allows a max of 32TB open virtual disk capacity per host
  • ESX(i) 4.1 and 5.x:
    • Default value: 80MB – Allows a max of 8TB open virtual disk capacity
    • Maximum value: 256MB – Allows a max of 25TB open virtual disk capacity per host

After increasing the heap size and performing a reboot, the ESX(i) kernel will consume additional memory overhead equal to the amount of heap size increase in MB.  For example, on vSphere 5, the increase of heap size from 80MB to 256MB will consume an extra 176MB of base memory which cannot be shared with virtual machines or other processes running on the host.

Readers may have also noticed an overall decrease in the amount of open virtual disk capacity per host supported in newer generations of vSphere.  While I’m not overly concerned at the moment, I’d bet someone out there has a corner case requiring greater than 25TB or even 32TB of powered on virtual disk per host.  With two of VMware’s core value propositions being innovation and scalability, I would tip-toe lightly around the phrase “corner case” – it shouldn’t be used as an excuse for its gaps while VMware pushes for 100% data virtualization and vCloud adoption.  Short term, the answer may be RDMs. Longer term: vVOLS.

Updated 9/14/12: There are some questions in the comments section about what types of stoarge the heap size constraint applies to.  VMware has confirmed that heap size and max virtual disk capacity per host applies to VMFS only. The heap size constraint does not apply to RDMs nor does it apply to NFS datastores.

Updated 4/4/13: VMware has released patch ESXi500-201303401-BG to address heap issues.  This patch makes improvements to both default and maximum limits of open VMDK files per vSphere host.  After applying the above patch to each host, the default heap size for VMFS-5 datastores becomes 640MB which supports 60TB of open VMDK files per host.  These new default configurations are also the maximum values as well.  For additional reading on other fine blogs, see A Small Adjustment and a New VMware Fix will Prevent Heaps of Issues on vSphere VMFS Heap and The Case for Larger Than 2TB Virtual Disks and The Gotcha with VMFS.

Updated 4/30/13: VMware has released vSphere 5.1 Update 1 and as Cormac has pointed out here, heap issue resolution has been baked into this release as follows:

  1. VMFS heap can grow up to a maximum of 640MB compared to 256MB in earlier release. This is identical to the way that VMFS heap size can grow up to 640MB in a recent patch release (patch 5) for vSphere 5.0. See this earlier post.
  2. Maximum heap size for VMFS in vSphere 5.1U1 is set to 640MB by default for new installations. For upgrades, it may retain the values set before upgrade. In such cases, please set the values manually.
  3. There is also a new heap configuration “VMFS3.MinHeapSizeMB” which allows administrators to reserve the memory required for the VMFS heap during boot time. Note that “VMFS3.MinHeapSizeMB” cannot be set more than 255MB, but if additional heap is required it can grow up to 640MB. It alleviates the heap consumption issue seen in previous versions, allowing the ~ 60TB of open storage on VMFS-5 volumes per host to be accessed.

When reached for comment, Monster VM was quoted as saying “I’m happy about these changes and look forward to a larger population of Monster VMs like myself.”

photo

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.

Snagit Capture

 

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.

Snagit Capture

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.

Snagit Capture

 

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.

Snagit Capture

 

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.

Snagit Capture

 

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.

Snagit Capture

 

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.

Snagit Capture

a)      Launch Server Manager from the taskbar.

Snagit Capture

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).

Snagit Capture

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.

Snagit Capture

 

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:

Snagit Capture

  • 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)

Snagit Capture

  • 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

Snagit Capture

 

  • 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.

 Snagit Capture

 

 

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

Snagit Capture

  • 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.

Snagit Capture

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 <driveletter or UNC path>\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

 

 

Microsoft Flight, Week 1

March 4th, 2012

I’m a Microsoft Flight Simulator fan.  I’ve purchased several versions and add-ons over the years.  Unfortunately the Flight Simulator development team was disbanded by Microsoft after the release of Flight Simulator X.  It was a great run and I probably would have been satisfied with FSX for many years until the next thing came along.

A few months ago I was made aware that MS picked up the flight sim program again and their next generation product “Flight” was in it’s final testing stages.  I was not a part of the beta and waited for the GA release like most others.

Last Wednesday, Microsoft released “Flight” to the masses.  What’s new in this release? For openers, the price.  It’s a FREE download  How does that work? The free content is fully functional (including multiplayer) and consists of a few planes, one very beautiful Hawaiian island, several airports, tutorials, missions, challenges, aerocache hunts, and pilot leveling.  Current and future bolt-on content such as terrain, planes, and perhaps other types of content can be purchased through the Microsoft Marketplace.  At this time, Microsoft offers the Hawaiian Adventure Pack (the additional Hawaiian islands), the Maule M-7-260C (required for cargo missions), and the North American P-51 Mustang (by far the fastest plane with the highest service ceiling, unfortunately, no cockpit; as such, this plane is sold at a discount compared to the Maule).

Let’s see, what else – We’ve now got the ability to open the cockpit doors and exit the planes to have walk or run around. This gives us the ability to explore the terrain and other objects in sim more closely. In addition, it provides the ability to reach some of the difficult aerocaches which would otherwise be unreachable by plane.

The scenery is gorgeous and landmarks well done with incredible detail.  By default, my installation was set for “Medium” detail across the board and my nearly 3 year old Intel Quad Core i7 920/8GB RAM/Nvidia GeForce GTS 250 handled it flawlessly. I bumped up all detail to “High” and my machine handles it well enough that I’ve left it on High. Occasionally I’ll lose a few frames during rapid and massive scenery transitions but it doesn’t happen too often. My machine is not quite fast enough to further bump the individual settings to the Maximum setting.  The frame rate isn’t smooth enough but wow is the scenery beautiful and thick.

Microsoft has gone a little educational with this release which I think is a great element.  Everything from aerocache hunts to the passengers in the back seat will give you some history lessons about the many beautiful features of the Hawaiian islands and of course one of the most well known landmarks in US history – Pearl Harbor.  For a guided tour, complete the photographer mission.  It’s long but well worth it.

What’s missing? Obviously the multitude of planes, liveries, and the rest of the world.  Some of the more complex and interactive navigational elements don’t appear (yet).  The RV and the Maule support VOR navigation (including DME), ILS guidance, separate COM radio channels for keeping conversations private with buddies, but no Garmin GPS, ATC (Air Traffic Control), auto pilot, hold course, or hold altitude.  There’s no push back or a key to bind to that feature.  All of this may be on the horizon with the larger jets.  There is no slew but we can essentially pick up our plane and drop it in any spot on the map and fly from there.  There is no time advance feature for long flights, but MS alternatively offers waypoint advancement which essentially accomplishes the same task – long flights for those with challenging real life schedules.  Be aware that using the Next Waypoint feature is fine, but it may reduce your total achievable score if used during a mission or challenge.  By the way, following are links to helpful instructional videos on VOR navigation:

VOR Navigation Tutorial (Part I) – MSFS
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f67low6D-T0

VOR Navigation Tutorial (Part II) – MSFS
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qLOqAaObGsw

VOR Navigation Tutorial (Part III) – MSFS
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Exqz65WeF2w

VOR Navigation Tutorial (Part IV) – MSFS
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BRHuKsCYiyo

VOR Navigation Made Easy
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Enq5RU6k3AQ

Short VOR Navigation Lesson
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UoiUrTjuo6U

Navigation Using a VOR
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iCCk2ch-xL4

A blogger by the name of peterb wrote an opinion piece on Flight yesterday.  The review was positive overall and much of it was consistent with my thoughts.  Thus far, Flight leans a little more toward the game genre than its predecessors. However, I feel there’s plenty of sim left in it for my tastes and I think it’s really going to appeal to those who might have been intimidated by the complexities of previous versions.  It is still a sim, not a game.  Case in point: I ran into a younger generation during a multiplayer event who downloaded what they thought was a video game. They conveyed through online chat they didn’t understand the point of the virtual flight world they were bored to tears with. I can’t think of a better compliment than that.  In addition, this is an unfinished project.  There’s a lot more coming which could fill some gaps. For me, the rest of the world and commercial jets can’t come soon enough but I had a lot of fun this past week, logging about 10 flight hours, completing missions and challenges, rescuing a kayaker, finding 53 of 54 aerocaches, and reaching level 16.  On the leveling, if you’re looking to advance quickly:

  • Grab all the aerocaches available (except Curvature of the Earth).  They range in value between 1,000 and 5,000 points a piece depending on difficulty level.
  • Run repeated Gold Rush challenges.  Up to 6,200 points is available in each run which only takes a few minutes.
  • Try some of the other Challenges or Missions.  There are a few in there worth an easy 12,000 points one time only (one example is the aerobatics competition).

Regarding multiplayer, the installation of Flight will apply the necessary Windows firewall policies to host a game, but I found that my NAT router was blocking incoming game requests which prevented me from hosting. By looking at my router logs, I determined that UDP port 3074 was required to be open in both directions on the NAT router (where incoming UDP 3074 traffic would be forwarded to the PC hosting the MS Flight session).

Following are some screen shots from my flights.

Snagit Capture   Snagit Capture   Snagit Capture   Snagit Capture   Snagit Capture   Snagit Capture   Snagit Capture   Snagit Capture   Snagit Capture   Snagit Capture   Snagit Capture   Snagit Capture   Snagit Capture   Snagit Capture   Snagit Capture   Snagit Capture   Snagit Capture   Snagit Capture

Updated 3/8/12:  I picked up a lot of points tonight while trying several challenges to unlock paint schemes.  In doing so, I reached level 20 and at this point I’m able to level no further.  Level 20 appears to be the cap in this first release of Microsoft Flight.  I’ll continue to fly as it’s still a lot of fun and not really about leveling.

Snagit Capture

VMware vCenter as a vCloud Director vApp

February 27th, 2012

Snagit CaptureThe way things work out, I tend to build a lot of vCenter Servers in the lab.  Or at least it feels like I do.  I need to test this.  A customer I’m meeting with wants to specifically see that.  I need don’t want to taint or impact an existing vCenter Server which may already be dedicated to something else having more importance.  VMware Site Recovery Manager is a good example.  Each time I bring up an environment I need a pair of vCenter Servers which may or not be available.  Whatever the reason, I’ve reached the point where I don’t need to experience the build process repeatedly.

The Idea

A while ago, I had stood up a private cloud for the Technical Solutions/Technical Marketing group at Dell Compellent.  I saved some time by leveraging that cloud environment to quickly provision platforms I could install vCenter Server instances on.  vCenter Servers as vApps – fantastic use case.  However, the vCenter installation process is lengthy enough that I wanted something more in terms of automated cookie cutter deployment which I didn’t have to spend a lot of time on.  What if I took one of the Windows Server 2008 R2 vApps from the vCD Organization Catalog, deployed it as a vApp, bumped up the vCPU and memory count, installed the vSphere Client, vCenter Server, licenses, a local MS SQL Express database, and the Dell Compellent vSphere client plug-in (download|demo video), and then added that vApp back to the vCD Organization Catalog?  Perhaps not such a supported configuration by VMware or Microsoft, but could I then deploy that vApp as future vCenter instances?  Better yet, build a vApp consisting of a pair of vCenter Servers for the SRM use case?  It sounded feasible.  My biggest concerns were things like vCenter and SQL Express surviving the name and IP address change as part of the vCD customization.

The POC

Although I ran into some unrelated customization issues which seemed to have something to do with vCD, Windows Server 2008 R2, and VMXNET3 vNICs (error message: “could not find network adapters as specified by guest customization. Log file is at c:\windows\temp\customize-guest.log.” I’ll save that for a future blog post if I’m able to root cause the problem), the Proof of Concept test results thus far have been successful.  After vCD customization, I was able to add vSphere 5 hosts and continue with normal operations from there.

Initially, I did run into one minor issue and that was hosts would fall into a disconnected status approximately two minutes after being connected to the vCenter Server.  This turned out to be a Windows Firewall issue which was introduced during the customization process.  Also, there were some red areas under the vCenter Service Status which pointed to the old instance name (most fixes for that documented well by Rick Vanover here, plus the vCenter Inventory Service cleanup at VMware KB 2009934).

The Conclusion

To The Cloud!  You don’t normally hear that from me on a regular basis but in this case it fits.  A lengthy and increasingly cumbersome task was made more efficient with vCloud Director and vSphere 5.  Using the Linked Clone feature yields both of its native benefits: Fast Provisioning and Space Efficiency.  I’ll continue to leverage vCD for similar and new use cases where I can.  Lastly, this solution can also be implemented with VMware Lab Manager or simply as a vSphere template.  Caveats being Lab Manager retires in a little over a year and a vSphere Template won’t be as space efficient as a Linked Clone.

StarWind Webinar – Storage & Hyper-V VM Backup

January 8th, 2012

Webinar Announcement:

What: New StarWind V5.8 – Storage & Hyper-V VM Backup from one vendor!

When: Tuesday, January 10, 4:00 PM GMT / 11:00 AM EST

Where: https://www2.gotomeeting.com/register/562126034

Details: StarWind iSCSI SAN V5.8 introduces a new powerful backup technology designed specifically for Hyper-V-based environments to provide fast backup and restore for virtual machines.

The key to protection of your virtualization investments is one solution with a rich feature set developed to help you achieve your IT goals easily. It is ONE ultimate answer to all your storage and data managing needs.

StarWind iSCSI SAN 5.8 provides:

Hyper-V Backup Plug-in

– Agentless Architecture

– Backups stored in VHD format

– Global Deduplication

– Single-click Backup

iSCSI Storage

– 100% stability and uptime

– High Availability / Automatic Failover

– Network Centralized Management

– Synchronous Replication

Register now to learn more!
Here is the link for registration:

https://www2.gotomeeting.com/register/562126034