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OEM Servers: Myths vs. Realities

In a recent conversation I realized that there are still a lot of misconceptions about OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) operating system rights with regard to Windows Server. While I am not here to say who is right and who is wrong (whether one should or should not buy OEM operating systems), I still think it is important to understand the facts.

Myth #1: OEM licensing is limited, and cannot be upgraded.

An OEM license is indeed tied to the physical hardware for which it was purchased. This is a distinct disadvantage to purchasing Volume Licenses (VLs). However when you buy an OEM operating system you have thirty (30) days to add Software Assurance to it. Any license with Software Assurance attached to it can be upgraded as new versions are released. However there is one important bit to understand… when decommissioning that server, the SA can be detached from the license and attached to another… but the OS itself cannot.

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Myth #2: Virtualization rights are unclear on OEM licenses.

I hear this from people all the time, and although I have tried to explain it to many of them, sometimes I simply have to shrug my shoulders and walk away from it. There is nothing murky or unclear about virtualization licensing. Whether your host (hypervisor) is an OEM license, VL license, or FPP (Full Package Product) license, your virtualization rights are the same, and they depend not on how you bought the license, but what tier you bought (Standard vs. Datacenter).

The OEM license is applied to the host, and must be tied to that host. However the guest VMs (2 on Standard, unlimited on Datacenter) do not have any restrictions. Like any guest VM on any other license, they can be migrated to any other host, as long as the destination host has allowance – so if the destination host is Windows Server Standard Edition, it cannot host a third guest VM, but if the destination host is Windows Server Datacenter Edition, the only limitation is based on the available resources (CPUs, RAM, storage).

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Myth #3: There are things you can with OEM Editions that you cannot do with VL Editions.

While this is a less common complaint, it is still there. I am told (and I have not really looked into this) that with Windows Server OEM versions (let’s take the HP ROK as an example) you can modify the image to show your logo during the boot-up process. While this is true, I have two points to it:

1) If you know what you are doing you can customize the boot process of any Windows Server installation, regardless of the edition or version.

2) Folks, it’s a server… how often are you rebooting it? Most of my servers (especially virtualization hosts) don’t reboot for months at a time. When they do get rebooted, it either happens at night (when I have scheduled patches) or remotely, when I am not sitting and watching the POST process. I can’t imagine there are too many customers who sit and watch their servers either…

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Myth #4: When a reseller consultant sells OEM licenses there is more room for profit.

I am usually very saddened to hear this, but that is mostly because I am not the sort of consultant who makes a lot of money off products; I would rather make my money off my time, and that is what I do. I don’t like hearing that there are resellers who buy a cheaper (and less versatile) option but resells it for the same price as the full version. Aside from the previous point also applying, I am always certain that my customer will find out and call me on it, and I will lose their trust. It is just not worth it to me. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a legitimate issue for some.

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Conclusion

There is nothing wrong with OEM licenses, and they are certainly less expensive than other ways of purchasing the operating system. They are just as versatile as non-OEM licenses, but not especially more versatile. If you replace (not upgrade or add more) servers often then they are likely not a good option for you, especially since they don’t add value to the physical server if you resell it. However if you keep your servers for more than a couple of year (as most companies will) then the cost savings might make it worthwhile, and if you do the cost benefit comparison, you might just come out ahead… and that’s CONFIRMED!

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Distinguished Names for Complex Items

Distinguished Names are pretty simple, right? Well… it depends on several factors.  To figure out the DN for swmi.ca it is… dc=swmi,dc=ca.  An Organizational Unit is not much harder… Let’s take an OU called Toronto in the swmi.com domain… ou=Toronto,dc=swmi,dc=ca.  Simple.

But what happens when we add a little complexity to our environment?  Say… OUs within OUs, and domains within domains?  Here’s an example:

Domain: Canada.swmi.ca
OU: OntarioToronto

Okay, this is a little more complex… but it’s actually pretty easy, once you know what you are doing.

OU=Toronto,OU=Ontario,DC=Canada,DC=swmi,DC=ca

See? That’s not that much harder than the simple Distinguished name…it’s just longer.

Spaces… what happens when you add spaces into the names of your OUs?  Of course, the space is not a valid character in a domain name, but there is nothing stopping you from putting them into your OU names.  You know… aside from common sense ;’)

We know that in PowerShell (and most scripting- and command-line interfaces) you have to put quotes around names that have spaces.  But when I run a PowerShell script that includes the DN of an object, it will already have quotes around it… do I have to double-quote?

No.  Distinguished Names do not change because you are scripting.  So let’s look at an example:

Domain: Canada.swmi.ca
OU: OntarioToronto – File Servers

Take a deep breath… relax, and let’s do what we did before…

OU=File Servers,OU=Toronto,OU=Ontario,DC=Canada,DC=swmi,DC=ca

We can go on and on with this game… one particular client that I am working with right now has a domain with OUs embedded six levels deep.  It is crucial that I get the DN right when I am scripting… refer to my article on Failover Cluster OUs and you will see why.  My clusters must be placed in the right place.  So I spent the time to make sure I had it right… and it worked!

…So what if you are hesitant, unsure, unconfident?  Before you run your script, run a simple command to test it:

dsquery ou “OU=File Servers,OU=Toronto,OU=Ontario,DC=Canada,DC=swmi,DC=ca

A simple dsquery should return the following response:

“OU=File Servers,OU=Toronto,OU=Ontario,DC=Canada,DC=swmi,DC=ca”

Now this isn’t very exciting… it is just parroting back to me what I said, right?  Well know that the alternative is an error message (dsquery failed: A referral was returned from the server, or dsquery failed: Directory object not found) and not getting that is golden.

Distinguished Names can be intimidating… but with a little bit of knowledge, you should be on easy street!

An Open Letter to Application Developers

Dear Developers,

I want to thank you for continuing to build applications and programs and other software that makes my life better.  As an Infrastructure Specialist I feel my kind and your kind have developed a nice symbiosis over the years – I build the environments on which your solutions run, and you make my infrastructure more than just a pretty face.  This has allowed us (in collaboration with our good friends, the DBA types) to deliver solutions to our users that make their lives easier.

We have come a long way from the time when WordPerfect consisted of a single file, and that all of what we did ran off individual floppy disks.  As the solutions get bigger, it is understandable that, at least under the hood, they are going to become more complex. So I get why I have had to step up my game in a lot of aspects.  My environment will be as complex as you need it to be, while remaining as simple as it can be.

There are times though when I think you are taking a simple path, and that path of yours can complicate my life.  I will give you an example:

I have been testing a particular monitoring solution for one of my customers.  It is a solution that I suspect will make my life easier, so I decided to install it.  Okay so far.

And then I needed to uninstall it.  It wasn’t that I didn’t like the product, it was that I hadn’t checked on some of the requirements, and rather than trying to adjust them later on (or live with them).  I opened the Uninstall or change a program window, and poof… there were suddenly 25 ‘programs’ that I needed to uninstall… one by one.

Before you say it I know… some applications have an Uninstall program which will clean your system of every last remnant of its installation.  Most don’t.  So when I uninstall one component, I have to uninstall all of them, lest the installation program see that the remnants are still there, and not re-install properly later on.

I understand you think I am asking a lot of you.  After all, what is 20 minutes of my pressing ‘Uninstall’ over and over again in the grand scheme of things?  Well here’s the thing… when I have to do it five or ten times (whether I am testing it or writing about it or whatever) it can really add up.  With that said, how difficult would it really be for you to create an installation log that an Uninstall application can follow?

What about Snapshots and Checkpoints Mitch?

Ah, that is a good point… Virtual Machine Snapshots (and Checkpoints) do give me the ability to go forward and then back out to that point… but I have to know in advance that I am going to go through the uninstall-reinstall dance… and when your application links to an external database on a different machine they are often rendered useless.

So if you feel I am being unreasonable, please understand that is not my intention.  I just feel that a little extra effort from you could go a long way to making my life a little easier.

But we don’t want you uninstalling our applications!  Use them!

That is another great point… but I assure you that if I create a server specifically for your application (as I did in this case), if I decide to NOT use your application then uninstalling it will not be an issue, I will simply blow the server away.  I want to use your applications, that is what makes my environment shine.  This will just help me a little bit more.

Thank you!

2015: My New Year’s Resolutions

2015-Calendar-7-723x1024I can honestly say that I don’t think I have ever made New Year’s Resolutions… at least, I have never written them down.  At the end of 2014, my annus horribilus, I am looking forward to a spectacular 2015.

Yesterday afternoon – December 30th – I was looking at my dashboard on www.asana.com – a tool that my boss recently introduced into our organization that  helps us to keep track of our tasks – and realized how much I have been able to accomplish in the month or so since he introduced it.  Don’t get me wrong, I was probably almost equally productive in the previous months… you know, when I wasn’t distracted by illness, my separation, my parents’ separation, kids’ illnesses and whatnot.  It’s just that this tool not only helps me to track what I need to do, it helps me to stay focused on those tasks.  It is a tool that, going forward, I will be using more and more.

What my focus on Asana reminded me of on that particular afternoon reminded me of the old truism – if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.  I have thought to myself several things I want to do in 2015, and so maybe putting them down on paper (yes, I still refer to my blog as ‘on paper’), and try to remember them so that I do not lose focus.  I am planning out several goals for 2015, and I plan to succeed.

Professional Life

There are some changes coming in the next few weeks that I am not prepared to share yet.  However the abstract of it is that I plan to continue to grow professionally, grow my knowledge, my network, and my reputation.  I have a couple of certifications that I have been putting off completing and I was challenged by my friend Sharon last night to complete them.  Additionally I have to renew a couple of certifications, and I should do that. 

I plan to re-focus the main theme of The World According to Mitch back to IT.  Does that mean I am going to stop talking about topics such as Weight Management, Martial Arts, and my personal observations?  No… some of those will stay on that blog, but the Weight Management component is being moved to a new blog that I have created.  Going forward I am going to invite my readers to subscribe to my second blog if they want to follow that side, and this one if they are interested chiefly in IT.

I plan to deliver to my readers the high quality and relevance you have come to expect from my blog over the past decade.  Wow… I can’t believe it’s been nearly a decade since I started blogging.

I have been asked by some if I plan to try to get re-awarded by the Microsoft MVP program.  The answer is that I have no such plans.  I will continue to participate in technical communities, and contribute by way of blogging, articles, and speaking engagements.  However I never really stopped doing any of that.  If Microsoft does not feel that my contributions warrant an award, then I will do it for the same reason I have always done it – to help the communities.

baby-new-yearPersonal Life

I think I need to be a better father than I have been to my children.  That is not easy for me, and I am not sure how I will do it.  Spending time with my younger son is easy, but my older son has school, works, has homework, friends, is probably dating, and so on.  I am going to continue to try to figure that out.

I need to be a better provider.  The last year my finances have been a disaster, and as such when I moved out of the house into my condo I was not able to pay all of my bills and meet all of my financial obligations to Theresa and the kids.  Fortunately I think I know how I will be able to do that starting in 2015, and that is my goal… in addition to paying down all of my debts and credit cards and bills.

Most of you are by now aware that my wife and I separated this past year.  In 2015 I hope to continue the healing process.  It is not easy, but I will continue to grow.

I started to lose weight in 2014… and not because I stopped eating from stress and depression (were that only the way my mind and body worked I assure you that by now I would be a lithe 215lbs).  Since I started the journey I have lost about 40lbs, and I plan to continue on this path (although December has been a total clusterf*¢k in that regard).  I am hoping to lose another 70-90lbs in 2015.

I decided in June of this year that it was time for me to start training for my 3rd Dan Black Belt… but I was wrong.  Before I was able to do that, I realized I needed to get myself back up to the level befitting a 2nd Dan Black Belt.  I needed to refresh my memory of all of the patterns that I needed to earn my 1st and 2nd Dan Black Belts.  While I am not entirely there, I feel that I am now at a place where I can begin to spend the next five months in training and preparation, and to test for my next belt in June.  Whether I am ready in June or not, I plan to earn it in 2015.

I plan to continue to teach, and to improve as a Taekwondo instructor.  Under the tutelage of my Masters I will continue to try.

There are a lot of other things I would like to do, but I don’t think I am going to over-commit.  I hope that I am able to do what I have outlined here, and hopefully more.  As John Lennon said ‘Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.’  I think what I have outlined here is reasonable, achievable, and with a little luck a year from now I will be able to look back at this list and smile, and say ‘Mission Accomplished!’

Happy New Year to all of you!

Surface Pro 3: Two weeks later

Are there problems with it?  Yes.

Do I absolutely love it? I love my kids and my dogs… but I suppose I do like it as much as I have ever liked a laptop or tablet… and I have had quite a few of them over the years!

What are the problems? There is really only one that you should be aware of if you are thinking of going out to buy one.  It’s the patches and the battery.

How, you may ask, do patches and batteries wind their way into a single problem?  Simple… as you probably know, everything in computers is managed by software drivers… and that includes the battery to some extent.  When you buy the device (or any device) you are prompted to apply patches, and at this point a couple of them for the Surface Pro 3 are firmware updates.  You apply the first one, and then you have a problem…

…Windows tells you there is no battery detected.  Worse, if you unplug the device it shuts off immediately.  The firmware update actually tells the computer that there is no battery installed.

BUT THERE IS! Wait a minute!  I was using it unplugged just a few minutes ago!  Where did it go?  Oh… I get it!  The pesky firmware is what screwed me up.  Let’s check to see if there is ANOTHER firmware update.  Plug it in, connect to the Internet, run Windows Update… By Jove, there it is!  Install it, and presto changeo, there’s my battery!

…and what a battery it is!  My original Surface Pro probably gave me 3 hours of battery (with Hyper-V and a bunch of other things draining it).  The Surface Pro 2 was probably closer to 5.  The Pro 3? I haven’t had it run dry on me yet… for the first time in my laptop-owning life I am not afraid to leave the house in the morning without the charger.

THE SCREEN BOSS, THE SCREEN!
(Imagine the voice of Hervé Villechaize if you would…)

Yes, there are a lot of improvements over the Surface Pro 2, but wow I never would have imaginged that the 1.4″ difference in screen size (12″ over 10.6″) would make that much of a difference.  As I told you recently I have an external 16″ screen that I keep in the trunk of my car so that I can have the dual screen experience on the go.  I don’t know that I have pulled it out once since I got the Pro 3… the combination of the slightly bigger screen and the much improved screen resolution make the extra screen redundant… at least when I am on the go.

Don’t get me wrong… the day the Pro 3 docking station is available I am buying it – I have pre-ordered it from the Microsoft Store, and I have the voucher for it (from something else I returned).  All I need is the e-mail saying it is in… and I expect that to be around the same time the remaining Surface Pro 3 models (with the Intel i3 and i7 CPUs) are released, sometime in August.  When I am at home (or an office) I will still want the multi-screen experience.  On the go?  Not necessary anymore.

A lot of people are saying I should have waited for the Intel i7 version, but the reality is I have not found myself lacking.  The Surface Pro 3 runs everything I need it to with 8GB of RAM and the Intel Core i5 CPU, and frankly I don’t want to spend the extra money (the i7 version will come in two models – 256GB storage for $1,599, and the 512GB model for $1,999.  Too rich for my blood, but thanks!

Conclusion

I am asked pretty often (including 3 minutes ago, as I sit at the Microsoft Store in Square One Mall blogging) whether the Surface Pro 3 is really a laptop replacement.  The answer, as with everything, is that it depends.  I would think that for the vast majority of people the answer is yes.  If you are a true hard-core gamer? Maybe not; there are some gamers who need more than 8gb of RAM.  If you are a coder? I have a friend who is a programmer who needs to run virtual machines running more than 8gb of RAM at all times.  (Did I mention that I LOVE the fact that it runs Hyper-V?  Well I do…). Aside from them?  I don’t know too many users – even power users – who need more than 8gb of RAM ever, not even occasionally.  For them (like myself) I would say that this is the device for you.

If you are in the Greater Toronto Area come down to the Microsoft Store at Square One or Yorkdale Malls to check it out! :)

Home Entertainment in 2014

As some of you know I recently moved into a new condo.  Unlike my previous living arrangements, I will be living here alone… although my children will visit, they (and the dogs) will be living with their mother.

You all know me as a Windows guy, and that has not changed; however there are so many aspects to Microsoft Windows that there are few (if any) who know and use all of it.  Until the motherboard fried I did for a time use a Windows Media Center PC as my main TV controller, however after it died my wife (whom I married before the PC fried) suggested we just get a PVR from out Cable TV provider… and although the motherboard was replaced under warranty, I never did rebuild it as a Media Center.

Over the past couple of years I have heard a lot of talk about people ‘cutting the cable’… simply watching all of their TV over the Internet.  While I know that works fine for a lot of people, I am simply not there.  I like to sit on the couch with the remote control in my hand and channel-surf.  Call me old fashioned.  I also know that with my younger son (he is four and a half) it behoves me to have a TV with Disney Junior and whatever other channels he watches, lest his visits be very short and sweet.  So when I confirmed where I would be moving to, I called Bell Canada.  I know, they suck… just like all of the other providers.  Well my youngest loves the Fibe experience, so that is what I plan to get, along with a decent Internet package.

Here’s the problem… Bell Fibe TV is not available in all areas.  I am assured by a friend of mine on the inside that more often than not this is no longer a technical issue, they just roll out the marketing machine before they begin to offer the service.  So while I was able to get a decent Internet package (not spectacular, but I won’t be running servers anymore) for a good price, I was told that Fibe would not be available for a few more weeks… and in the meantime would I be interested in subscribing to their satellite service?  <No, what kind of idiot would make that deal knowing that the better service was coming in a few weeks?>

So the condo is taking shape; on Saturday my older son and I raided Ikea, and my living room is completely arranged.  On Sunday a buddy helped me move (read: disassemble, move, and then reassemble) my desk, and now my workstation is just about the way I like it.  And of course the technician from Bell Canada came Sunday morning, and after a little bit of confusion he got my Internet and Wi-Fi signal up.  But here’s the issue… while I have a TV, couch, and everything I need to watch TV in the living room… I have nothing to watch.  Doh!

Wait a minute… I remember when I bought the TV a friend of mine advised me to get one that supported DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance).  I even remember paying extra for a USB Wi-Fi adapter for the TV.  Maybe now was a good time to see if I could get that voodoo to work.  Remember… I’ve set up thousands of Windows 7 and Windows 8 machines before… but I have never set up a home group!

It took a little bit of figuring out – of course my computer was already connected to the network, but I had to configure my TV on the wireless as well, and that took some figuring out.  However once it was done, all I had to do was tell my Windows homegroup to recognize the device, and to share my movies, music, and pictures with it.  Voila, this evening I watched movies in the living room on a TV that wasn’t actually connected to anything!

What about Netflix & Xbox?

Yes, I do have a Netflix account, but so far I haven’t figured out how to watch it on the TV – of course, I can just take my table and plug the HDMI cable into the TV directly, but that is cheating.  In a month or two I will by an Xbox One and that will be my main Media Center (including Netflix, DVDs, and BlueRay), but for the time being I am okay being able to watch the movies I have stored on the computer.  However I do think I am going to have to figure out a good way to sort the movies… but that’s next week’s problem :)

Sad Times for an Industry

I used to say to my audiences that while the number of jobs in IT will go down, the best will always be in demand.  I then spent several months essentially unemployed.

The IT field has changed dramatically over the course of the last few years.  I suppose it is natural for an industry as young as ours to evolve drastically and violently… but I didn’t expect it would happen to me.  When I did find a job I was relieved to say the least.

During the time when I was looking I noticed that a lot of people turned their backs on me.  I thought for a while it was personal, but I have realized that people in our field are becoming a lot less secure than they were even a year or two ago… yes, some of the people who disappointed me did it out of malice or jealousy, but I have realized that there are also a lot of people who have realized that if they are not protective of what they have, someone else might get it.

I am not naming names… but one of the people who didn’t turn his back on me – someone who commiserated, and did everything that he could to help me – pinged me this morning telling me that he had been let go.  I know that a few months ago I had counselled him on a position at Microsoft, but realized before I even replied (because of time zones it was the first message I saw this morning) I realized that while I remembered him telling me that he found something, I had no idea where it was.  I suppose now it doesn’t matter… he’s not there anymore, and through no fault of his own.

There are a lot of reasons for someone to leave their company… often they will leave because of a better job offer elsewhere (I e-mailed a friend at VMware Canada last week and the message bounced… he turned up at Microsoft Canada this Monday).  Sometimes we are just fed up, and we leave of our own accord.  Of course there is also the termination for cause, and we all hope to avoid that.

All of those are reasons we could have done something about… but when the company simply cannot afford to pay us anymore – they don’t need five IT guys and are downsizing to three, or the project we were hired for was cancelled – it can come as a shock… we did nothing wrong, and there was nothing we could have done to prevent it.  We’re just… gone.  This is a lousy situation.

A few years ago when I went to the US border to apply for my TN visa so that I could work in that country.  Please remember that US border agents are quite loyal, and very protective of their country.  I was trying to explain to the agent what I did as an IT Pro helping companies to virtualize did.  After a few minutes he said to me ‘Let me get this straight: you want me to let you come into my country to teach companies how they can become more efficient and need fewer American workers.’  I could feel his eyes boring into me like lasers.  But the truth is I always felt that the students who learned from me would always be safe, because I was helping to prepare them for the inevitable shift in the industry.  And yet there I was, looking for work… for a long time.

The friend who pinged me this morning was one of those students… I taught him virtualization and System Center, and those are two very important skills to know.  But how do you prepare yourself for the company canceling the project?  It’s not easy.

I have said for years that one of the worst advancements in IT with regard to the IT Pro field was the advent of Microsoft Windows.  In the days of DOS, Novell, and AccPac computers were a mystery to most people, and it was only the real IT Pros who could make sense of everything for the masses.  With Windows `Press Here, Dummy!’ interface myriad people figured it out, and started calling themselves IT Pros.  Some of those people would eventually learn what was really under the hood, get certified, and thrive… but a lot of them did a lot of our customers a disservice and made those people and companies distrust the entire profession.  I see that coming back to haunt us even worse, in a time when automation and virtualization are making thing easier for the fewer IT Pros needed, we are living through the worst of times for the profession.

What is the solution?  I don’t know… but I do know that we can’t put the genie back into the bottle, and it is going to get worse before it gets better.  I hope we are all able to weather the storm.

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