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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!

Creating a New AD Forest in Windows Server Core (Revisited)

Several years ago Steve Syfuhs and I sat down and figured out how to create a new Active Directory forest in Windows Server Core.  It was an interesting experience, and even though I later gave rights to that article to the Canadian IT Pro Team (at the time it was Damir Bersinic) when you search Bing.com for the term ‘Create AD Forest Server Coremy article still comes up first.

R2 I have gotten a bit more adept with the command prompt of late (especially with my diving into Windows PowerShell recently, but even before), so when I had the need to create a new AD Forest for a courseware environment I am building, I decided to revisit this topic, and see what changes I could make.

In 2009 I had to create an answer file, or at least I believed I did.  It turns out that now I can get away with one command line string, which is as follows:

dcpromo /InstallDNS:yes /NewDomain:forest /NewDomainDNSName:alpineskihouse.com

/DomainNetBIOSName:SKI /ReplicaOrNewDomain:domain /RebootOnCompletion:yes


For the record I had to break up the text into three lines, but obviously this should all be typed onto a single line.


The first time I ran this command it failed.  I suspect this is because I had a DHCP address assigned.  Before embarking on this trip, I suggest you assign a static IP address to your Server Core box.  While it is simpler to do it with the sconfig text-mode configuration menu tool, you can also use the following netsh command:

netsh interface ipv4 set address name=”Local Area Connection” source=static address= mask= gateway=

At this point you should be ready to go… remember that with Windows Server 2012 (and R2) once you have the OS installed it is easy to manage it remotely using either PowerShell or the Server Manager console.  Just make sure you have the right credentials, and you are good to go!

Getting Certified: Things have really changed!

This article was originally published to The Canadian IT Pro Connection.Boy has it been an exciting year… Microsoft’s busiest release year ever!  On the IT Pro side we have System Center 2012 (a single product now, but truly seven distinct products for managing your environment!), Windows Server 2012, Windows 8… we have Windows Azure (which for the first time is really beginning to show true relevance to the IT Pro and not just the devs), and of course the new Office (both on-prem with Office 2013, and in the cloud with Office 365).  There is of course Windows Phone 8, Windows Intune, and the list goes on.

With all of these new versions out many IT Pros will be looking to update their certifications to remain current, while many more will be looking for their first certs.  For the first time in six years Microsoft Learning has completely changed the way you will be looking at certifications going forward.  If you are like me (and so many others) and do want to get certified in the latest and greatest, then you will need to know what is out there, and how certifications have changed with the newest product cycles.

Solutions-based Certifications

In the last few years Microsoft Learning focused on what they referred to as task-based certifications (MCTS) and job-based certifications (MCITP).  However IT Pros started to see more and more components in learning and exams that were not actually in the product – so for example an exam on Windows Server might have included a question on the Security Compliance Manager (SCM) and System Center.  Although it made sense to the SMEs writing the questions, the unprepared found themselves facing questions that they couldn’t answer, and a resounding chorus of ‘we didn’t realize we would be tested on that!’ was to be heard across the blogosphere.

This year the new certifications have been revamped to be solutions-based.  That means you are not focusing on a role or a product, but rather on the solution as a whole, which will very often include technologies not included in the product, but that are complimentary to it.  Microsoft’s Solution Accelerators are a good example of this.  The Solution Accelerators are a series of free tools available from Microsoft and include the Security Compliance Manager, Microsoft Deployment Toolkit, the Microsoft Virtual Machine Conversion toolkit, and others that are free downloads and may not be required knowledge to everyone, but every IT Pro should know about them because they really do come in handy.

Additionally you are going to see a strong interdependence between Windows Server 2012, System Center 2012, and Windows 8.  After all very few companies have only one of these, and in fact in any organization of a certain size or larger it would be rare to not find all three.

Of course it is also likely you are going to see questions that ask about previous versions of all of these technologies. ‘Your company has 25 servers running Windows Server 2003 R2 Enterprise Edition and 5000 desktops running Windows Vista Business Edition…’ sorts of questions will not be uncommon.  This will make some of us scour our archived memory banks for the differences between editions, and may seem unfair to IT Pros who are new to the industry.  Remember that every certification exam and course lists recommended prerequisites for candidates, and 2-3 years of experience is not an uncommon one.  To that I remind you that you do not need a perfect score to pass the exams… do your best!

What was old is new again

In 2005 Microsoft announced the retirement of the MCSE and MCSA certifications, to be replaced by the MCTS/MCITP certs.  During a recent keynote delivered by a guest speaker from Redmond I heard him say that this was actually Canada’s fault, and unfortunately he is partly right.  The Quebec Order of Engineers won their lawsuit regarding the usage of the word engineer in the cert.  While it may have made their lives better, it complicated the certification landscape for a lot of IT Pros and hiring managers who never quite got used to the new model.

SolAssoc_WinServ2012_Blk SolExp_PvtCloud_Blk

In April, 2012 Microsoft Learning announced that things were changing again… we would again be able to earn our MCSA and MCSE certs, but they would now stand for Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate and Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert.  In fact they thought it was a good enough idea that although they were intended as next-generation certs, they would be ported backward one generation… if you were/are an MCITP: Server Administrator or MCITP: Enterprise Administrator on Windows Server 2008 you immediately became an MCSA: Windows Server 2008.  You were also immediately only two exams away from earning your MCSE: Private Cloud certification.

associate-blueMicrosoft Learning bills the MCSA certification as ‘the foundation for your professional career.’  I agree with this because it is the basic cert on the operating system, and from there you can jump into the next stage (there are several MCSE programs available, all of which require the base MCSA to achieve).

Of course now that Windows Server 2012 has been released, so too has the new certifications.  If you want to earn your MCSA: Windows Server 2012 credentials then you are only three exams away:

Exam # Title Aligned course
70-410 Installing and Configuring Windows Server 2012 20410
70-411 Administering Windows Server 2012 20411
70-412 Configuring Advanced Windows Server 2012 Services 20412

Instead of taking all three of these exams, you could choose to upgrade any of the following certifications with a single upgrade exam:

MCSA: Windows Server 2008

MCITP: Virtualization Administrator on Windows Server 2008 R2

MCITP: Enterprise Messaging Administrator 2010

MCITP: Lync Server Administrator 2010

MCITP: SharePoint Administrator 2010

MCITP: Enterprise Desktop Administrator on Windows 7

The upgrade exam is called Upgrading Your Skills to MCSA Windows Server 2012, and is exam number 70-417.

expert-blueMicrosoft Learning calls the MCSE certification ‘the globally recognized standard for IT professionals.’  It demonstrates that you know more than just the basics, but that you are an expert in the technologies required to provide a complete solution for your environment.

The first IT Pro MCSE cert announced focused on virtualization and the System Center 2012 product.  Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert: Private Cloud launched first because System Center 2012 was released earlier in the year, and the Private Cloud cert could use either Server 2012 or Server 2008 certs as its baseline.  If you already have a qualifying MCSA certification (such as the one outlined above, or the MCSA: Windows Server 2008) then you would only require two more exams to complete your MCSE:

Exam # Title Aligned course
70-246 Monitoring and Operating a Private Cloud with System Center 2012 10750
70-247 Configuring and Deploying a Private Cloud with System Center 2012 10751
70-6591 TS Windows Server 2008: Server Virtualization 10215A

1This exam can be taken instead of exam 70-247 until January 31, 2013 to count towards the Private Cloud certification.

The next new-generation MCSE cert for the IT Pro is theMCSE: Server Infrastructure.  Like the first one the basis for this cert is the MCSA.  Unlike the Private Cloud cert, the MCSA must be in Windows Server 2012.  The required additional exams are:

Exam # Title Aligned course
70-413 Designing and Implementing a Server Infrastructure 20413
70-414 Implementing an Advanced Server Infrastructure 20414

Are you starting to worry that your current Server 2008 certs aren’t helping you toward your goal?  Never fear… the following certifications are upgradeable by taking three exams:

MCITP: Virtualization Administrator on Windows Server 2008 R2

MCITP: Enterprise Messaging Administrator 2010

MCITP: Lync Server Administrator 2010

MCITP: SharePoint Administrator 2010

MCITP: Enterprise Desktop Administrator on Windows 7

Which exams?  I’m glad you asked.  The upgrading IT Pro needs to take:

Exam # Title Aligned course
70-413 Designing and Implementing a Server Infrastructure 20413
70-414 Implementing an Advanced Server Infrastructure 20414
70-417 Upgrading Your Skills to MCSA Windows Server 2012 20417

In other words, you will be upgrading your pre-existing cert to MCSA: Windows Server 2012, and then taking the remaining exams required for the MCSE.

The third MCSE that will be of interest to IT Pros is the MCSE: Desktop Infrastructurecert.  As with the others it requires the candidate to earn the MCSA: Windows Server 2012, and then take the following exams:

Exam # Title Aligned course
70-415 Implementing a Desktop Infrastructure 20415
70-416 Implementing Desktop Application Environments 20416

If you previously held the MCITP: Enterprise Desktop Administrator 7 then you can upgrade by taking the following exams:

Exam # Title Aligned course
70-415 Implementing a Desktop Infrastructure 20415
70-416 Implementing Desktop Application Environments 20416
70-417 Upgrading Your Skills to MCSA Windows Server 2012 20417

There are actually five other MCSE paths, which are:

MCSE: Messaging

MCSE: Data Platform

MCSE: Business Intelligence

MCSE: Communication

MCSE: SharePoint

That I do not discuss these is not a judgment, simply they are outside of my wheelhouse as it were… If you would like more information about any of these, visit Microsoft Learning’s MCSE landing page.

The Unfinished Pyramid

You will notice that the MCSA and MCSE pyramids that we use are progressive… the MCSA has one level finished, the MCSE has two levels finished.  That is because there is another level of certifications above these, which is now called the Microsoft Certified Solutions Master.  This is the highest certification that Microsoft Learning offers, and only a few individuals will qualify.  It is a real commitment but if you think you are ready for it, I would love to point you in the right direction.  Personally I am happy with my MCSE: PC and don’t expect I will ever be a Master.

At present there are four MCSM tracks:

MCSM: SharePoint

MCSM: Data Platform

MCSM: Communication

MCSM: Messaging

It should be noted that of these only the MCSM: Data Platform is currently available; the others will be made available in 2013.

Also at the very top of the pyramid there is one more level – the Microsoft Certified Architect (MCA).  There are currently four MCA certifications:

MCA: Microsoft Exchange Server

MCA: Microsoft SharePoint Server

MCA: Microsoft SQL Server

MCA: Windows Server: Directory

Achieving the MCA requires a lot more than just exams.  It is a long and grueling process which in the end will likely leave you drained, but with the highest certification that Microsoft offers.

I should tell you that these last two senior certs are not for most people.  They are only for the very top professionals with in-depth experience designing and delivering IT solutions for enterprise customers, and even then only for those who possess the technical and leadership skills that truly differentiate them from their peers.

Keep it up!

Several years ago Microsoft Learning tried to retire older MCSEs – Windows NT and such.  They were unsuccessful because had they done so they would have breached the terms of the original certification.  In other words, because they never told candidates in advance that they would retire them, they couldn’t retire them.  It is not uncommon for me to hear from someone who is an MCSE, but they haven’t taken an exam since the 1990s.  In fact the logo for MCSE on Windows NT is the same logo as for MCSE on Windows Server 2003, and those MCSEs will be allowed to use that logo forever.

In 2006 they made it a little easier to differentiate.  Not only would certifications be by technology (MCITP: Enterprise Administrator on Windows Server 2008) but they would, in theory, be retired with support for that technology.  So an MCITP on Windows Vista would not be able to use the cert past a certain date.  Unfortunately I found that people did not refer to their entire cert, they would simply say that ‘I am an MCITP!’  In other words, without some clarifying it was pretty difficult to determine what technology they really knew.  Additionally it is not uncommon for some pros to have several MCITP certs, making it quite difficult to list on a business card or e-mail signature.

Now Microsoft Learning has really made an improvement to this issue.  The new MCSE certifications will require that you show continued understanding of the latest versions of the technology area by taking a recertification exam every three years.  While there was some talk of this with the MCITP program it did not come to fruition.  Today however this recertification requirement is clearly outlined on the MCSE pages.

While recertifying may seem like a bother for some, as we discussed earlier it is something we choose to do every three years to remain current anyways.  For those of us who do want to always remain current it is nice to know that we don’t have to start from scratch with every new product cycle.  For those for whom remaining current is not as important they will always be able to say ‘I was an MCSE, but I let my certs lapse.’  It shows that they do know the technology, just not necessarily the most current version,  This should be sufficient for a lot of people who often tell me ‘my clients don’t need the latest, and are not going to upgrade every three years!’

What About Small Biz?

I spent several years specializing in SMBs.  The first time I took a certification exam I remember coming out of it upset about questions that started ‘You are the administrator for a company with 500 server…’  No I am not!  At the time I couldn’t even fathom what that would be like.  So when Microsoft Learning started writing exams for SBS I was glad not because I wanted to limit myself (I didn’t, and am glad of that today) but because I knew that there are lots of IT Pros out there who do work exclusively on smaller networks.

I do not know what will become of SMB-focused certifications now that Windows Small Business Server 2011 is to be the last SBS release.  I do not have any insight into whether there will be exams around Windows Server Essentials, but could envision a cert around the tying of that product with Windows 8 and Office 365.  I have not been asked, but it would make sense.  However I have heard from a lot of SMB IT Pros that certifications are not as important to them and their clients as we feel they are in the enterprise, and I accept that; the needs of the larger do not necessarily align with the needs of the smaller.  However only time will tell if Microsoft Learning will address this market.

So in the end, should I get certified?

I have long been of the opinion that certifications are key for any IT Professional who is serious about his or her profession.  It shows that they have the respect for their profession to be willing to prove not that they know how to do it, but to do IT right.  Certifications are not for IT hobbyists, or people who dabble.  They are for the professionals who earn their living in IT, and who wish to differentiate themselves from other candidates for jobs, contracts, or promotions.

Whether you have been working in IT for years, or are fresh out of school and looking to embark on a career in IT, there are likely scores if not hundreds of candidates who will be competing with you for every job.  Why not take this opportunity to distinguish yourself?  No matter how much some people will denigrate their relevance, I have spoken to many hiring managers who have confirmed for me time and again that they are a key indicator of a candidate’s suitability to technical positions.

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


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!

Linux Integration Services for Hyper-V 3.4

Linux PenguinThis post was originally written for the Canadian IT Pro Connection blog, and can be seen there at http://blogs.technet.com/b/canitpro/archive/2012/09/11/linux-integration-services-for-hyper-v-3-4.aspx.

Microsoft has been taking tremendous steps to prove that Hyper-V is not simply the best hypervisor for Windows users and administrators, it is also a viable option if you have Linux servers as well.  Last week Microsoft released the Linux Integration Services v3.4 for Hyper-V.  Integration Services are the tools that you need to get the full functionality of your hardware within a guest OS, including the drivers that enable synthetic device support in (supported) Linux virtual machines under Hyper-V.

Here is the overview of what is included:

When installed in a supported Linux virtual machine running on Hyper-V, the Linux Integration Components provide. Driver support: Linux Integration Services supports the network controller and the IDE and SCSI storage controllers that were developed specifically for Hyper-V. Fastpath Boot Support for Hyper-V: Boot devices now take advantage of the block Virtualization Service Client (VSC) to provide enhanced performance. Time Sync: The clock inside the virtual machine will remain synchronized with the clock on the virtualization server with the help of the pluggable time source device. Integrated Shutdown: Virtual machines running Linux can be shut down from either Hyper-V Manager or System Center Virtual Machine Manager by using the “Shut down” command. Symmetric Multi-Processing (SMP) Support: Supported Linux distributions can use multiple virtual processors per virtual machine. The actual number of virtual processors that can be allocated to a virtual machine is only limited by the underlying hypervisor. Heartbeat: This feature allows the virtualization server to detect whether the virtual machine is running and responsive. KVP (Key Value Pair) Exchange: Information about the running Linux virtual machine can be obtained by using the Key Value Pair exchange functionality on the Windows Server 2008 virtualization server. Integrated Mouse Support: Linux Integration Services provides full mouse support for Linux guest virtual machines.

The requirements are simple: If you have Hyper-V (including Windows Server 2008 RTM and Windows 8) on the host, and a supported build of Linux in the guest OS, the LIS will work.

Supported builds:

I am not an expert in Linux, but I do know that previous LIS sets supported several builds, including:

This most recent build only includes support for several builds of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (5.7, 5.8, 6.0, 6.3).  This is not because Microsoft does not care about Linux, nor because it feels that other builds are less important.  Simply stated, all versions of Linux based on Linux Kernel 2.6.32 and later include the drivers for Linux in Hyper-V out of the box.  There are articles on-line which explain how to enable these modules (see article from Port 25).

Microsoft wants you to use Windows Server; they are also realistic to know that not everyone does, and there are a huge number of heterogeneous environments out there.  Just because you use Linux in addition to Windows Server does not mean that you should discount Hyper-V (and all of its great benefits) as your hypervisor of choice.

By the way, the best resource that I have found for Open Source support with Microsoft technologies is the Port 25 Blog right here on TechNet… Check them out here.

Just in time… Second Shot Exams Are Back!

Why do I say Just in Time? Windows Server 2012 and Windows 8 exams are coming out soon, and there’s a good chance that you may still have to write a few exams to earn your MCSE!

I don’t know if they are THE most popular promotions that Microsoft Learning offers, but if they are not then they have to be right up there…


Simply stated: when you take an exam (for $150 per exam) you are going to be nervous… it’s a lot of money for something that is not a sure thing.  Now, I have written before about what you take away from failing an exam, but that is small consolation when you know you have to pay another $150 to retake it.

With Second Shot promotions from Microsoft, you have the peace of mind knowing that if you do fail the exam you get to take it again… for free.  How cool is that?

Now, the question I get all the time is ‘What happens if I pass the exam the first time? What do I get?’ Normally, you get a certification, as well as all of the time that you would have needed to study and retake the exam.  No, you cannot take a different exam for free if you pass it.

So how does it work? Follow these steps (C&P from Eric Ligman… thanks Eric!)

    1. Register to receive a Second Shot voucher for either a single exam or a certification pack (certification packs not only offer you the Second Shot, but also save you at least 15% off the single exam prices too).
    2. Using the Second Shot voucher number, schedule and pay to take your initial exam through our testing provider, Prometric, at http://www.register.prometric.com.
    3. Take your exam.
    4. If you do not pass your exam the first time, you may register to take the same exam again at no charge, via http://www.register.prometric.com. Provide them with the same Second Shot exam voucher number when registering the second time.
      • NOTE: Please wait one day after failing the exam to register for the retake, to allow for test results to be entered into the system.

How long is Second Shot available?

  • Second Shot voucher offer is available from August 27, 2012 to May 31, 2013.
  • Exam voucher expires on May 31, 2013 for single exams (with 070 and 071 prefixes), June 30, 2013 for academic exams (exams with a 072 prefix), and December 31, 2013 for certification packs

Which certification exams is Second Shot available for?

Looking for more info? Check these links out:

Good luck on your Microsoft certification path and enjoy the Second Shot offer for both your individual exams and exam pack purchases.

(Portions cut & pasted from Eric Ligman’s blog at http://blogs.msdn.com/b/mssmallbiz/archive/2012/08/28/free-microsoft-exam-retakes-with-the-ever-popular-second-shot-certification-exam-offer.aspx)

Client-Side Hyper-V: How Microsoft is changing the game

I have been a virtualization guy for a long time, so when Microsoft released Hyper-V 2.0 with Windows Server 2008 R2 I was among the first to ask why they weren’t including it in the client OS.  In my opinion it was a no-brainer.

With the launch of Windows 8 with the client-side Hyper-V, they made a Layer 1 hypervisor available to the masses.  True, there have been free Layer 1 hypervisors for years (Hyper-V Server, ESXi and others), but they required another machine to manage them, and those machines had to be properly networked.  There are people out there who do not have multiple systems to play with.  When it comes to doing demos outside of your office environment not only would you need two systems, but they would both have to be portable.  For most of us, this was unmanageable.

Of course, Windows 7 did have Virtual PC, and even Windows XP Mode.  These were great solutions for what they were, but Virtual PC never supported 64-bit guests, which meant that in order to run a x64 OS (such as Windows Server 2008 R2) you needed a third-party virtualization platform.  It also meant that, as an MCT, if you wanted to run the Microsoft Official Curriculum courses on your system you needed to be running Windows Server 2008 as the base OS.

Alas, in Windows 8, Windows XP Mode is no more; however that doesn’t mean that if you need to run Windows XP you cannot simply build a Hyper-V machine running that OS.  Same is true for Windows 7, which I run in a VM for two distinct reasons: so that I can answer questions for the vast majority of people who are still running that platform, and because Windows 8 no longer supports desktop gadgets.  (If this second reason sounds a bit peculiar, then you should know my secret: I use the Windows XP End of Support countdown gadget to keep you all informed as to the number of days left until #EndOfDaysXP Smile).

In my professional capacity I have needed Hyper-V on my laptop for several years; I have used one of three methods of achieving this need: Dual Boot, Boot from VHD, and occasionally Native Boot.  All of this because I also needed the Windows client on my laptop.  Now, however, I can run my virtual machines (32-bit or 64-bit) from Hyper-V in Windows 8, and I don’t have to decide how I am going to boot my laptop each time I start up.

In addition to installing Hyper-V in the Native Boot Windows 8, you can also install it in a Boot from VHD environment, as well as on a Windows To Go (WTG) key.  However on those you should be even more aware of where you are storing your VMs, because storage space will be more scarce.

SNAGHTML3f56db4In addition to the native hypervisor, you might also want to install the Hyper-V Management Tools (either GUI or PowerShell, or both) on your client.  By doing this you can now manage remote Hyper-V servers from your desktop (in the same way that you could do in Windows 7 by installing the Remote Server Administration Toolkit).

To install these features, simply open the Windows Features screen, and select the desired features (Hyper-V Platform, Hyper-V Management Tools).

  1. From the Windows 8 Start Screen type Features.  Ensure that Search is in the Settings context.
  2. Click Turn Windows Features On or Off.
  3. The Windows Features window will appear (pictures at left).  scroll to the Hyper-V context.
  4. Expand Hyper-V, and select the desired features.

Just as is needed in Server, Windows will install Hyper-V, and then will need to reboot twice (See the article Layer 1 or Layer 2 Hypervisor? A common misconception and a brief explanation of the Parent Partition).

Once the reboots are complete, you will be able to create and start virtual machines, just as you would in Windows Server.  You can import and export them, pause, save, and snapshot them… just like you would in Windows Server!

Now it is important to remember that the same hardware requirements for Hyper-V apply to the client.  Your CPU needs to support hardware virtualization, and it must be enabled in the BIOS.  For that reason I don’t expect that MacBook users will be taking advantage of this option.  You also need to have Second Level Address Translation (SLAT).  However if you bought your PC within the last five or six years (and it doesn’t have an ATOM processor) then I expect you will be fine.

By the way, while I was writing this article I was made aware of a similar one in Windows IT Pro Magazine.  Check out Orin Thomas’ article on the  Hyperbole, Embellishment, and Systems Administration Blog called Windows 8’s “Killer Feature” for Microsoft Certified Trainers.

Good luck, and may the virtual force be with you!

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