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A Tale of Two Tablets…

I like my Surface Pro 3.  Despite a couple of hiccoughs before the drivers were stable I have always liked it.  It is a wonderful computer for what I use it for… and frankly, for a lot of things I don’t use it for.  So when I started commuting to a new office in Toronto earlier this year – a commute that involved nearly an hour on a GO Train each way – I figured I would simply load my movies, TV shows, and books onto the Surface and keep myself entertained on the train.

This system worked perfectly for a couple of months, until I discovered the HP Stream 7… if you read my article (Stream-lining: A review of my new companion device) you will see why I switched.  I have had the Stream 7 for several months, and really the only complaint I have had about it is the battery life.  Of course, it is a little slow… that is to be expected from a Windows 8 device with only 1gb of RAM, but for my purposes (and for the absolutely incredible price) I was not complaining.

A few weeks ago I won a contest, and HP sent me a new device… the HP Pro Table 408.  It is slightly bigger than the Stream 7 (8” as opposed to 7”), has more RAM (2gb), more storage (64gb over the 32gb Stream), and in addition to the micro-USB port that both devices use for charging, it also has a micro-HDMI port to plug in external video.  Okay, It was a present, so I was looking forward to trying it out.

If I was a consumer looking at the two devices side by side I would probably use my Cuban cigar analogy… they are probably 15% better than other cigars, but for 100-200% more money, so not worth it.  The Pro Tablet 408 (the higher end version with the 64GB) retails on the HP Store for US$399, which is 400% of the cost of the Stream 7 at the same HP Store.  Can the slightly larger device really be worth it?  I dunno… The Stream is a pretty good companion device, especially if all you want to use it for is reading and watching movies.

But wait… what if that is not all you want a tablet to do?  What if you want to use it for productivity apps and web surfing and so much more?  What if you are going to use it as a communications device with Skype and Lync (Skype for Business) and Viber?  What if you want to not only do all of these things individually, but multi-task as well?  Well my friend, if that is your game then the $99 Stream 7 isn’t going to cut it.

By the way, I should state one thing for the record right now: The battery life on the Stream 7… well, how do I put it nicely?  It sucks.  It is simply awful. Don’t get me wrong, if I charge it overnight I have no problem using it for the train ride into Toronto, and even to watch a movie or read a book at lunch.  But that’s it… I would expect a device like this to last much longer, and that is just not the case.

The battery is not the only weak component on the Stream 7… the wireless networking is not the greatest.  It takes several minutes to copy files over the network, to the point that I decided it was simply quicker to pull the Micro-SD card out of it and copy the files direct from my Surface Pro than it was to move them over the Wi-Fi.  I am not talking about terabytes of files… I mean it might take 25 minutes to transmit 5gb of movie files.  Yuck.  Also I like to use it to connect to via wireless HDMI to watch TV, and it works fine when I am sitting on the couch directly in front of the TV… but when I sit at my kitchen table eighteen feet away from the TV the signal gets disrupted (as in, whatever you are watching is no longer playing) whenever my cellphone rings.

The Pro Tablet 408, on the other hand… this is a device that you can work with.  I am able to stream Netflix over my wireless HDMI from any room in my condo (which is not something I should be overly worried about, seeing as my TV is no more than 40’ from any far wall in the place) clearly and reliably while checking my e-mail and writing this blog article.  I’m not saying it is going to run Hyper-V or Adobe Photoshop, but Microsoft Office and most of my day-to-day apps work just fine.  As well the 408 has an 802.11a/b/g/n (2×2) WiFi device, as well as (and this is why a lot of professionals will pick the 408 over anything else) HSPA+ Mobile Broadband (in other words… cellular data!

The Stream’s battery is a 3000mAh Li-ion polymer, which is less than 60% of the 4800mAh Li-ion polymer one sported by the 408.  Unfortunately neither of these are user-replaceable, which is a bit of a tease, because when you pull off the back cover of either to put your GSM and SD cards in they are right there… but like a dancer at a gentleman’s club, you can look but don’t touch.

With regard to the battery, I am seriously disappointed by the Stream 7 battery not only because of how long it lasts when using it, but because it seems to drain at a similar pace when the device is off (not Sleep Mode… OFF).  If I charge it overnight and then unplug it, I seem to have about a day to use it before it dies of natural causes.  In comparison: I lost the Pro Tab 408 this weekend.  That’s bit true… on Friday I placed it in the glove compartment of my car, and then spent the week-end trying to find it (eventually checking where it was Monday morning).  I had used it Friday for an hour before leaving it.  As I sit on the train typing away on it shortly after rediscovering it, the battery is at about 80%.  Advantage: Pro Tablet 408!

The weight differential shouldn’t be a factor… .8lbs for the Stream and .83lbs for the Pro 408.  However when I bought the Stream at the Microsoft Store they had a special on a case for about $20, and while the HP Store does have a case in theory, in actuality it has been out of stock, and I eventually opted to buy a third-party case on Amazon (Cooper Case Backlight Executive) which I am quite happy with. 

On the surface the CPU in the Stream 7 is faster (1.8GHz to 1.33GHz), but since the Pro Tab 408’s CPU has Intel Burst Technology (kicking it up to 2.16GHz) the Pro Tab wins there too.

Conclusion

The Stream 7 does what it needs to do very well, as long as you remember to plug it in every 12 hours.  For my ex-wife to share with our 5 year old son for his games it is perfect.  For a professional on the go who may not have time or remember to plug it in, make sure you are also carrying a charging device with you (I love the Aukey 20,000mAh Portable Charger).

The HP Pro Tablet 408 really kicks it… It is more money than I would spend on a tablet for a 5 year old to play games on, but it is about the same as an iPad Mini, and it is the device that fanbois wish was made by Apple.  Add to the superior screen and battery the 64GB of storage and 2GB of RAM standard, the SD Card reader, micro-USB and micro-HDMI ports, and you have a winner on your hands. 

By the way, my Aukey charger that I find necessary with the Stream 7 will give both tablets a full charge… three times in fact.  If you are looking for a portable charger, this is a device to consider.

I should mention that I have not done a lot of research on competitive options, so if you have a device you like, tell me about it!

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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Stream-lining: A review of my new companion device.

I have always had a deal with the companies that have supported me over the years: If you give me a product to test and I like it, I will write about it. If I don’t like it, I will not write about it. That is why there are so few negative reviews on my site. It has always been a workable arrangement that has allowed me to showcase positive technologies for them. There are plenty of sites out there who are all too happy to write the negatives.

I say this because three years ago my friends at HP gave me a device that I did not like. To date I think it is the only HP device that they have given me that I did not like, and I never wrote about it. It was a tablet device that I think was still running Windows 7. It was just not my cup of tea.

So when my friends at the Microsoft Store showed me a new 7” HP tablet a few weeks ago I was hesitant. I know, it runs Windows 8.1, and only weighs a little less than a pound… but would I really use it? I mean, I have a Surface Pro 3 as my corporate device, and another Surface Pro 3 for my personal stuff, and between the two of them I am more than covered. I was afraid the ship had likely sailed on my becoming enamoured with HP tablets.

Enter my son.

No, not Aaron. My 17 year old has a Surface RT as a companion device to his HP EliteBook laptop. He treats them both with the respect that his mother and I have taught him.

Gilad, on the other hand, is an entirely different story. Our 5 year old is a rambunctious little guy, and it is not hard to see that he is his father’s son. For those of you who know me when I was much younger, that is a very scary thought. He has the temper and the attitude and the tantrums and the lack of control that he comes by honestly. Only when I was of that age, home computers did not get dropped… because they had not been invented yet, and when they did come around they were expensive and heavy and cumbersome. In this day and age where almost all computers are portable and tablet computers weigh a pound, it is easy to forget that they break. Add to that games which require the player to hold the tablet up to steer, and the dangers are real.

“Mitch, Gilad dropped the Surface one too many times last week, and the screen broke and it is now unusable.”

The fact that it took as long as it did for me to hear that was a bit surprising, but that is that call I got last week. My mind immediately went to the $99 HP Stream 7 that my friend showed me, and I promised Theresa that I would pick one up for her, and that is what I did on Wednesday. I spent the extra money on the screen protector and case/stand, and it cost me, all told, $150.

Stream 7

Over the next few days I gave it a lot of thought… I commute into Toronto 4 days a week, spending nearly an hour on the train each way. What I have been doing is downloading my TV shows onto my personal Surface Pro, and I would watch them on the train. It is a great solution, but it also means I am carrying a $1500 tablet around. Yes, it has the Complete Care warranty in case I drop it, but what if it gets stolen? I decided that for what I do on the train, I was going to take the plunge.

I picked up the HP Stream 7 on Monday. I got the same package as I had bought for Theresa, except in lieu of her light blue cover I opted for the black. I was ambivalent because it only had 32gb of storage, 1gb of RAM, and an ATOM processor… but even with that it runs the full Windows (not Windows RT), and for what I need it for, that should really be enough. In fact, it might be considered overkill J

Two Ports, Three Buttons.

Stream 7 CornerI believe in the KISS principle… but I cannot think of any device I have ever owned that had less to it: a micro-USB port (which, from what I can tell, is only meant to charge the device) and a headset port (which was not a deal breaker, since otherwise I would have bought Bluetooth headphones); it has a power button, an up-volume and a down-volume button… and that’s it. I did not think it possible to have a fully functional device with less buttons than my iPhone, but there is was. Okay, I suppose the Windows logo could be considered a button, so it is actually tied with the iPhone. No matter, it works.

The first problem I encountered was file transmission speed… traditionally I download my TV shows on my Surface Pro (the personal one, in case anyone at Rakuten is reading this). For the first few days I would then transfer them to the HP. Unfortunately transferring a low-res one-hour TV show over wifi seemed to take a long time… 8 minutes. Wow, there has to be a better way…

…and there it was! In a very under-promoted feat of innovation, if you pop the back cover off the device with your fingernail, there is a Micro-SD card slot! Woohoo! Increased storage, here I come!

Stream 7 BackThen it occurred to me… why take all of these extra (and probably unnecessary) steps? I will now just download my shows onto the tablet, and skip the middle-man (not to mention free up my SP3 for more important duties).

I went looking for other problems… but so far I haven’t found any. There’s no external display port. Who cares, it’s a companion device! It doesn’t have a USB port. Who cares, it’s a companion device! There’s no stylus, and if you want to attach a mouse or keyboard you have to do it over Bluetooth. Who the heck cares, it’s a companion device!

So let’s review… For $99 (plus the cost of the screen protector and case) I picked up a tablet with 32gb of storage that is expandable to 160gb, has a gigabyte of RAM, runs all of my applications that I need, has front and rear-facing cameras, and fits in my back pocket, lets me watch movies and listen to music on the go, and Oh, by the way, for the price also comes with a year subscription to Microsoft Office 365, AND came with a $25 voucher for the Windows Store. Add to that the Bitlocker encryption on the hard drive, and a 5-point touch screen, and this device that actually does fit into my back pocket is a better computer than my first laptop… and probably my second and third one now that I think of it…

I should mention that it is now the only device I have that runs the 32-bit version of Windows. Who cares, it’s a companion device! I keep saying that because really, it does everything I need. I wouldn’t replace my primary systems with it, and I wouldn’t dream of trying to run Photoshop on it. But for years I have talked about The Best Tool for the Job, and for what I will be using it for, the HP Stream 7 really does seem to be that.

Of course, it does run Windows, so I will be adding it to my Windows Intune account for anti-malware and management. Intune has never led me astray, so the fact that it is able to manage my tablet without mucking about with APNS Certificates made my life easier.

Earlier this week I was sitting in the lunch room on my break, watching a movie. Someone came up and asked me about the device, and of course I showed him my new toy. He then asked me ‘So why did you pick this and not an iPad?’ I had a few answers for him… yes, I used to be a Microsoftie, and yes, I am a big fan of Windows 8.1, and of course I know the OS much better than I know iOS… but the bottom line is that the least expensive iPad costs about $300; that is not unreasonable, but it is also not an impulse purchase. At $99 the HP Stream 7 was exactly that; I was at the Microsoft Store for another reason, I looked at it, and I decided to buy it. I had not walked in with the intention of walking out with one, but there it was. It costs one third what the iPad would cost me, and the only thing that I know of that it does not do is Facetime. Fortunately the entire world also has Skype, so I won’t really suffer.

Let me be clear: This is not simply a rewired and rebranded HP Slate 2. This is a spectacular and fully functional device that is not trying to be all things to all people, but instead does what it is meant to do really well.

Overall, it gets a huge thumbs up from this user… and unlike many of the devices I have discussed in the past I paid full boat for this. Nonetheless, thanks HP!

System Center 2012

Over the past few months I have written extensively on Windows Server 2012.  I am a big fan of Microsoft’s newest server OS and the benefits that it offers.  However I feel that I have only been offering part of the story.

Starting tomorrow and for the next few months I will be posting several articles on installing, configuring, and using System Center 2012 for your Private Cloud environment.  During this series I will cover all seven components of the System Center 2012 SP1 bundle: Configuration Manager (ConfigMgr), Operations Manager (OpsMgr), Virtual Machine Manager (VMM), Service Manager (ServMgr), Data Protection Manager (DPM), Orchestrator (Orch), and App Controller.

The articles will be written based on the environment that I am building that will be my demo environment for at least the next fiscal year (FY14 in Microsoft-speak), which means that at any given point you will know what you are looking at based on the articles that have been written to date.  In addition to writing these articles, I will also use the same environment for my lectures and presentations, so if you see me in person or on a webinar this is what you will see.

DL380Gen8 Let’s start with the physical environment.  The vast majority of the Microsoft-based workloads will be hosted on two HP ProLiant DL380 Gen 8 servers with 128GB of RAM each.  For the time being my storage is all based on 10K RPM SAS disks in these servers, along with Windows Storage Pools and Software iSCSI Target in Windows Server 2012 (although that may change).  The switches are also HP. 

From time to time I will mention and leverage technologies such as iLO (HP’s Integrated Lights Out backplane software).  I will try to include an article at some point that will also cover DRAC (Dell’s equivalent backplane HPtechnology); however these articles are being done primarily on HP hardware for several reasons:

  1. HP is my server vendor of choice; in addition to these two servers I currently have four other HP ProLiant servers in my environment;
  2. HP is cooperating with me on these articles by providing assistance and guidance when needed;
  3. HP has supplied some hardware for this project, although certainly not all of it.
  4. I happen to have a great relationship with several people at HP, having worked with them in the past on community tours as well as on international projects as a consultant.  As such I am glad to work with them.

During the course of this series I will start to bring in other platforms, including VMware and Citrix and Dell and who knows what else.  However let’s face it: if you know me, you know that I am Microsoft focused; I am a Virtual Technology Evangelist with Microsoft Canada, and in addition to being a Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT) I hold dozens of Microsoft certifications, including the Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert: Private Cloud.  I have worked with Microsoft on scores of projects over the past decade, and that is where my primary focus is.

With that being said, I am not a one trick pony.  I am a VMware Certified Professional (VCP 4/5) as well as a Certified Virtualization Expert (CVE 4/5).  I have worked with Citrix virtualization as well, and intend to include all of these technologies in my lab – and as such in these articles.  However I do not pretend to know everything, and for some of the components that I will be writing about I will be learning as I go.  It should be a fun project for me, as well as an educational one.

As for you, if there are any components that you would like to see I would love to hear from you.  While I have a general roadmap in my head (and on paper) it is not written in stone.  I always say that I write this blog for you, so although I make no promises, if there is something you would like to hear about just let me know… I’ll be glad to try to include it… IF it makes sense to me!

An Introduction to Windows 8: Mitch on Halton Tech TV

I am surprised that with all the hype and talk I have been doing about Windows 8, I have not blogged about this yet.  Halton Tech TV is a show on our regional cable network in the Oakville/Burlington/Milton area that focuses on different technologies.  Hosted by Robert Duvall of RDC Networks, it brings the newest and most interesting technologies to life.

In mid-August I was invited onto the show to discuss Windows 8 which, at the time, was still in the late preview stages.  Robert and I had a great discussion of the value of Windows 8, and I did a bunch of demos from my HP EliteBook laptop which, although it is still a Windows 7 device, runs Windows 8 beautifully.  HP Canada invited us to film on location in their Canadian Centre of Excellence, where they had a great 40” touch screen for us to use.

It was a great experience, and for IT Pros who are not able to come out and see our sessions live, this TV show is a great way to see what’s new and exciting in Windows 8.

You can watch the show in three parts here:

As always I welcome your comments, and hope that you enjoy the show! –MDG

Installing Windows Server 2012 on an HP ProLiant!

The day has finally arrived.  This morning (September 4th) all us geeks will be eagerly waiting for Windows Server 2012 to be available for download.  It really is quite exciting!

I have been running the Release Candidate (RC) bits on my HP ProLiant ML350s for several months, but this week-end I was going to spend a couple of hours getting the ProLiant DL380 Gen8s up and running on the RTM bits.  It is really very exciting!

I ran into a stumbling block early on… fortunately there is documentation for getting around them… as long as you know where to look.  In short:

  • Before you get started with Windows Server 2012, make sure you download the latest BIOS and iLO firmware.  These are hugely important – Windows Server 2012 will not install without it.  You can download it from HP by clicking here, then selecting the appropriate Firmware – Lights-Out Management Flash Component (I used the Online ROM Flash Component for Windows – HP Integrated Lights-Out 4).  I then navigated to the iLO console and under Administration I selected iLO Firmware
  • When upgrading your firmware (as well as when installing a new OS) it is always a good idea to make sure your BIOS is at the latest release.  HP is making this easier than ever – you simply download the tool that creates the bootable USB key for you, then boot the server with it.
  • Download the WIndows Server 2012 Supplement for Service Pack for ProLiant here.  As of this week-end it was all for the RC release, but I expect that today or tomorrow there will be new drivers for Windows Server 2012.
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    Once you have done all of this you are ready to rock… Windows Server 2012 is rocking on the ProLiant DL380 Gen8s… as it was meant to Smile  Go forth, patch, and be a true IT hero by virtualizing on Windows Server 2012!

    Coffee Coaching

    English: HP ProLiant DL360 G7, left part of th...

    I have a great relationship with HP dating back years.  They have great products and great people working there.  As such when I was asked at Microsoft’s WPC recently if I would record a session for their ‘Coffee Coaching’ series, it was my pleased to do so.

    Coffee Coaching snippets are 3-5 minute videos talking about technology, trying to help IT Pros (focused on SMBs) learn about their profession.

    Please check out the video – I talk about Windows Server 2012 (and focus on Hyper-V… no shock there) on my new HP ProLiant DL380 Gen8 servers.  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

    You can watch (and comment on) the video here.

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