Tag Archives: Windows 8

An Epic Advantage to Windows 8 & the Cloud

The vast majority of computer users will never care about this.  That is because the vast majority of computer users use a single computer for years on end.  They use them at home, and then maybe (assuming it is a laptop) they take it to Internet cafes, possibly school or work, and likely on the road to hotels.  Most of these places will not have complex passwords for their wireless Internet.

WiFi1I do not fit into this category of computer user.

I have the following laptops that I use, either regularly or not, that all ‘belong to’ me in one semi-permanent way or another:

Lenovo Carbon X1 (my own)
Lenovo Carbon X1 (my Japanese corporate laptop)
Microsoft Surface Pro 2
2x HP EliteBook ‘server farm’ laptops

To make matters just slightly more complicated, I use most of them is all manner of places with complex passwords, ranging from companies that I visit to different hotels (many of which actually do have passwords for wireless) to cafes and restaurants and, of course, when I am somewhere without free WiFi I will tether any or all of these to my phone.

Now just to make things more interesting, let’s add the extra complications that a) I very often re-image these machines for any number of reasons, and b) many of them have virtual machines on them that also require access to the Internet.

Now, imagine I visit ten companies or people who have WiFi passwords like this: 2DE5A4210CBEE4.  Using the old way of doing things, every time I brought a different computer with me, or the same computer but re-imaged, I would need to re-enter the password.  What a pain.

So here’s the deal: I have not been to my parents’ flat in Montreal since July, when I was here with the entire family.  It was, as I recall, my first or second visit.  At the time I was not really using my Surface Pro (for my own reasons) so I was here with my Lenovo.  I must have connected to the network here at the time with the Lenovo.

In September when Microsoft released Windows 8.1 I re-imaged the Lenovo immediately.  I remember when I came back from Japan in November I thought it was acting wonky, so I re-imaged it at that point as well.  When I left Microsoft Canada in December I did not want to be out of license compliance by using their corporate image, so I re-imaged it again.  As for my Surface Pro, I re-imaged it in September as well, but then traded it in for a new Surface Pro 2 128 in January, and subsequently traded that one in for a Surface Pro 256 in February.

All of this to say that there is absolutely no way there was something left on a machine from my previous visit.

Last night when I was sitting in bed (in Oakville) organizing the newest Surface Pro the way I like it I noticed that I had not entered the WiFi password and it worked.  However there are all sorts of phenomena that could have explained that.  However when I got to my parents’ place in Montreal and I did not need a password for their WiFi I was thrilled… it is actually stored in your Microsoft Account profile.

WiFi2In other words, if you visit a friend today, get a new computer tomorrow, then visit them next week your new computer will automatically connect to the network for you.  Cool.

I was discussing the other day with a colleague how far we have come in the past thirty years with regard to computers.  They have certainly gotten easier to use and more convenient… to the point that sometimes we do not notice some of the improvements… at least, until someone writes about them. 

We are always so quick to point out the flaws in the technologies we use… the problems with new security features or features that were taken out.  When Microsoft releases a new operating system they usually put so many new features in that even their marketing and evangelism teams have to pick and choose the ones to really tout.  I suppose because (as I said in the opening lines) this improvement will only be very exciting for a select few, it didn’t make the list.  I will tell you though that had I known about it earlier I would have shouted it from the rooftops… because MY audience will care.

There are, of course, myriad benefits to using Windows 8.x with a Microsoft Account (SkyDrive, Windows Store, etc…) but this one is now officially on my list.  Is it on yours?  Let me know… and if not, what IS on your list?  I may not be an evangelist anymore, but I’d still like to know!

The Harsh Realities of the Exam Room

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about how tough I found Exam 74-409 was in my article Another Tough Exam.  I also mentioned that Microsoft exams were meant to be tough, and going into an exam unprepared can (and usually will) come back to bite you.

Last week I decided to bite the bullet and try to take home at least three certifications in a single marathon day of exams… I was hoping to achieve my MCSA: Windows 8, MCSA: Windows Server 2012, and my MCSE: Desktop Infrastructure in a single bound by passing three exams:

70-416: Implementing Desktop Application Environments
70-417: Upgrading Your Skills to MCSA Windows Server 2012
70-688: Managing and Maintaining Windows 8

The goal was lofty, but I felt I was up to the challenge.  I was wrong… but not terribly so.

Before going on I should mention that I am no dummy… I am just very busy, and taking the time to sit exams one at a time is a bit of a pain for me – I would rather, when I have to, simply write two or three in a single day.  Of course, this greatly reduces my chances of passing all of them, but because of the Microsoft and Prometric Second Shot Free offer for Microsoft Certified Trainers (see article) there is less of a risk – MCTs get a discount on the cost of exams, as well as a Second Shot.  My financial gamble on this day was minimal.  I have, by the by, passed three exams in a single day once… May 3, 2011 I passed three MCTS exams on Windows Server 2008.  If I could do it once, I could surely do it again.

Wrong.

Passing three exams in a single day was not easy, but they were all on the same general technology – Windows Server 2008.  On this silly day I went after three exams – one on Windows 8 (which I would have been surprised had I failed), one on Desktop Application environments (Windows 8 applications with a healthy dose of Windows Server, Remote Desktop Services, App-V, Group Policy, Microsoft Office, and several deployment tools), and one on Windows Server 2012…kinda.

Upgrade Exams

Thinking back to my early days of certification marathons, I remember hearing the horrors of Upgrade exams.  Essentially you are taking three exams in one.  The first Upgrade exam I sat was 70-292: Managing and Maintaining a Microsoft Windows Server 2003 Environment for an MCSA Certified on Windows 2000.  My success with this exam could be summed up with the old adage: Third time’s a charm.  I passed it in June of 2006… over a year after my first attempt.

Although I did have success with the MCDST (Desktop Support Technician) upgrade exam 70-621: Upgrading your MCDST Certification to MCITP Enterprise Support I did not fare nearly as well on the server side – 70-648 TS: Transition from Windows Server 2003 MCSA to Windows Server 2008 and TS: Transition from Windows Server 2003 MCSE to Windows Server 2008 (both of which I sat as beta exams and, coincidentally, on the same day) were not my finest hours.  I decided instead to sit all of the exams for these certifications instead of going the upgrade path again.

In hindsight, had I thought of that when scheduling the exams, I would not have done it.  Three exams in one day is mentally tough enough… add to that one of them is actually three exams, and even I wouldn’t have done it.

I never got into a rhythm for the exam, and did not notice that it was not one exam as one block of time, it was actually three sections, each with their own sub-block of time.  Unfortunately I only realized this when, with ten unanswered questions on Section 1, a pop-up warned me that I had two minutes to complete the section.  Without reading anything I clicked through and selected an answer for as many as I could (four) before being forced to leave six questions unanswered.

Now that I knew this was the case, I managed my time for the remaining sections much better… but four blind darts and six blanks doomed me.

You did not pass the exam.

I do not remember the actual wording of it, but that’s what it said… I had felt pretty good going into that last ‘Are You Sure?! ‘ button, which is why I was heartbroken when it came up.  Damn damn damn.

Wait a minute… I did a double-take when I noticed that my score was below 600.  583?  No way, I know I did better than that, there MUST BE SOME MISTAKE!  I don’t know the procedures for challenging an exam result (nor do I know if there is such a procedure) but at the end of the day when I collected my score reports I was going to find out.

Okay, that was only one of the exams… the server exam, which I could re-sit next week sometime.  I got my mindset into the application environment.  It was a really tough exam, but I passed it with a pretty respectable score.  I then went on to the Managing Windows 8 exam, which after the ordeal of the two previous exams was like a walk in the park.  I am not saying that any end user – or an IT Pro who isn’t intimately familiar with Windows 8 – could pass without a lot of preparation, but I have lived Windows 8 every day of the last 2.5 years, and even though that last ‘Are You Sure?!button is always nerve wracking, I passed very respectably.

Okay, good.  At least I could hold my head high with the knowledge that I would walk away with two Windows certifications today… MCSA: Windows 8, and MCSE: Desktop Infrastructure.  Now I could go look at the score report and go give someone a piece of my mind!

Wrong.

First the good news… I am not as much of a Windows Server bonehead as I thought.  I did not realize that for the Upgrade exam each section is marked as a complete exam… the score report actually comes out like this:

70-410: Installing and Configuring Windows Server 2012: 800
70-411: Administering Windows Server 2012: 583
70-412: Configuring Advanced Windows Server 2012 Services: 766

Aha… while the results of certification exams are really binary – Pass/Fail – I felt a lot better knowing that had they averaged out my score for the three exams I would have passed, and the abysmal score that displayed on screen was just that of the lowest section – quite obviously the section on which I only answered 2/3 of the questions.  Alright, I feel better about that, and now that I know, the next time I sit the exam I can manage my time properly (I’ll bet you if you scour my blog you will see that advice for exam takers) and pass with authority.

I was wrong about something else on this day though… Although I thought the prerequisites for the MCSE: Desktop Infrastructure were my MCSA Windows 8 and the 70-416 exam, it turns out that the first prerequisite is actually my MCSA Windows Server 2012… alas, I would only be walking away with one certification today, and not two as I was hoping and expecting.  With that said, if/when I do pass my 70-417 Upgrade exam I will with one pass earn two senior certifications… and that ain’t all bad as they say.

Conclusion

The old expression says that the shoemaker’s children go barefoot.  I got bit quite a bit by not following my own advice.  Fortunately Microsoft and Prometric have my back, and I can come back and re-sit the exam for free.  That is one piece of advice I did listen to – make sure you check for any offers such as the Second Shot before you register for your exam.  Although I have registered for several exams with previous similar offers, this is the first time I will need the safety net.  However just because you are confident does not mean you should be stupid… take any offer they will give you, and save your money.  I am glad I did!

Converting VHDs to VHDX and other questions…

Many of the articles I write for both The World According to Mitch and the Canadian IT Pro Connection come directly from people I meet through my travels.  They send me questions about technology by e-mail and rather than simply replying to them, if I feel the questions are relevant, I write them up as articles.  So if you meet me at one of my sessions and you ask me a question, do not be surprised if I ask you to e-mail it to me… oftentimes I will need to research the answer, but sometimes it is because I think that it would make for an interesting write-up.

I have known Betty for as long as I have been going to her home town, and while she loves to give me grief I know that she is always attentive and learns from my presentations.  She recently sent me an e-mail with two very good questions on Hyper-V following my IT Camp on Windows Server 2012.

QUESTION 1:

I have several virtual machines that were created on Server 2008R2, and I would like to convert them to VHDX to take advantage of all the new features on Windows 2012. Is this possible?

The process for exporting the virtual machine from Hyper-V on Windows Server 2008 R2 and then importing it as a virtual machine onto a host running Windows Server 2012 is fairly simple: Export, then Import.  However as I am sure you realize this does not convert the disk file format… ViVo in this case stands for VHD in, VHD out.  However the Edit Disk Wizard in the new Hyper-V is your friend here.

  1. Ensure that your virtual machine is powered down (or better yet disconnected).
  2. From the Actions Pane of the Hyper-V Manager click Edit Disk…
  3. On the Before You Begin page click Next.
  4. On the Locate Virtual Hard Disk page navigate to the location of our VHD file (use Browse if you like!).  Click Next.
  5. On the Choose Action page select the radio marked Convert and click Next.
  6. On the Convert Virtual Hard Disk page select the radio marked VHDX and click Next.
  7. On the second Convert Virtual Hard Disk page select the disk format you prefer (Fixed or Dynamically Expanding) and click Next.
  8. On the third Convert Virtual Hard Disk page enter the name and location of your new VHDX file and click Finish.
    Depending on the size of your source disk it may take a few minutes to create the new file; for larger disks you might want to run the Edit Disk Wizard to compact it before proceeding.  However once you are done you will have both the Source and the Destination disks, and all you have to do is edit the settings of your VM and attach the new drive, and you are ready to rock!image
  • Notice that your new file is about 145 MB larger than the original.  That is perfectly normal and nothing to be concerned about.

      PowerShell: I’ve Got The Power!!
      Thanks to folks like Ed Wilson and our very own Sean Kearney it is once again cool to use the command line… or rather, the cmdlet.   Nearly anything that you can do in the GUI can also be done in PowerShell, hence allowing us to create scripts to use at various clients or sites.  If you want to convert your VHD to VHDX in PowerShell here’s how:

    Convert-VHD -Path C:\ClusterStorage\Volume1\VHDsVM-1.vhd -DestinationPath C:\ClusterStorage\Volume1\VHDsVM-1.vhdx

    SNAGHTML6c7c42

    Again, it is important to remember that a) Your hard drive be off-line (or disconnected), and b) that once you have created the new VHDX file you must attach it to the VM before spinning it back up.  As well you will notice the difference in file size.  Nothing to be concerned by.

    (This cmdlet can also be used to convert VHDX files back to VHD files)

    QUESTION 2:

    Do the virtual machines have to be Server 2012 for me to take advantage of the new features of Hyper-V in Windows Server 2012, and especially the new .VHDX file format?

    Of course not.  Remember that the host and the guest have no real conception that the other is there; as long as you can install it on x86 hardware, you can install it in a Hyper-V virtual machine.  With that being said, there is a difference between can and is supported.  Remember that your Windows NT, 2000, DOS 3.3 and OS/2 Warp VMs are not supported by Microsoft… even though they will work just fine Winking smile 

    For Bonus Points:

    What is possible technologically is not always allowed legally.  It is important to make sure that all of the operating systems in your VMs are licensed on that host.  I have seen too many companies perform P2V migrations of physical servers that had OEM licenses attached to them, only to discover during an audit that they were out of compliance.  Make sure you have verified all of your licensing so that nobody will get their nose out of joint Smile

  • Windows 8: Client Hyper-V and Why It Matters

    Recently I sat down with Kevin Remde from Microsoft’s US DPE team to discuss virtualization in Windows 8.  We had a great discussion about VDI, client-side Hyper-V, and a lot of other interesting options.  Let us know what you think! -M

    http://aka.ms/fe3epl

    Converting an SD Card to Permanent Storage in Windows Devices

    So as you know I was all excited to buy the very first Microsoft Surface Pro.  I bought the 128 GB model because I knew that despite the fact that I have all sorts of external hard drives I was even likely to ax out 128 GB pretty quick.  Fortunately between Cloud-based storage (SkyDrive for my personal stuff, SkyDrive Pro for my business files) and the ability to add a micro-SD card I would be fine.

    I arrived at my hotel in Redmond and the package from my Amazon.com seller was there; I excitedly ripped it open and inserted the 64 GB card into the Surface Pro, reformatted it with NTFS, and installed the SkyDrive Desktop Client on Windows 8 (which allows me to synchronize my SkyDrive files onto my device’s hard drive or, in this case, its SD card.

    imageWow… ‘Your SkyDrive folder cannot be created in the location you selected.’ This was really disappointing, because that was exactly what I wanted to use my SD Card for… along with my Document, Picture, and Music Libraries.  I will be honest, it never occurred to me that I could not map these to external drives, although it does make sense.  However I was planning on making this SD Card a permanent drive in my Surface Pro, so I needed to find a way to do it.

    \I did a little research and discovered that indeed there was a way… or rather a workaround that would work perfectly.  Here’s what I did:

    1) I created a directory on my C Drive called c:\SD Card.

    2) I opened Disk Manager in Windows – you can either do that by right-clicking on the bottom-left corner of your screen and selecting Disk Management. If you are on a tablet and have no mouse, you could alternately pull up that menu by clicking Winkey-X.

    3) Right-click on your SD Card and click Change Drive Letter and Paths…

    4) Click Add…

    5) In the Add a new drive letter or path for X: (Where X is the drive letter represented by your SD Card) select the radio Mount in the following empty NTFS folder:

    6) Click Browse…and navigate to the directory that you created.  Click OK.

    You should now be ready to proceed.  To be sure, right-click on your SD card again and click Change Drive Letter and Paths… Your window should look like this:

    image

    The SD Card has both a drive letter and the mount point on the C drive.  If this is what you see then you are ready to proceed.  Cancel out of this window and close the Disk Management console.

    I started the SkyDrive desktop app again and instead of mapping my SkyDrive folder to D: I mapped it to C:\SD Card\.

    image

    That looked a lot better.  I was able to proceed and my SkyDrive files are now synchronizing properly.

    imageNow that my SkyDrive was done I decided to go the next step and map some of my Libraries to the SD Card as well.  This was easy at this point… I simply opened the File Explorer and created a new directory on the SD Card called d:\Pictures. I then right-clicked on the Pictures library that I wanted to redirect (in the Navigation Pane) and clicked Properties.  I clicked Add… and in the Browse window I selected the new directory (c:\SD Card) and clicked Include.  Back in the Properties box I clicked Set save location.  I also dragged it to the top of the list.  So now my Properties window looks like this:

    Notice that the Pictures (C:\SD Card) is at the top of the list, and has a check mark next to it.  That means that when I start saving pictures (or decide to import them from another profile) they will go onto the SD card and not onto the internal drive.

    All of these steps will work for tablets but also for hybrids, laptops, and even desktops.  It is a simple mechanism to convert external storage to internal storage.  The mount point on the C drive is used as a hard link to the SD card, and nothing stored in that directory is actually on the C drive… it just looks that way to ‘fool’ Windows into doing what you want to do.

    Good luck!

    A Tour of the Surface Pro with Tom’s Hardware

    On the day that Microsoft released the Surface Pro I sat down with Alex Davies from Tom’s Hardware (www.tomshardware.com) and gave him a little tour of the device.  He recorded it and that recording went live on Monday.  Check it out and let me know what you think! –MDG

    http://www.tomshardware.com/news/Microsoft-Surface-Pro-Hands-on-Demo,21030.html

    Microsoft Surface with Windows 8 Pro: It’s Here!

    For most of the months of October through December, while I was on tour talking about Windows 8, the new Office 2013 & Office 365, and Windows Server 2012 the most common question I heard was not about any of these products… it was something like ‘So where’s your Surface? Why don’t you have a Surface? When will you have a Surface?’ It was grinding… not because I didn’t want one… I did, and badly.  However I knew that if I bought myself a Surface with Windows RT in November my wife would never let me go back in February to buy myself a Surface with Windows Pro.  So I waited… patiently.

    Of course, as a Virtual Evangelist for Microsoft Canada there was speculation that they would give me one… but that didn’t happen.  In December I watched with envy as all of my friends and colleagues got theirs – every Microsoft employee got one, but alas, I am a contractor so I didn’t.

    Earlier at the beginning of summer I had promised my son that he could have one when they came out, and so in November I asked him if he wanted the RT version, or if he wanted to wait for the Pro version.  Of course he opted for the RT version, and so he got one as a late middle-school graduation present.  I took my wife with me to buy his device, and she was so enamoured with it that we bought two that day – hers being an early Christmas present.  Still and all, I could look, but unless they needed technical support I could not touch.

    And then a few weeks ago the general availability date was announced: February 9th.

    I called my main contact at the Microsoft Store in Yorkdale Mall (Toronto) and confirmed that they would be going on sale on that day.  I asked if he could put one aside for me, and his response was ‘yes… but I can only hold it until the end of the day on the 9th so make sure you come that day!’  I was willing to do him one better… since the shipment was obviously arriving well in advance of that day, why not simply let me come pick it up a few days early and we’ll keep it between us?  ‘Not a chance… not even one minute before the 9th!’ (And of course no, they were not planning a midnight event, so I would have to wait until morning!)

    Then I had an idea. ‘Friend, what if I were to come in early the morning of February 9th, buy the very first Surface sold in Canada, and record it for my blog in the store before you even open?’  He thought that was not only doable, but was a great idea.  I put it in my calendar, and remembered to confirm with him on the 8th to make sure he hadn’t forgotten me… which I feel bad about because he never would!

    Mother Nature decided to test Mitch…

    February 8th, for those of you who were not paying attention, recorded the largest single-day snowfall in southern Ontario in nearly a decade.  Everyone on every media from Television to Twitter was saying that if you didn’t have to go out… don’t.  The road crews would be out in full force, but it would likely take them throughout the weekend to clear the minor arteries and possibly into next week for crescents, circles, and such (in one of which I happen to live).  Knowing that I needed to drive out the following morning I bribed my teenaged son to shovel the driveway in the early evening.  He did enough to make sure that I would be able to get my car out.

    Of course, what are the chances that the tiny little circle, an off-shoot of a crescent off a tertiary road in Oakville, was going to be ploughed in time?  Fortunately Mayor Rob Burton follows me on Twitter and knew that I was planning to head out this morning, and made sure that our little ‘Griffith Place’ was cleared.  Okay, he did no such thing, but HUGE kudos to the road crews of Oakville, Ontario that cleared the street late last night! 

    At 6:15 on Saturday morning I headed out; I brushed 35 centimetres of heavy snow off my car and headed out, all the while listening to the reports on the radio of accidents along the way (I witnessed three of them and passed seven others on the 403 and 401).  I was not to be stopped!  I drove the treacherous highways ‘low and slow’ as I was taught for these conditions, and as I will teach my son next year.  It took me nearly an hour to get there and park, but I did so safely.

    Almost there…

    I was surprised that I got to the store at 7:15am, and there were already people waiting in both lines (one line for people with the ‘golden ticket’ and one for people without)!  I got my gear set up in the ‘theatre’ area.  I set up my video camera on my tripod, only to realize that the battery was dead.  No problem, I had plenty of time to go, so I plugged it in and let it charge.  I set up my Surface with Windows RT (ironic that after all that waiting a colleague at Microsoft actually did get me one!) and several of the available accessories on the table where I would shoot.  All I needed now was the Surface Pro…

    At 8:15 Friend brought out two devices – one for me, and one for another VIP customer named Mike who already has a Surface with Windows RT, but really wanted the Pro and was glad to be getting it this morning before he heads off to Europe.  Friend ran my credit card through, and once the POS system told him the sale was approved he e-mailed me my invoice and I was off to the races.

    The following videos were filmed in the Microsoft Store Theatre in Yorkdale Mall, Toronto.  I want to thank Alison (the store manager), Friend (who knows who he is, and Emily (who is the Community Development Specialist, and therefor in charge of the theatre area and all of the presentations and parties held there.  They were filmed on February 9th, 2013 between 8:30 and 9:00 in the morning.  The only edits that were done to the video were for the sake of time and flow.  All opinions, mistakes, errors, and omissions are mine and mine alone, and I have made no effort to alter the video to hide them.

    Opening the FIRST Surface Pro sold in Canada!
    Turning on and setting up my Surface Pro.

    Windows 8: Client Hyper-V and Why It Matters

    In December I sat down with Kevin Remde, Technical Evangelist with Microsoft USA, to discuss how Windows 8 now includes Microsoft Hyper-V.  It is a great conversation about why you might want to use the power of Hyper-V virtualization on the desktop, what is required, and how to get started.  I invite you to watch and listen in, and comment! -M

    http://channel9.msdn.com/Series/Reimagining-Windows-An-In-Depth-Look-at-Windows-8-for-the-Enterprise/Episode-6-Windows-8-Client-Hyper-V-and-Why-It-Matters

    My First Surface Article

    Ok, so maybe it is not my first article on Microsoft Surface, but it is the first article that I am writing from one.  A friend here was kind enough to loan me one for a few weeks, and even though my EliteBook is within arm’s reach I decided to spend my morning on this device exclusively… to get used to it and all.

    The keyboard was the first challenge that I anticipated… the flat, waterproof keys reminded me at a glance of the chicklet keyboard of the Atari 400.  How wrong I was… although the keyboard does take some getting used to, it is really quite friendly and easy to use.  The missing function keys also struck me as a worry… I use the F-keys pretty regularly, and it did not take long for me to notice their absence.  I expect that I am in the minority on this point though… IT Pros and Devs will miss them, but the vast majority of end users will likely not even notice that they are missing**.  The responsiveness is another thing worried me (I noticed it as I was writing this paragraph).  I seemed to be typing faster than the keyboard could send the keys to the screen.  That however turned out to be not a problem with the Surface, but rather with the app that I am using to write.

    **Edit Feb. 1: The top row of keys is indeed the function keys, but on the keyboard I have the numbers are not printed.  As with many keyboards, you need to press the Fn key to shift to the Function, so Alt-Fn-Play is the same as Alt-F4.

    Theresa Garvis, my lovely wife and very capable business manager, has been using her Surface since the end of October, and she has been loving it.  When I discussed my concerns with the keyboard she assured me that she used the keyboard… but the truth is that she gets along without it just as easily. ‘I have used the on-screen keyboard without any problems, and it works great for me.  The only reason I use the external keyboard is because it is there, and have never had any problem when I left it at home.’

    The Surface RT does not have nearly the kind of horsepower that I need for my day to day computer use.  However I am not your average computer user, and I expect that with 2 GB of RAM, a 1.3GHz NVIDEA TEGRA 3 Quad-Core CPU, and 32 GB of storage (a chunk of which is used for the OS) most end-users will be happy with it.  My son Aaron started high school this year, and was eager to swap out his EliteBook for the Surface.  He found that the only thing that he couldn’t do with his Surface was a school app that requires Flash Player… and I have not yet looked into a solution for this.  In the meantime he is happy using one of the home computers for his French homework, and the rest of the time he sequesters himself in his room with his Surface.

    The Surface is not intended to be a desktop/laptop replacement, but it could very well be that for many people.  But what about the rest of us who absolutely need more power?  What about those of us who need legacy apps? I personally immediately felt the missing link in the Office chain – no Outlook.  In fact, this is a complaint I have heard from quite a number of people who have gone out and bought Surfaces… what do I do without my Outlook??

    Outlook is not the only app that people are missing on the Surface (or, more accurately, on Windows RT) but it is a big one.  Most of the functionality of Outlook that I use is actually available in Microsoft Mail, Calendar, and Contacts (all of which come standard with Windows RT).  However let’s be honest… if you are used to Outlook there really isn’t a viable alternative.

    So what do we do? On the one hand we have a really powerful tablet that runs Windows 8, and on the other we have a device that isn’t quite powerful enough for us.  But what if we could harness the power of our desktop from the Surface?  What if we could use all of our apps and resources of the great but heavy desktop that is always connected directly from Windows RT? Wouldn’t that be great?

    We can… and in my next article I will show you how you can do it too, using a few simple tricks and some free tools.

    Oh and by the way, I wrote this entire article using the free WordPress app that I downloaded from the Windows Store, using the regular keyboard!

    Getting Started With Hyper-V in Server 2012 and Windows 8

    You all know by now that I am a huge Hyper-V fan… I have been using it since 2008, but with the latest release I am unabashedly loving Microsoft’s Layer 1 hypervisor.  The fact that it has been included in Windows 8  – as in, no different from the virtualization platform I use in my servers – is just the icing on the cake.

    It is true that almost any IT Pro would be able to install and use Hyper-V on either the server or client platform without much guidance.  However when you do start out – either with Hyper-V in general, or on a new system – there are a few things that you should know before you go.  Here are some of my tips, in no particular order of importance.

    1) Change the default file locations!

    The default file locations for virtual hard disks and virtual machines are a bit obscure.  I like to change them right out of the gate.  Depending on which drive I want to store them on (in Windows 8 it is usually the C drive, while on proper servers it will usually not be) I will store them both right off the root… x:\VHDs and x:\VMs.  That way I do not have to navigate to the defaults whenever I want to copy a file.  I find x:\VHDs much easier than c:\Users\Public\Documents\Hyper-V\Virtual Hard Disks and c:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Windows\Hyper-V.

    If I am going to use Failover Clustering with Cluster Shared Volumes the defaults will be different, but for standalone servers these defaults suit me fine.

    STEPS:

    1. In Hyper-V Manager click on Hyper-V Settings… in the Actions Pane.
    2. Under the Server context, click on Virtual Hard Disks and change the default location.  You will have to create the directory before going ahead.
    3. Still under the Server context, click on Virtual Machines and change the default location.  Again, you will have to create the directory first.

    It’s as easy as that.  Of course, VMs that are already there will not be moved, but going forward all VMs will be placed in the proper directory.

    2) Create your Virtual Switch!

    When you start creating virtual machines there will be nowhere for them to go and nobody for them to talk to… that is, unless you create a virtual switch (previously called virtual network) to connect them to.  Depending on your server and your environment this might be simple or complex, and may require more planning.  However the long and the short of it is you have to make three decisions when creating a virtual switch:

    • Is the network going to be External (can communicate beyond the physical host), Internal (can only communicate with other VMs on the same host, plus with the host), or Private (can only communicate with other VMs on the same host)?
    • If External, what physical NIC (uplink) will it be bound to?
    • Can the Management OS (on the host) use the same NIC?

    STEPS:

    1. In the Action Pane of Hyper-V Manager click Virtual Switch Manager…
    2. In the navigation pane click New virtual switch
    3. In the right screen select External, Internal, or Private and click Create Virtual Switch
    4. In the Virtual Switch Properties window delete New Virtual Switch and name the switch something that you will understand (i.e.: CorpNet).
    5. Click OK to close the Virtual Switch Manager.

    Again, this is all there is to it.  Plain and easy, no fuss, no muss.

    3) Configure Dynamic Memory

    When you create a virtual machine there are a few defaults that Hyper-V thinks is a good idea… which I don’t.  The main one that comes to mind is the Dynamic Memory option (per VM).  When you configure Dynamic Memory the defaults are going to be:

    Startup RAM: 512 MB

    Minimum RAM: 512 MB

    Maximum RAM: 1048576 MB

    Ok, for a lot of our virtual machines 512MB may be a fine minimum… but unless you are driving a BAWL (Big @$$ Work Load) server on the VM you will nearly never need a terabyte of RAM.  Granted it is nice that we have that ability, it is not going to be the norm.  On the other hand, not setting a realistic maximum would mean that if your VM were to place a huge memory demand – say, because of an unchecked memory leak or a compromised server, or even something as simple as an Exchange Server grabbing as much physical (ahem… virtual) RAM as it can – then this would necessarily be at the expense of contention resources, which would no longer be available to other virtual machines on the same host.

    My recommended best practice is to pick minimums and maximums that are reasonable to you for each server (and those will be different from VM to VM, depending on the load expectations).  You will be able to tweak these up or down as needed, but the point is you will have reasonable limits.  For many of my servers I set limits such as these:

    Startup RAM: 512 MB

    Minimum RAM: 512 MB

    Maximum RAM: 4096 MB

    These settings allow the VM to consume up to 4 GB of RAM when needed and available, but no more than that.  If I discover the VM workload needs more then I will tweak it up incrementally.  I am not letting resources go to waste, and I am making sure that my VMs work within their means – i.e.: as efficiently as they can.

    STEPS:

    1. imageWithin Hyper-V Manager click on the VM in question and then in the Action Pane (VM Name) click Settings…
    2. In the Navigation Pane click Memory
    3. In the Memory window change the Minimum and Maximum RAM as needed.
    4. Click OK.

    4) …and Hard Disks!

    By default the virtual hard disks that are created for us in the New Virtual Machine Wizard will be 127 GB.  But do they really need to be that big?  Actually, in a lot of cases they do.  In many cases they should be bigger.  Sometimes they should be smaller.  If you are creating your disks this way then you should right-size them in the wizard.

    With that being said, the one question that the wizard does not ask you is ‘what type of disk would you like to create?’  In Server 2012 there are actually three questions that you should be asked that are only asked when creating your disks using the New Virtual Hard Disk Wizard:

    a) Would you like to create a VHD file (with backward-compatibility, and limited to 2 TB in size) or a VHDX file (which adds resilience to consistency issues that might occur from power failures, and are limited to 64 TB in size but offer no backward compatibility)

    b) Would you like the disk to be Fixed size (pre-provisioned storage), Dynamically expanding (storage on demand), or Differencing disk (associated with a parent-child relationship with another disk)?

    c) Would you like to create the new VHD(X) file based on the contents of an attached physical drive?

    The solution is to pre-create your VHD(X) files to spec, and then point to them from the New Virtual Machine Wizard.  While dynamically expanding disks are fine for labs and offer greater portability, I never recommend them in a production environment.  Also if you think you might need to port your VMs back to Server 2008 (or Windows 7) then VHD will be required.

    STEPS:

      1. From the Hyper-V Manager console in the Actions Pane click New > Hard Disk…
      2. Go through the wizard and select the options you choose.
      3. From the New Virtual Machine Wizard click the radio button Use an existing virtual hard disk and point to the right file.
      4. Click Finish.

    image

    Alternately, you could select the radio Attach a virtual hard disk later and create your VMs, then create your VHD(X) files, and then attach them.  It seems like more work to me though…

    5) …and CPUs!

    There are a few new settings in the Processor tab of Hyper-V VMs than there used to be.  Not only can you set the number of virtual processors (to the lesser of either a maximum of 64, or the number of physical cores in your computer), but you can also set the VM reserve, the percent of total system resources, the VM limit, and the relative weight.  These are all set in the main screen of the Processor Settings page.

    imageWhat a lot of people do not realize is that there are two subsections to the Processor tab: Compatibility and NUMA.  In order to access these you need to expand the + next to Processor in the navigation pane.

    NUMA stands for Non-Uniform Memory Architecture, and essentially means that a single VM can use memory that is assigned to different physical CPUs.

    Compatibility in this context refers to CPU families, and is a very handy option indeed.  In virtualization there is no way to live-migrate a VM from a host running on AMD CPUs to a host running on Intel CPUs.  This is not a limitation of Hyper-V, rather of the architecture of CPUs, and is identical in VMware.  However CPU family is not the only limiting factor to allow live migrations; CPU properties are a factor too, and because of advancements in the technology it would generally not be possible to live migrate a VM from a host with an older CPU to a host with a newer CPU.

    A few years ago VMware saw this as an issue, and along with Intel developed a technology called EVC, or Enhanced vMotion Compatibility.  What EVC does is it masks the newer chipset features (generally multimedia signatures and things like that) from the VM, so that all of a sudden you can migrate between older and newer hosts (say, an Intel i7 to an Intel Core Duo).  In VMware this is assigned at the Cluster level.

    Of course the technology is simple enough, but the intellectual property is not.  EVC has the word vMotion (a trademark) in the title.  Microsoft cannot use the term vMotion.  As such their compatibility mechanism (which works the same way) is called Migrate to a physical computer with a different processor version (MTPCWDPV).  The name is not nearly as sexy as EVC, but they compensated by assigning it to the VM instead of the cluster.  It is a simple checkbox that you check (or uncheck) under the Compatibility Configuration screen.

    If you are going to be using Live Migration between hosts with potentially incompatible CPU then follow these steps:

    STEPS:

        1. imageWithin Hyper-V Manager click on the VM in question and then in the Action Pane (VM Name) click Settings…
        2. In the Navigation Pane click Processor, then click the + next to Processor to expand the tree.
        3. Click on Compatibility
        4. Click the checkbox Migrate to a physical computer with a different processor version.
        5. Click OK.

    Following these simple best practices will not make you an expert in Hyper-V by any means, but it is a good start… what they will allow you to do is get started comfortably and play with the technology without hitting some of the more common stumbling blocks that beginners seem to run into.  As your needs grow you will be comfortable enough with the technology to try new things, explore new possibilities.  Before long you will be as virtualization expert, ready to tackle concepts such as Shared Nothing Live Migration, Failover Clustering, Cluster Shared Volumes, and much much more.

    In the meantime dip your toes into the virtualization waters… it’s warm and inviting, the hazards are not too dangerous, and the rewards are incredible.  In no time you will be ready to get certified… but even if that is not your goal you have already taken the first steps to becoming a virtual wiz!

    The Microsoft Store for Business… Ask Caden!

    The Microsoft Store in Toronto’s Yorkdale Mall is the hottest address for technology in the Greater Toronto Area.  People have been coming from all over to see what’s new, ranging from Windows 8 laptops, all-in-ones, Windows Phone 8 devices, and especially the new Microsoft Surface tablet, the hottest device on the market today.

    Of course the store is a retail outlet, and as such is designed around the consumer.  To get a machine with the Microsoft Signature experience there is no other place to go.

    So where do you go if you are a business owner, a consultant, a reseller who wants to buy these exclusive optimized devices for your company or customers?  Simple… ask for Caden!

    Caden Forbes is the Business Development Specialist for the Microsoft Store in Toronto, and as such it is his job to connect with and sell into businesses.  He is, in essence, the B2B rep for the store.  That means that if you want to buy Surfaces, Windows Phones, or anything else for your business Caden is the man to see… and you can tell in the first seconds of your conversation that he loves his job, is great at it, and is easy to do business with.

    It is often hard to find a man who knows his stuff, can communicate his message effectively, and is easy to deal with.  He almost always has a smile on his face and in his heart.  He has years of experience as a consultant that make him singularly suited as the best man for the job.

    The entire staff at the Microsoft Store is second to none… they have been chosen well, trained thoroughly, and without a doubt work better as a team than any retail group I have ever met.  Like every great team they all serve their role; Caden may look like a linebacker but when you speak to him you will soon realize that he Is the business-to-business running back; when a member of the team realizes that a customer is asking business-related questions they will hand off to Caden, and Caden runs with it.  I expect him to win whatever the retail equivalent of the Heisman Trophy this year because he is absolutely one of the most effective players on the field.

    If you haven’t been there already you should go down to the store and speak to one of the Product Advisors and, if you are a business owner, make sure they hand you off to Caden.

    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!

    The Microsoft Store: The place to be this week-end

    WP_000870If you are in or around the Greater Toronto Area this week-end then there is no better place to be than the Microsoft Store in Yorkdale Mall.

    The first international store and the largest in the chain, the opening of Microsoft’s newest retail store can only be descried as a huge success, with literally hundreds of people lined up hours in advance to get their first glimpse of the retail marvel.

    Microsoft Canada president Max Long was joined by Tami Reller, Corporate Vice President and CFO of Microsoft’s Windows Division were on hand to open the store with a crowd of 700 onlookers.  They did not only welcome the crowd and talk about the store, they also announced that Microsoft Canada was making a new donation of $1.500,000 to local charities – presented by store manager Alison Evans.

    When the curtain dropped the entire staff was leading the cheers, and then lined up to form a passageway into the store where they high-fived the first visitors.  By the time this VIP got in the door (in the first minute) the store was already bustling with activity, a level that has hardly abated at all thus far.

    I spoke to a lot of people lined up and they were all here for different reasons – deals on new hardware, Xbox and laptops and accessories… but the two things that drew the most people were the Microsoft Surface and the new Windows Phone 8 devices.

    While the Surface has been available since the launch of Windows 8 on October 26th, the only place you were able to see it in Toronto was at the pop-up retail kiosk in the Eaton Centre.  Now that the full retail store is open there are dozens of Surfaces everywhere, as well as Sony, Acer, Asus, Dell Samsung devices ranging in size from 9" ultrabooks and tablets to 27" all-in-one machines.

    The greatest thing about the store in my opinion is that the display machines are all available for visitors to try out — as I write this article from a handy Sony Vaio T, complete with multi-touch sreen and reasonably priced at $899.  They are all internet-connected, and nobody is telling visitors not to touch, try, and in the Xbox corner play.  It is a great hands-on experience, and the store associates are as welcoming and helpful as I have ever seen.

    In the Windows Phone corner there are representatives not only from a couple of the local carriers but also from the manufacturers as well.  Although the platform released October 26th, this is the first time I have even seen the devices outside the Microsoft offices.

    Everywhere you look people of all ages and knowledge levels are asking questions, learning, and trying out great devices.  Of course every PC is running Windows 8, so it is a great opportunity for people to get their first glimpse of Microsoft’s flagship product, barely three weeks old.

    In the back of the store there is an area called the theatre where during the regular hours people can play on the Xbox connected to an incredible 103" touch screen.  This afternoon (and tomorrow and Sunday) the Microsoft MVPs are taking over – we will be presenting sessions every hour on topic including Windows 8, Office 2013, Office 365, Xbox, and of course Windows Phone 8.  I have several sessions over the course of the week-end, but am more interested to sit in and listen to what my fellow enthusiasts have to say (I usually know what I am going to say so I am seldom surprised).

    It is definitely the place to be this week-end.  Even though the initial ‘line up and wait’ is over, the store has been consistently hopping since it opened, with no signs of slowing down.  I spoke with several members of the management team who are all pleased by the turnout.  Alison Evans, the store manager, told me she is ‘ecstatic about the turnout.’

    To make things even hotter, there will be an exclusive concert with the band Train tomorrow evening, and store staff are handing out wristband passes to the lucky few; and this afternoon The Great One – Number 99 himself – Wayne Gretzky will be in the store, and people will be lined up to meet him, get autographs, and get the chance to play Kinect games with him!

    So if you haven’t come down yet what is stopping you?  Trust me, you will not be disappointed… your only regret will be if you do NOT come down!

    From Server Core to GUI to… MinShell?

    This post was originally written for the Canadian IT Pro Connection blog, and can be seen there at http://blogs.technet.com/b/canitpro.

    In Windows Server 2008 we were introduced to a revolutionary way to install Windows Server: Server Core.

    Server Core may look boring – there’s nothing to it except the command prompt – but to an IT Pro it is really exciting for several reasons:

    • It requires fewer resources, so in a virtualization environment you can optimize your environment even more than previously;
    • It has a smaller attack surface, which makes it more secure;
    • It has a smaller patch footprint, which means less work for us on Patch Tuesdays; and
    • We can still use all of the familiar tools to manage it remotely, including System Center, MMC Consoles, and PowerShell.

    imageDespite all of these advantages in my experience a lot of IT Pros did not adopt Server Core.  Simply states, they like the GUI (Graphical User Interface) manageability of the full installation of Windows Server.  Many do not like command lines and scripting, and frankly many are just used to the full install and did not want to learn something new.  I have even met some IT Pros who simply click the defaults when installing the OS, so they always ended up with the full install.

    As you can see in this screenshot, the default installation is now Server Core. This is not done to confuse people, but going forward most servers are going to be either virtual hosts or virtual machines, and either way Server Core is (more often than not) a great solution.

    Of course, if you do this and did not want Server Core you are still in good shape, because new in Windows Server 2012 you can add (or remove) the GUI interface on the fly.  You can actually switch between Server Core and Full (GUI) Install whenever you want, making it easier to manage your servers.

    There are a couple of ways to install the GUI from the command prompt, although both use the same tool – DISM (Deployment Image Service Manager).  When you are doing it for a single (local) server, the command is:

    Dism /online /enable-feature /featurename:ServerCore-FullServer /featurename:Server-Gui-Shell /featurename:Server-Gui-Mgmt

    While the Dism tool works fine, one of the features that will make you want Windows Server 2012 on all of your servers now is the ability to manage them remotely, and script a lot of the jobs.  For that Windows PowerShell is your friend.  The script in PowerShell would be nearly as simple:

    Import-Module Dism
    Enable-WindowsOptionalFeature –online -Featurename ServerCore-FullServer,Server-Gui-Shell,Server-Gui-Mgmt

    image

    It takes a few minutes, but once you are done you can reboot and presto, you have the full GUI environment.

    While that in and of itself is pretty amazing, we are not done yet.  There is a happy medium between Server Core and Full GUI.

    MinShell (Minimum Shell) offers the administrator the best of both worlds.  You have the GUI management tools (Server Manager) but no actual GUI, which means that you are still saving the resource, have a smaller attack surface, less of a patch footprint, AND full manageability!

    imageWhat the product development team has done is simple: they made the GUI tools a Server Feature… in fact, they made it three separate features (see graphic).  Under User Interfaces and Infrastructure there are three options that allow the server administrator to customize the visual experience according to his needs.

    The Graphical Management Tools and Infrastructure is the Server Manager, along with the other GUI tools that we use every day to manage our servers.  It also includes the Windows PowerShell Integrated Scripting Environment (ISE) which allows administrators an easier to create and manage their PowerShell scripts.

    The Desktop Experience gives the administrator the full desktop experience – similar to the Windows 8 client OS – including features such as Picture and Video viewers.

    The Server Graphical Shell is exactly that: the GUI.  In other words we can turn the GUI on or off by using the Add Roles and Features Wizard (and the Remove Roles and Features Wizard).

    Now there are a number of catches to remember:

    First of all when you go down to MinShell the Add Roles and Features Wizard is still available, but not in Server Core.  Make sure you have this article on hand if you do go down to Server Core.

    Next, if you install the full GUI and then remove the components then re-adding them isn’t a problem; however if you install the Server Core installation from the outset then the GUI (and Management) bits are not copied to the drive, which means that if you want to add them later you will need to have the installation media handy.

    While hard drive space is pretty cheap, and it is easy to decide to install the full GUI every time and then remove it (so that the bits will be there when you want them).  However remember that with Hyper-V in Windows Server 2012 the limits are pretty incredible, and it is entirely possible that you will have up to 1,024 VMs on a host; that means that the few megabytes required for the GUI bits could add up.

    Whether you opt for the Server Core, Full GUI, or the MinShell compromise, Windows Server 2012 is definitely the easiest Server yet to manage, either locally or remotely, one-off commands or scripts.  What I expect admins will be most excited about is the choices.  Run your servers your way, any way!

    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!