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Server Core: Save money.

I remember an internal joke floating around Microsoft in 2007, about a new way to deploy Windows Server.  There was an ad campaign around Windows Vista at the time that said ‘The Wow Starts Now!’  When they spoke about Server Core they joked ‘The Wow Stops Now!’

Server Core was a new way to deploy Windows Server.  It was not a different license or a different SKU, or even different media.  You simply had the option during the installation of clicking ‘Server Core’ which would install the Server OS without the GUI.  It was simply a command prompt with, at the time, a few roles that could be installed in Core.

While Server Core would certainly save some resources, it was not really practical in Windows Server 2008, or at least not for a lot of applications.  There was no .NET, no IIS, and a bunch of other really important services could not be installed on Server Core.  In short, Server Core was not entirely practical.

Fast Forward to Windows Server 2012 (and R2) and it is a completely different story.  Server Core a fully capable Server OS, and with regard to resources the savings are huge.  So when chatting with the owner of a cloud services provider recently (with hundreds of physical and thousands of virtual servers) I asked what percentage of his servers were running Server Core, and he answered ‘Zero’.  I could not believe my ears.

The cloud provider is a major Microsoft partner in his country, and is on the leading edge (if not the bleeding edge) on every Microsoft technology.  They recently acquired another datacentre that was a VMware vCloud installation, and have embarked on a major project to convert all of those hosts to Hyper-V through System Center 2012.  So why not Server Core?

The answer is simple… When Microsoft introduced Server Core in 2008 they tried it out, and recognizing its limitations decided that it would not be a viable solution for them.  It had nothing to do with the command line… the company scripts and automates everything in ways that make them one of the most efficient datacentres I have ever seen.  They simply had not had the cycles to re-test Server Core in Server 2012 R2 yet.

We sat down and did the math.  The Graphical User Environment (GUI) in Windows Server 2012 takes about 300MB of RAM – a piddling amount when you consider the power of today’s servers.  However in a cloud datacentre such as this one, in which every host contained 200-300 virtual machines running Windows Server, that 300MB of RAM added up quickly – a host with two hundred virtual machines required 60GB of RAM just for GUIs.  If we assume that the company was not going to go out and buy more RAM for its servers simply for the GUI, it meant that, on average, a host comfortably running 200 virtual machines with the GUI would easily run 230 virtual machines on Server Core.

In layman’s terms, the math in the previous paragraph means that the datacentre capacity could increase by fifteen percent by converting all of his VMs to Server Core.  If the provider has 300 hosts running 200 VMs each (60,000 VMs), then an increased workload of 15% translates to 9,000 more VMs.  With the full GUI that translates to forty-five more hosts (let’s conservatively say $10,000 each), or an investment of nearly half a million dollars.  Of course that is before you consider all of the ancillary costs – real estate, electricity, cooling, licensing, etc…  Server Core can save all of that.

Now here’s the real kicker: Had we seen this improvement in Windows Server 2008, it still would have been a very significant cost to converting servers from GUI to Server Core… a re-install was required.  With Windows Server 2012 Server Core is a feature, or rather the GUI itself is a feature that can be added or removed from the OS, and only a single reboot is required.  While the reboot may be disruptive, if managed properly the disruption will be minimal, with immense cost savings.

If you have a few servers to uninstall the GUI from then the Server Manager is the easy way to do it.  However if you have thousands or tens of thousands of VMs to remove it from, then you want to script it.  As usual PowerShell provides the easiest way to do this… the cmdlet would be:

Uninstall-WindowsFeature Server-Gui-Shell –restart

There is also a happy medium between the GUI and Server Core called MinShell… you can read about it here.  However remember that in your virtualized environment you will be doing a lot more remote management of your servers, and there is a reason I call MinShell ‘the training wheels for Server Core.’

There’s a lot of money to be saved, and the effort is not significant.  Go ahead and try it… you won’t be disappointed!

Windows To Go: Disk Behaviour

BitLocker Drive Encryption

BitLocker Drive Encryption (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Recently I was explaining Windows To Go at a client site.  We had a few interesting discussions about the power as well as the limitations of the security features.

One attendee asked a couple of good questions:

1) Is there any way to block the ‘on-lining’ of your Windows To Go key in other installations of Windows?

2) Is there a way to block users from bringing local disks on-line from within Windows To Go?

While I did not have the answers off the top of my head, after some consideration they are actually quite simple.

1) Windows To Go is the equivalent of any hard drive.  Because the machines that you are meant to use them on will be unmanaged, it is impossible to prevent this.  However Microsoft does provide several different levels of protection:

  • The WTG drive is off-line by default;
  • When building the WTG key you can enable BitLocker
  • Although BitLocker on the WTG key cannot be tied to a TPM chip, it will have a password associated.

In other words, in order to compromise the key from another installation of Windows, you would have to bring the WTG key on-line, unlock it, and provide a password.  In other words, if you trust the person to whom you gave the key.  If you don’t, he probably should not be on your systems in the first place.

The second answer is probably a happier one.  Because Windows to Go is (or can be) a managed environment (including domain membership, Group Policy, and even System Center management) the key can be locked down as you see fit.  How you would do it depends on which of the tools you have at your disposal… but yes, this can be done.

I hope this helps you to make your environment more secure using Windows To Go!

What’s New in Windows Server 2012 R2 Lessons Learned Week 1

Dan Stoltz asked me to republish this article, and it is well worth it!  Check out all of the links – a lot of great material! -MDG

It has been an incredible start to the Windows Server 2012 R2 Launch Series.  Here is brief summary of what we covered so far…

  1. Windows Server 2012 R2 Launch Blog Series Index #WhyWin2012R2 the series, opening and index page we learned that from Oct 18th and every day until Thanksgiving we should visit http://aka.ms/2012r2-01 to learn all about Windows Server 2012 R2. You can also follow the excitement on twitter at #WhyWin2012R2. Download the calendar .ICS to populate your calendar here.  This post started the new launch series where Microsoft platform experts would cover  why Windows Server 2012 R2 is important, how to deploy, manage, configure any number of components in Windows Server 2012 R2, how the new OS capabilities stack up against competitors, how R2 integrates with and leverages cloud services like Windows Azure and many, many more categories. This series is deep technical content with lots of How To’s and Step-By-Step instructions. You will learn about storage, cloud integration, RDS, VDI, Hyper-V, virtualization, deduplication, replica, DNS, AD, DHCP, high availability, SMB, backup, PowerShell and much, much more!
  2. Why Windows Server 2012 R2 Rocks! #WhyWin2012R2 - You are probably like most people and realize that Windows Server 2012 was a very substantial upgrade over Windows Server 2008 R2. What would you say to Microsoft doing it again, and even better? WOW! That is exactly what Windows Server 2012 R2 has done. In this post we will look at some of the coolest additions and improvements to Windows Server 2012 R2. Regardless of which of the four pillars of focus (Enterprise-Class, Simple and Cost-Effective, Application Focused, User Centric) you are most interested in, you will find plenty in this post to appreciate! @ITProGuru will show you as he counts the top 10 biggest, most relevant and/or most differentiated new features in Windows Server 2012 R2.
  3. Where Are All The Resources For Windows Server 2012 R2? – We learned where to do go get free resources for Windows Server 2012 R2 including downloading a Free Trial of Windows Server 2012 R2, Free online cloud serversFree EBook on Windows Server 2012 R2, Free Posters, Free Online Training from Microsoft Virtual Academy, and much more.
  4. Implementing Windows Server 2012 R2 Active Directory Certificate Services Part 1 &
  5. Implementing Windows Server 2012 R2 Active Directory Certificate Services Part 2PKI is heavily employed in cloud computing for encrypting data and securing transactions. While Windows Server 2012 R2 is developed as a building block for cloud solutions, there is an increasing demand for IT professionals to acquire proficiency on implementing PKI with Windows Server 2012 R2. This two-part blog post series is to help those who, like me, perhaps do not work on Active Directory Certificate Services (AD CS) everyday while every so often do need to implement a simple PKI for assessing or piloting solutions better understand and become familiar with the process.
  6. Step-by-Step: Automated Tiered Storage with Storage Spaces in R2 – Windows Server 2012 R2 includes a number of exciting storage virtualization enhancements, including automated storage tiering, scale-out file server re-balancing and performance tuning for high-speed 10Gbps, 40Gbps and 56Gbps storage connectivity.  IT Pros with which I’ve spoken are leveraging these new enhancements to build cost-effective SAN-like storage solutions using commodity hardware.In this article, we’ll begin part 1 of a two-part mini-series on storage.  I’ll provide a technical comparison of Windows Server 2012 R2 storage architecture to traditional SAN architecture, and then deep-dive into the new Storage Spaces enhancements for storage virtualization.  At the end of this article, I’ll also include Step-by-Step resources that you can use to build your own Storage Spaces lab.  In part 2 of this mini-series, we’ll finish our storage conversation with the new improvements around Scale-Out File Servers in Windows Server 2012.
  7. iSCSI Target Server – Super Fast Mass Server Deployment! – #WhyWin2012R2 – There have been some significant updates to Windows Server 2012 with the R2 release. One of these updates helps IT Pros deal with a growing problem – How do I deploy a large number of servers quickly, at scale without adding massive amounts of storage?The updates to the iSCSI target server technologies allow admins to share a single operating system image stored in a centralized location and use it to boot large numbers of servers from a single image. This improves efficiency, manageability, availability, and security. iSCSI Target Server can boot hundreds of computers by using a single operating system image!
  8. Why Windows Server 2012 R2: Reducing the Storage Cost for your VDI Deployments with VHD De-duplication for VDI – Windows Server 2012 introduced a data deduplication for your storage workloads customers saw phenomenal storage reduction.  Windows Server 2012 R2 deduplucation now supports live VHDs for VDI, which means that data de-duplication can now be performed on open VHD/VHDX files on remote VDI storage with CSV volume support. Remote VHD/VHDX storage de-duplication allows for increased VDI storage density significantly reducing
    VDI storage costs, and enabling faster read/write of optimized files and advanced caching of duplicated data.
  9. Importing & Exporting Hyper-V VMs in Windows Server 2012 R2 One of the biggest benefits of server virtualization is the ability to backup or restore entire systems easily and quickly.  Though they are infrequently used features, Hyper-V import and export are very fast, versatile, and easy to use.  In Windows Server 2012 R2 these features get even better.  I will take a look at how this functionality works and why it is useful.  I’ll also discuss how they are very different from the commonly used checkpoints in Hyper-V, and how you can automate this process.

Keep plugged in to the series to continue learning about Windows Server 2012 R2

- See more at: http://itproguru.com/expert/2013/10/whats-new-in-windows-server-2012-r2-lessons-learned-week-1/#sthash.JWWX9vKZ.dpuf

A Quick Tip for Hyper-V Users: Product Keys

I keep telling people that the best way to activate your servers and desktops is to have a Key Management Server (KMS) in your environment.  However not everyone has volume license keys, and when an IT Pro (or Dev) builds a lot of lab environments using their TechNet, MSDN, or MAPS licenses that is not an option.

If you hate typing and retyping product keys, here’s a trick that will make your life a little easier:

1) Navigate to the Subscriber Downloads page on your TechNet Plus, MSDN, or other site and find the operating system that you are looking for, then click Product Keys next to the desired product.

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2) Once you have the key available (you may have to click Get a Key first) click on the clipboard icon next to that key. (you may have to allow Internet Explorer to access your clipboard).

3) Now bring up the Hyper-V Virtual Machine Connection for your virtual machine and begin installing the OS.  When you get to the screen where you would have to type in the product key, select the Clipboard option in the menu and click Type clipboard text.

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You should see the product key being typed into the appropriate location.

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I use this technique whenever I have lab environments to build, but it would work just as well for copying any text  from your desktop (or server) into your Hyper-V virtual machine.  It is simple and effective… just like Hyper-V!

Refresh Your PC – Save your bacon!

Thursday morning I did something to my main laptop that I really should not have done, and the results were disastrous.  I succeeded in completely wrecking my installation of Windows 8.  I was able to boot into the OS, but as soon as I tried to launch any application my system went into an endless flash-loop, and was completely unusable.

I want to be clear that Windows 8 is a very solid and stable platform – it is built on the foundation of Windows 7 which most people agree was the most stable OS that Microsoft had ever released.  Unfortunately when you tart to play under the hood (where the vast majority of users would never be) things can go wrong… and indeed that is what happened to my system.

Normally under these circumstances I would simply reformat the laptop, or at the very least re-install Windows on the existing partition (so as to not wipe my data).  However because my system is protected with BitLocker I would have had to extract the BitLocker Recovery Key, which I have on file… somewhere.

Because my laptop has a Microsoft corporate image on it I could have gone to the IT Help Desk at the office and had them work it out with me… but it was Thursday, I wasn’t going to be in my office until Monday, and I had several presentations to do over the course of the week-end… not to mention blog articles, e-mail, and whatever else I might have had to do.

Since I was able to boot into Windows 8 I decided to try to Refresh my PC.  This is a new feature of the OS that is found under Settings – Change PC Settings – General that refreshes my PC without affecting any files.  Essentially it reinstalls the OS in place which restores anything that I would have messed up – and I know just how badly I messed it up.  However it retains my data and settings for all users – including domain membership, files, desktop… everything.

Refresh is BitLocker-aware, and warned me before starting that it would temporarily disable my BitLocker protection and then re-enable it when the process was complete.

It took about 15 minutes.  Refresh rebooted the PC a couple of times, fixed everything that was wrong, and when I booted back into Windows it prompted me to log on as b-mitchg – my alias in the Microsoft Active Directory.  My password worked, and so did my PC.  The desktop was exactly as I had left it – a little cluttered, although not as bad as it would have been on Windows 7.

Refresh restores all of your Windows 8 apps that were installed from the Windows Store; any applications that you installed ‘the legacy way’ will have to be re-installed.  However that was a small price to pay considering that most of my apps (with the exception of Microsoft Office 2013) are all from the Store, so I didn’t have a lot of loss.

My settings were all correct, my documents were in their place, and my SkyDrive connection was intact.  Everything was as it was before the refresh… except it all worked!

Of course there is a ‘one step further’ – Remove everything and re-install Windows.  This will not preserve any of your files, settings, or even your account.  Imagine you are selling your PC, giving it to your kids, or whatever.  You don’t have to do anything but click through to the Settings – Change PC Settings – General tab and click the option to Remove Everything.  You don’t have to go looking for your Windows media, it just takes care of everything for you.

Between these two options I can imagine that technicians will spend a lot less time trying to clean malware out of their PCs… the Refresh option is much quicker and just as effective.

I know it saved my bacon last week… it saved me from something far more dangerous than malware… it saved me from myself!

Backbone Magazine

When the editor of Backbone Magazine asked me earlier this year ‘Why should I my readers be getting excited about Windows 8?’ I told him… until the time had passed and we were both late for our next appointments.  He asked me to write it into an article (or opinion piece) for him, and it was published this month.  Here’s the link… I hope you enjoy it, especially as we wait with anticipation the GA (genera availability) date of October 26th!

http://www.backbonemag.com/Magazine/2012-09/five-reasons-you-will-like-windows-8.aspx

Let me know your thoughts!

Windows Server 2012 Videos from TechEd Australia

Channel 9 Guy

I wasn’t able to get to TechEd in Australia this year (or ever… sigh!).  However the folks from Channel 9 were, and they have a lot of the sessions available on their site.  I hope to find the time to sit through most of them over the next couple of weeks, but there are two or three that I know I will be making time for sooner! -M

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s New in WS2012: http://channel9.msdn.com/Events/TechEd/Australia/2012/WSV311

What’s New in Active Directory in Windows Server 2012: http://channel9.msdn.com/Events/TechEd/Australia/2012/WSV312

WS2012 Dynamic Access Control Overview and Tips: http://channel9.msdn.com/Events/TechEd/Australia/2012/WSV334

Kick Starting your Migration to Windows Server 2012 http://channel9.msdn.com/Events/TechEd/Australia/2012/WSV331

WS2012 File and Storage Services Management: http://channel9.msdn.com/Events/TechEd/Australia/2012/WSV325

Enabling Disaster Recovery using Hyper-V Replica: http://channel9.msdn.com/Events/TechEd/Australia/2012/VIR321

WS2012 Server Manager for Remote and Multi-Server Management: http://channel9.msdn.com/Events/TechEd/Australia/2012/WSV317

Windows Runtime (WinRT) Deep Dive: http://channel9.msdn.com/Events/TechEd/Australia/2012/DEV317

WS2012 File System Enhancements: ReFS and Storage Spaces: http://channel9.msdn.com/Events/TechEd/Australia/2012/WSV316

What’s New in Windows Server 2012 Hyper-V, Part 1: http://channel9.msdn.com/Events/TechEd/Australia/2012/VIR312

What’s New in Windows Server 2012 Hyper-V, Part 2: http://channel9.msdn.com/Events/TechEd/Australia/2012/VIR315

WS2012 Hyper-V Live Migration and Live Storage Migration: http://channel9.msdn.com/Events/TechEd/Australia/2012/VIR314

The Faces of WS2012: Bare Metal, Server Core, Minimal Server Interface… http://channel9.msdn.com/Events/TechEd/Australia/2012/WSV314

Hyper-V Performance, Scale & Architecture Changes: http://channel9.msdn.com/Events/TechEd/Australia/2012/VIR413

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