2015
02.02

The big news of the last few days was the announcement that the next version of “Windows Server and System Center” won’t be released until 2016. This is quite disappointing.

Windows Server

Windows Client

Azure

Licensing

  • IaaS Gotchas: Compliance gotchas as it pertains to providing infrastructure as a service.
2015
01.28

Things have quietened down after the Windows 10 and HoloLens news, and Azure is back to dominating this post.

Windows Server

Windows Client

Azure

Intune

Security

Miscellaneous

2015
01.26

Microsoft made the latest Technical Preview release available to the public on Friday evening. Note that this is the edition for PCs/laptops/hybrid devices, and not the phone/small tablet build which will be coming in February.

A blog post by Microsoft goes into more details on this preview release. Highlights include:

  • Updated start menu
  • Cortana (US and English only – aka The Curse of Zune)
  • Continuum adaptive UI for different form factors
  • New Settings app
  • New experience for connecting to audio/video streaming devices, e.g. Miracast
  • New Photos and Maps apps
  • Windows Store beta
  • Xbox app

There are issues with Build 9926:

  • A boot selection menu always appears
  • Xbox Live games that require sign-in won’t start
  • Battery icon always shows on the lock screen, even on non-battery devices
  • Remote desktop is a bit rough
  • Connected Standby enabled machines will have shorter battery life
  • Cortana reminders cannot be edited
  • The Music app will close if minimized within first 16 seconds of launch
  • Sometimes the start menu will fail to launch

Remember that this is a PREVIEW release and not the finished product. Microsoft reminds you that:

    • Remember, trying out an early build like this can be risky. That’s why we recommend that you don’t install the preview on your primary home or business PC. Unexpected PC crashes could damage or even delete your files, so you should back up everything.
    • After you install Windows 10 Technical Preview, you won’t be able to use the recovery partition on your PC to go back to your previous version of Windows.

There is also an ISO that you can download (the Windows 10 preview product key is also on this page).

If you’re limited in hardware and are scared about wiping your existing production install, then you can still try out Windows 10 by installing it in a VHD file via Native VHD.

And for those of you folks who want to deploy using the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit, here’s a post on Deploying Windows 10 Build 9926 using MDT 2013 Lite Touch.

And no, there is no new release of Windows Server yet. No; I do not have any further information that I can share.

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2015
01.23

I heard “Windows as a Service” or WaaS being mentioned twice at an event on Wednesday. Straight away, as a blogger/speaker, I knew what questions people would ask. Here’s what this means:

Windows as a Service is a mindset from Microsoft. You don’t use an OS; your use apps and content. The OS should be a transparent enabler. However, the OS should be kept up to date with fixes, etc, and functionality can be added. Microsoft intends to offer free upgrades to the OS via updates once you are on Windows 10.

The Free Upgrade Offer

For one year, anyone running Windows 7, Windows 8, or Windows 8.1 can avail of a free upgrade to Windows 10. After that point, it is likely that you will have to pay to upgrade to Windows 10.

Is Windows Moving to a Subscription Model?

No*. Once you are on Windows 10 you will get the continuous improvement updates for free. You will not be charged a monthly/yearly fee.

* Note that some business licensing (OVS and ESA) are actually already subscriptions.

What about Businesses?

Here’s what is explicitly stated (in a mail I received):

The upgrade offer does not apply to Windows 7 Enterprise, Windows 8.1 Enterprise and Windows RT; it also does not it cover XP and Vista. Active SA customers may of course upgrade as part of their SA benefits.

Note that Enterprise customers have SA (Ent is an SA benefit) so they have a free upgrade even without this one-year offer.

I suspect that the other SKUs in businesses (without SA) will have upgrade entitlements in that first year but that has not been explicitly stated. To be honest, there would be no way to enforce it because lots of consumer machines actually do have Windows 8 or Windows 8.1 Pro. And let’s face it, Microsoft wants businesses to upgrade.

When Does the First Year Start?

When Windows 10 is “commercially available”. That is probably the Generally Available (GA) date, which can be several months after the Release To Manufacturing (RTM) date. In other words, when Windows 10 appears in stores either as boxed product or pre-installed machines.

How Long Will You get Windows 10 for Free For?

If your machine was legitimately licensed for Windows 7 or later, you get Windows 10 for free until:

  • The device the OS is installed on stops working
  • Microsoft stops supporting Windows 10

What about Windows RT?

It sounds like there is an “update” for Windows RT, but it might not be an upgrade to Windows 10. Sorry!

What About [Something Else]?

I don’t know yet.

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2015
01.23

If you’ve just emerged from a cave or from under a rock, then you might like to read about Windows 10 and HoloLens. It’s been amazing to see how in “90 minutes”, the image of Microsoft has done a 180 degree turnaround. The carefully orchestrated and timed announcements on Wednesday were very effective.

System Center

Windows Client

Azure

Office 365

  • New Office Visio Stencil: These stencils contain more than 300 icons to help you create visual representations of Microsoft Office or Microsoft Office 365 deployments including Microsoft Exchange Server 2013, Microsoft Lync Server 2013, and Microsoft SharePoint Server 2013
  • Azure RMS Migration Guidance: The Azure RMS Migration guidance contains a whitepaper with step-by-step guidance and links to cmdlets and tools to migrate on-premises Active Directory Rights Management Services (AD RMS) server key and templates to Azure Rights Management services (Azure RMS) while preserving access to protected content.
2015
01.21

I am attempting to live blog this event. Hit refresh to see more.

It took me some time to get on the stream. Terry Myerson is talking stuff about things. Just get to the main course already. No one likes dry lettuce.

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He goes on to talk about developers, helping them find their next billion customers with Windows 10. Customers are spread across many versions. This fragmentation makes it challenging to develop for them. Microsoft has developed heavily.

And I gave up. The stream died. Twitter is all a chatter with the abject failure of this stream.

Must do much better, Microsoft. And fire whomever is responsible for this catastrophe.

After 30 more minutes, Joe “Hair” Belfiore is wasting valauable time talking about the Cortana, a feature that only works for a tiny percentage of the world’s population. It’s a waste of time, developers, and program managers.

In the meantime, I saw that Windows 10 will have free upgrades from Windows 8.1 and Windows 7. Excellent news.

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Now on to Windows Phone. It doesn’t look different to 8.1

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He shows the flow keyboard, Yawn, Then on to messaging. Third party messaging apps (IP from telecoms or Skype) can be integrated into  the OS tool.

Universal apps now. This is a critical subject to get apps running across all Windows devices of all kinds, hopefully getting devs to write more for Windows.

Touch-first Word, Excel, and PowerPoint will be included on Windows Phone and “small” tablets. You should get a full fidelity document experience with these versions of Office.

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Recent Documents will roam from device to device. Useful.  He allegedly runs a PowerPoint deck from the phone to the big screen. Hmmm … no he wasn’t doing it wirelessly (admits he used a cable).

There will be a universal app version of the Outlook app for PC, tablet, and phone. He shows this now. Editing an email uses the full Word engine.

Calendar on Windows Phone has colour!!!! Wooo! Photos needed fixing badly. New universal app there too for PC and phone (and tablet – get the message about universal apps?). The Photos app will aggregate photos from OneDrive and local device. The collection view removes duplicates from the view. Auto-enhance will be turned on by default to present the images with more colour, etc. They auto-create collections and create a hero image. You can share this album – it’s in the cloud.

In 1-2 months, you can store your music in OneDrive. Playlists will sync between all devices.

Now onto the last app. Here comes Project Spartan, a new web browser. This is not the IE of the past. There is a new rendering engine. Three new features to make you more productive:

  • How you communicate with others about the web. There is a note-taking mode, which they used when news of Spartan was leaked and on The Verge. BTW, The Verge was not the first to report on Spartan – I think it was Mary Jo Foley. You can use touch, stylus or keyboard to mark-up a page. You can clip or save a page with your mark-up, maybe to OneNote. You can also share the page.
  • Focus on the action of reading. There is a reading mode, giving you a standardised way to read content on the web. There is a reading list in the core browser. That’s a mobile experience so you can read the articles on any device …. yes, the content is saved offline so you can read on the plane, etc. There is built-in PDF support.
  • Cortana. Fuck off Cortana you Zune impersonator.

Spartan will be on PC in later builds, and phone later again. It is a universal app for all devices.

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That’s the end of the hair for now.

Phil Spencer comes to talk about entertainment and gaming on Windows 10. He’s the head of Xbox. Cool stuff!  There will be an Xbox app on Windows 10.  It’s a social networking app from what I can see.

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They show two players cooperating in a game from Xbox One and Windows 10 PC. This was never possible before. Will it really work? The hardware performances will vary quite a bit. They show streaming of a game from Xbox One to a PC. That is very cool.

Windows 10 is coming to Xbox One. This is great news for devs who want to bring their apps to the TV. But … gaming will remain the center of attention for Xbox One.

A new build of Windows 10 for the PC is coming in a week. And then to Windows Phone in February.

Now they show off the new Microsoft Surface Hub (the 4K 84” TV with integrated compute). It detected the demo person when she came in. It has cameras, NFC, and all that jazz. There’s lots of software features to get meetings working, and to share content after the meeting (think of it as automated minutes). And it’s Windows 10.

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Windows Holographic is presented via a video. It appears to be one of those concepts that will not appear. MSFT used to make these videos all the time. It’s based on some glasses that super-impose images on the real world. Great concept. Not unimaginable because there are phone apps that do this sort of thing.

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Holographic APIs are in Windows 10 on all devices.

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Project HoloLens’ key achievement—realistic holograms—works by tricking your brain into seeing light as matter. “Ultimately, you know, you perceive the world because of light,”

They do some live demos. This stuff is amazing looking. We see a person pointing at mid-air, but we also see her view of stuff that’s imposed on her view of the world by the glasses.

Satya Nadella comes out to talk about Windows 10 and HoloLens.

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They want people to move from needing Windows, to wanting Windows, to loving Windows. They’re being very realistic about the position that Ballmer has navigated the company to. Service, mobility, and cross-platform are Satya’s new mantra for 2015.

He says “Windows as a service”. Customers will get a continuous stream of innovation. There will be a focus on mobility of experiences – enabled by one OS. Windows will continue to be the best place for Microsoft experiences. But MSFT will have services everywhere.

Myerson is back out. The media will get to try NASA mars explorer, Skype and Minecraft on HoloLens. He also says “Windows as a Service”.

Here is a blog post by Terry Myerson summarizing the announcements.

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2015
01.20

I’ve let the news build up a little bit. I think the holiday lull is starting to lift.

Hyper-V

Windows Server

Windows Client

  • Windows 10: What We Know So Far: I’ll give a hoot about Cortana when it works outside of 4 or so countries. Microsoft should either fix that limitation or move the developers to something more important than a gadget feature.

System Center

Azure

Office 365

Intune

Events

  • #GlobalAzure Bootcamp 2015: The 2015 #GlobalAzure Bootcamp kicks off on April 25th and you can participate and organize a location too!

Miscellaneous

2015
01.14

Here’s the Microsoft updates from the last few days.

Windows Server

System Center

Azure

Office 365

2015
01.09

In a modern data centre, there is more and more resource centralization happening. Take a Microsoft cloud deployment for example, such as what Microsoft does with CPS or what you can do with Windows Server (and maybe System Center). A chunk of a rack can contain over a petabyte of RAW storage in the form of a Scale-Out File Server (SOFS) and the rest of the rack is either hosts or TOR networking. With this type of storage consolidation, we have a challenge: how do we ensure that each guest service gets the storage IOPS that it requires?

From a service providers perspective:

  • How do we provide storage performance SLAs?
  • How do we price-band storage performance (pay more to get more IOPS)?

Up to now with Hyper-V you required a SAN (such as Tintrí) to do some magic on the backend. WS2012 R2 Hyper-V added a crude storage QoS method (maximum rule only) that was performed on at the host and not at the storage. So:

  • There was no minimum or SLA-type rule, only a cap.
  • QoS rules were not distributed so there was no accounting on host X what Hosts A-W were doing to the shared storage system.

Windows Server vNext is adding Distributed Storage QoS that is the function of a partnership between Hyper-V hosts and a SOFS. Yes: you need a SOFS – but remember that a SOFS can be 2-8 clustered Window Servers that are sharing a SAN via SMB 3.0 (no Storage Spaces in that design).

Note: the hosts use a new protocol called MS-SQOS (based on SMB 3.0 transport) to partner with the SOFS.

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Distributed Storage QoS is actually driven from the SOFS. There are multiple benefits from this:

  • Centralized monitoring (enabled by default on the SOFS)
  • Centralized policy management
  • Unified view of all storage requirements of all hosts/clusters connecting to this SOFS

Policy (PowerShell – System Center vNext will add management and monitoring support for Storage QoS) is created on the SOFS, based on your monitoring or service plans. An IO Scheduler runs on each SOFS node, and the policy manager data is distributed. The Policy Manager (a HA cluster resource on the SOFS cluster) pushes (MS-SQOS) policy up the Hyper-V hosts where Rate Limiters restrict the IOPS of virtual machines or virtual hard disks.

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There are two kinds of QoS policy that you can create:

  • Single-Instance: The resources of the rule are distributed or shared between VMs. Maybe a good one for a cluster/service or a tenant, e.g. a tenant gets 500 IOPS that must be shared by all of their VMs
  • Multi-Instance: All VMs/disks get the same rule, e.g. each targeted VM gets a maximum of 500 IOPS. Good for creating VM performance tiers, e.g. bronze, silver, gold with each tier offering different levels of performance for an individual VM

You can create child policies. Maybe you set a maximum for a tenant. Then you create a sub-policy that is assigned to a VM within the limits of the parent policy.

Note that some of this feature comes from the Predictable Data Centers effort by Microsoft Research in Cambridge, UK.

Hyper-V storage PM, Patrick Lang, presented the topic of Distributed Storage QoS at TechEd Europe 2014.

2015
01.09

3 big announcements from Azure last night plus a useful Hyper-V reporting script feature today.

Hyper-V

System Center

Azure

  • Azure Storage to start disabling SSL 3.0 on February 20th, 2015: Protecting against the SSL 3.0 vulnerability. You need TLS 1.0 or higher to continue.
  • Azure is now bigger, faster, more open, and more secure: Azure Key Vault helps customers safeguard and control keys and secrets using HSMs in the cloud, with ease and at cloud-scale. Furthermore, customers can deploy an encrypted Virtual Machine with CloudLink SecureVM with the master keys in Key Vault. The "Goliath" G-series VMs have gone GA. And an image of a Docker-enabled Ubuntu VM is in the Marketplace.
  • Largest VM in the Cloud: G-series sizes provide the most memory, the highest processing power and the largest amount of local SSD of any Virtual Machine size currently available in the public cloud.
  • Introducing Docker in Microsoft Azure Marketplace: Microsoft announced the first Ubuntu image fully integrated with the Docker engine available for fast deployment from the Microsoft Azure marketplace.

Security

2015
01.08

While at the MVP Summit in Redmond, my friend Carsten Rachfahl (also a Hyper-V MVP) recorded a video interview with me to talk about Windows Server vNext and some of our favourite new features.

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2015
01.08

Shared VHDX was introduced in WS2012 R2 to enable easier and more flexible deployments of guest clusters; that is, a cluster that is made from virtual machines. The guest cluster allows you to make services highly available, because sometimes a HA infrastructure is just not enough (we are supposed to be all about the service, after all).

We’ve been able to do guest clusters with iSCSI, SMB 3.0, or Fiber Channel/FCoE LUNs/shares but this crosses the line between guest/tenant and infrastructure/fabric. That causes a few issues:

  • It reduces flexibility (Live Migration of storage, backup, replication, etc)
  • There’s a security/visibility issue for service providers
  • Self-service becomes a near impossibility for public/private clouds

That’s why Microsoft gave us Shared VHDX. Two virtual machines can connect to the same VHDX that contains data. That disk appears in the guest OS of the two VMs as a shared SAS disk, i.e cluster-supported storage. Now we have moved into the realm of software and we enable easy self service, flexibility, and no longer cross the hardware boundary.

But …

Shared VHDX was a version 1.0 feature in Windows Server 2012 R2. It wasn’t a finished product; Microsoft gave us what they had ready at the time. Feedback was unanimous: we need backup and replications support for Shared HDX, and we’d also like Live Migration support.

The Windows Server vNext Technical Preview gives us support to replicate Shared VHDX files using Hyper-V Replica (HVR). This means that you can add these HA guest clusters to your DR replication set(s) and offer a new level of availability to your customers.

I cannot talk about how Microsoft is accomplishing this feature yet … all I can report is what I’ve seen announced.

2015
01.06

A few little nuggets to get you back in the swing of things. And yes, I have completely ignored the US-only version 1.2 Azure Pricing Tool that suffers from “The Curse of Zune”.

Hyper-V

Windows Server

System Center

Windows Client

Azure

2015
01.02

Welcome to the “Happy New Year 2015” edition of my Microsoft News posts. I hope you have a nice time off from work – it FLEW by for me; I could do with a holiday to recover from my holiday.

Here’s the news from over the past week or so:

Hyper-V

Windows Server

  • VPN Interoperability guide for Windows Server 2012 R2: This document covers the working configurations for some of the popular third party VPN devices that can be deployed to work with Windows Server 2012 R2 VPN. The configuration for a Windows gateway is also included to server as a guideline for an interoperable deployment with the third party devices.

Azure

Miscellaneous

2014
12.23

Imagine a scenario:

  1. You have a cluster of Hyper-V hosts
  2. Some operator pulls the wrong network cables
  3. A host becomes network-isolated and the cluster heartbeat times out before the mistake is noticed
  4. Virtual machines fail over

Great, right? HA kicked in? That’s good … right!?!?!

Ummm maybe not. Let me ask you a question. Which is worse:

  • A virtual machine being offline for a minute or so because the host is network-isolated? OR …
  • Every virtual machine on that host stops executing, fails over to other hosts in the cluster, and takes several minutes to boot and get services responsive on the network.

For most people, option A is more favourable and this is why Microsoft is giving us Cluster Compute Resiliency.

With this new feature, a cluster will become more tolerant (and this is configurable) to transient network errors. In the event of a heartbeat timeout, the host will go into isolation. This will allow VMs on that host to continue executing and prevent additional VMs being placed onto that host. If the host becomes responsive within a certain time frame then it comes out of isolation. If the host does not become responsive then VMs are failed over to other hosts.

Note that if a host is determined to be “flapping” then it will be put into Cluster Quarantine.

2014
12.22

My Top Articles in 2014

2014 was a fun year to be a blogger in the Microsoft world. Traffic to my site continued to grow, and eventually I was forced by my web hoster to move to a dedicated virtual machine. I stayed with them for a while before moving to Azure … and that’s when my traffic more than doubled! I don’t know if was the fact that I am now hosted on Azure or if it’s because I revisited all my WordPress plugins, including SEO.

Where are these people coming from?

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The USA dominates. And Ireland punches above it’s weight, probably because I’m Irish, of course. In the USA, California and Texas must be the hotbeds for Hyper-V:

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Washington State isn’t far behind, and I always chuckle to see how much traffic comes out of Redmond :)

What OS are all these people using?

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Obviously Windows desktop OS is the clear winner. I surprised that iOS beats Android. And considering the skewed percentage of Windows Phones used by people in our industry, I am very surprised that Windows Phone is less than 1% of the client OSs hitting my site.

OK, now on to what people are reading. Interestingly, it’s lots of old stuff!

If we look at how active people were on the pages, most have a minute or more of reading. But some folks were more active on some pages causing “events” as they are called in Google Analytics. The .Net page wins there. But after that it’s a different profile of page, with the content being much newer.

My “Microsoft News” pages aren’t huge aggregators of hits like the older “how to” articles, but they still create lots of interest every day. And to be honest, I use them as my own personal notebook to keep up with what’s going on :)

So how do I summarize all this? Interest in Hyper-V, etc continues to rise, based on my small sample. People are looking for information on the 2012/2012 R2 generation of products (that’s good!). But people are struggling with licensing and some techie things that are unwanted distractions.

2014
12.22

I’ve been doing Azure events since August and I’ve come to the conclusion that there are 3 types of people in the audience:

  • Want to learn now – a small percentage of the audience
  • Have a small measure of interest but never try anything out – maybe over half of the room
  • Are only attending to learn how to compete with Azure or their boss forced them – everyone else in the room

I’m guessing the breakdown is similar at most cloud IaaS events. And I’ve not forgotten the those who are hoping that the US government kills off the cloud and wouldn’t attend a cloud event if it was the only place to be inoculated against the zombie apocalypse. And let’s not forget those clock punchers who make up the sad majority of IT pros and haven’t tried to learn anything since 2004.

O365 gives us a great track record that we can use to predict the future of Azure. We are in early days of Azure and uptake looks slow. But it was like this with BPOS/Office 365 before O365 became the norm for email here in Ireland. A few disruptors decided to skill up on Office 365 and those Microsoft partners shook up the market. They became the industry experts and they took business from their competitors:

  • By being the only resellers around that implemented a solution that customers wanted
  • By having developed skills over time that allowed them to take customers away from competitors that were doing a bad job

The time to learn Azure is now. Don’t procrastinate. Don’t be the moron that thinks “the cloud will never work for my customers” or “my customers are too small for Azure”. Take some advice from Mark Twain:

The secret of getting ahead is getting started.

So you’re serious about Azure but the scale of it scares you? That’s fair. That’s why Microsoft has taken a very targeted approach with Azure-based solutions via Open Licensing. And it’s why I’ve been delivering Azure technical training on a monthly chunk-by-chunk basis. The Mark Twain quote actually covers this too:

The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and starting on the first one.

If you’re starting with Azure, find an on-ramp solution like online backup or DR, and use this to supplement your existing skills. Learn the basics of storage and virtual networking.

2014
12.22

A differential export is an export of the differences of a virtual machine from between two points in time. It is used to enable an incremental backup of a virtual machine that is backed up using the new file-based backup system with Resilient Change Tracking. The below image shows the state of a VM and its backup after a full backup. Note that this file-based backup has used Resilient Change Tracking to identify what changes are being made to the VM’s storage since the backup.

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An incremental backup starts, using the differential export process. A backup checkpoint, including VM configuration and VHD fork (via AVHD) is created. The existing Resilient Change Tracking ID T1 is used to determine what has changed in the parent VHD to create a differential export of the VM in the backup target media (exported VM configuration T2 and the differential VHD).

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The backup checkpoint is removed and a new RCT ID (T2) is created so we can now do Resilient Change Tracking of the VHD for the time after the backup.

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Old reference points (RCT IDs) can be disposed of as required.

A “synthetic full backup” process is also support for third-party backup solutions.

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Hyper-V PM Taylor Brown talks about Change Tracking in his session at TechEd Europe 2014.

2014
12.22

Wrapping Up 2014

It’s dark outside, it’s raining, there’s Christmas songs on the radio, and there wasn’t much traffic this morning. It’s beginning to sound a lot like Christmas, and we’re coming to the end of another year.

Work at MicroWarehouse Ltd. (not the UK company of the same name) has been interesting. I’ve made a career for myself by being able & willing to take on new things. I started off as a C programmer and fell into Windows desktop/Server. I then discovered System Center before it was called that. And I jumped from VMware to Hyper-V in the early days and that worked out too. I started working with Azure back in January when it became obvious that Microsoft would have to bring it to our customer base via Open licensing. That investment worked out, and I’ve spent most of my time since August either preparing or delivering Azure-related training to sales or technical staff of Irish and Northern Irish resellers. I don’t see Azure as a Hyper-V replacement – far from it – but it is a great supplemental technology, and my experience with Hyper-V has been a great help. We’re starting to hear of fun-sounding Azure opportunities for our customers so the ball might be starting to pick up some momentum.

I brought a few products to the attention of my boss over the past 18 months. The DataOn business has exploded, and we’re selling loads of cluster-in-abox units and JBODs throughout Europe. We’ve just taken on 5nine Software, and conversations with some others have begun to heat up.

WP_20141219_17_36_41_Pro 9 DataOn JBODs going out to a customer that is deploying Scale-Out File Servers instead of HP 3Par SANs

Life as an MVP continued. There were fun online & in-person events and podcasts where I got to talk about Hyper-V, and Windows Server storage and networking. While the amount of material I could blog about on this site dried up a little, I was continuing to add content on Petri.com. And of course, we had the announcements on Windows 10 and Windows Server vNext, so there’s a whole new pool of content to write about, so my activity here has been renewed. I’ve also been buoyed by the fact that the traffic to this site has more than doubled over the past year. Thank you!

We MVPs get a great opportunity to interact with the product groups from Microsoft – that’s the biggest benefit as an MVP. Those who capitalize on this get a huge career boost. And this year has been especially rewarding. We MVPs give a lot of feedback to Microsoft. Some of us Euro-cloud MVPs have been especially impressed to see how this has impacted product over the past 12 months. I can’t talk specifics, but there are things that we have brought up that have turned into headline features.

One of the best bits of being an MVP is making lots of new friends. I get to meet up with lots of people who I’ve only gotten to know through this community, some are MVPs and some are not. We MVPs bump into each other a lot and it’s always great to hang. And there are others, be they co-writers, regular attendees, sponsors, Microsoft staff, or whatever, that I enjoy meeting up with too.

Career-wise there were two huge highlights for me. I was going to TechEd North America 2014 in Houston, but I wasn’t planning on competing in Speaker Idol (a multi-round speaking competition, like X Factor or American/Pop Idol, with 1st place overall winning a slot in the following year’s conference). The organiser, Richard Campbell, had invited me onto a podcast to talk and afterwards asked me to compete. I changed my mind right there – part of it was I knew who one of the judges was and I had the perfect idea to have a little fun. And then I qualified for the final. I wasn’t nervous, but now I was serious. But when I saw how many turned out to support me, I became nervous. In the end, I was honoured to win. That was frikin’ amazing. I was on cloud 9 until the exhaustion of preparing into the week hours the previous night on top of 5 days of jetlag kicked in.

Me warming up the crowd at the start of my final session at Speaker Idol

Another career highlight was also at TechEd, this time in Barcelona for the Europe 2014 event. For the first time ever, I was selected to be a speaker, talking about my favourite topic: Hyper-V. I love finding the nitty gritty bits, and I love explaining them to people. I was chuffed to see so many familiar faces from around Europe (and further afield) and to see how many people came to see me talk. Damn, I was nervous. The first slides (NUMA)  were tricky to explain to an audience where English is mostly the second language. I rehearsed those slides over and over and over. Once I was over the start, I was able to enjoy myself. And then it was cool that so many came up to ask questions when I was finished.

Speaking at TechEd (Europe) for the first time

For me, 2014 will be most remembered for what happened outside of “work”. It’s been a special year personally. Life is pretty damned great.

I hope 2014 was as kind to you as it was for me. If it wasn’t then I know from experience that a horrid year can turn into something special. Hold on, work hard, and give life a chance. Have a 2015!

2014
12.19

Happy Christmas!

I realise that today is the last day of work for a lot of you. I’ll be going until Tuesday before I shut down for the holidays … unless something catches my attention.

So have a great holiday, whatever you celebrate, and have a happy new year!

2014
12.19

We’re getting close to Christmas and Microsoft is starting to wind down for the year. Here’s a mostly-Azure report for the last few days.

Hyper-V

Azure

Miscellaneous

2014
12.19

Actually, no, Hyper-V does not support nested virtualization but there’s nothing like a little bit of link bait to celebrate the holidays :)

We were topping up our Microsoft partner competencies in the office this morning. A part of that shenanigans is to site “online sales assessments”. For the Datacenter competency (including Azure, Hyper-V and System Center) the exam asks 44 questions in a sales scenario. Some of them are legit questions about product, solutions, and licensing. But most of them are either:

  • Complete bolloxology
  • Random collections of words that were copy/pasted from the Microsoft Partner Network by a loudmouth

Let me give you one example. Why does Microsoft position Windows Server 2012 R2 Hyper-V as a more open solution than VMware? As you might have read on my site, the correct answer is that Microsoft has contributed quite a bit of code to the Linux kernel to make it natively functional on Hyper-V. This includes hot-VHDX resizing, live backup of running Linux VMs, and support for Dynamic Memory for Linux guests, all making Hyper-V the best hypervisor to run Linux on.

But no, that’s not the correct answer in the eyes of the Microsoft partner network. No; they believe that Hyper-V supports other hypervisors. Remember that Azure is based on Hyper-V so that is actually the SAME hypervisor. This incorrect correct answer implies either that Hyper-V can live migrate VMs to/from other hypervisors such as vSphere, or that Hyper-V supports nested virtualization. Of course, neither of these is true.

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And there is yet another example of why Microsoft’s entire examination process (including the MCP certification process) is not taken seriously by anyone outside of the staff of the Microsoft Partner Network, HR departments, and head hunters.

2014
12.19

In Microsoft endeavors to finally close the book on backup issues, the Hyper-V team is switching to file-based backup, and moving from the non-scalable VSS backup. Let’s face it – most hardware VSS Providers have been like a curse.

When you backup a VM in vNext, a “backup checkpoint” is created. This forks the VM’s configuration is forked and the virtual hard disk(s) is forked too using an AVHD. This is done for a short period of time. This allows changes to continue while the backup is being done. The virtual machine can be live exported as a backup.

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After this operation a dateless Reference Point is created. The AHVD(s) is merged back into the parent VHD(s). This reference point notes the Resilient Change Tracking ID (per VHD), so we know what changes are made after the AVHD was created, and now we know what blocks must be backed up in a following incremental backup.

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Some notes:

  • Incremental and “synthetic full” backups can now follow the full backup and this is done using a Differential Export.
  • A restore is basically a process of copying the VM files from backup media and importing the VM.

SAN-based backup is different. A LUN snapshot will retain the parent VHD and AVHD, and only the VM configuration is exported by Hyper-V. CDS, SMI-S or network providers be used to create the LUN backup. The LUN snapshot is removed and job done.

Hyper-V PM Taylor Brown talks about file-based backup in his session at TechEd Europe 2014.

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2014
12.18

Windows Server Hyper-V has had an … interesting … history when it comes to backup. It has been a take-it-personally mission of the Hyper-V team to stop backup being an issue for Hyper-V customers. Backup of CSV in Windows Server 2008 R2 was not fun. Things got better in WS2012, and again in Windows Server 2012 R2. And we might finally be getting there with the next release of Windows Server.

An important change to Hyper-V backup is to enable partners to keep up with the pace of change of Windows Server – we’ve seen some backup vendors take years to catch up with a new version, and this prevents mutual customers from keeping their hosts in step with Microsoft.

In order for a backup product to do incremental backups, it needs to do block based change tracking. Each vendor has to create one of these filter drivers that sits in the storage stack. This stuff is hard to do right, and it can cause stability and performance issues if not done correctly. And it also slows down the development/re-test/re-certify of BackupProduct2016 to keep up with the release of Windows Server 2016.

Some bad change tracking implementations, that you may know of, lived in memory as bitmaps. If the host had an un-planned outage then the next backup had to be a full backup. Or maybe if the VM live migrated to another host, that VM would have to do a full backup because the change tracking was no longer in the memory of the host.

Resilient Change Tracking is built-in backup change tracking of changed blocks within virtual hard disks. It is used for incremental backup, and it is the underlying engine for differential export. The change tracking bitmap lives in memory and on-disk. The on-disk bitmap is not as granular because it is the fallback from the much more detailed in-memory bitmap.

The goal now is that backup vendors should stop writing their own filter driver to implement change tracking. If they use the built-in resilient change tracking then they can focus more time on feature development testing/certification, and keep up with Microsoft’s frequent releases of Windows Server. And hopefully, Microsoft’s change tracking will undergo suitable levels of testing that will give all customers a universally stable and well-performing subsystem.

Hyper-V PM Taylor Brown talks about Change Tracking in his session at TechEd Europe 2014.

2014
12.17

Those of you who have run more than one generation of Hyper-V will understand the pain of updating integration components in a VM’s guest OS. If you run Windows (this is not applicable to Linux because the process is different) the you need to run the latest ICs in a guest OS for that VM to have:

  • The latest virtualization features
  • Stability
  • Performance

We typically have seen new versions of the ICs in three occasions:

  • A hotfix or Windows Update
  • A service pack – no longer relevant but an update rollup might bring new ICs
  • A new version of Hyper-V

The process was that VMGuest.ISO was updated on the host, and we would mount that ISO from the VM to install the latest integration components. This assumed that:

· We had admin rights to the guest OS – not applicable usually in a cloud

  • Network access
  • Time
  • Patience

We had workarounds such as using PowerShell or System Center, but again, this assumed we had rights to the guest OS or network access.

Microsoft was keen to solve this issue … and they went to a method that I think many of us will approve of: updates to the Windows integration components for Hyper-V will be delivered by Windows Update (and hence WSUS). This has started with delivery to any of the following guest OSs running on the Tech Preview of vNext:

  • Windows Server 2012
  • Windows Server 2008 R2
  • Windows 8
  • Windows 7

Microsoft uses KVP (enabled by default) to determine that the VM is running on vNext.

This new process will give cloud admins control over the IC release (via WSUS) and will automate the delivery of the ICs to all guests that run Windows Update, ensuring that clients are up to date and can avail of the best that Hyper-V can offer. No more McGuyvering required.

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