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A day out with Microsoft

This week has so far been about courses.  Well on Tuesday it was the Microsoft IT Roadshow in Edinburgh that I trundled off to. The course was all about Microsoft showing off its new Server and Cloud offerings and it promised to be very interesting.

First all the boring stuff.  The hospitality was superb (did you expect anything else) with both food and drink in plentiful supply throughout the day.  I was so full after lunch I really could have done with a lie down!!


Now onto the interesting stuff.  Microsoft has recently tried to positioned itself as one of the leading cloud providers in the industry and is heading full steam ahead into the cloud.  They feel that this is where the industry is heading (I agree with them to a point) and so their newest server offering Windows Server 2012 is all about virtualization and cloud computing and how to manage them successfully from one platform.  The capabilities that Server 2012 offers is staggering and I was very impressed.  This is coming from a Linux guy too!!

I currently run Oracle Virtualbox for my virtualization needs so one of the main objectives for me was to see what Hyper V offers.  Hyper V is a completely different beast to Virtualbox. It looks very easy to use and has a lot more features than Virtualbox and all I need to do now is learn it.  Looks like I am going to have to buy some new hardware to run it on as I currently don’t have a spare 64 bit machine lying around.  Sorry kids it is back to spam sandwiches!!

Another cloud offering we were introduced too was Windows Azure. I will be honest and say I had never really paid attention to Windows Azure in the past as I have tended to use Amazon Web Services instead for testing software.  Both offer a pay as you go service for any extra server capacity that your network might need along with the option of either Linux or Windows servers. Both are very powerful platforms.

One thing I kept seeing time and again throughout the day was Linux.  During the demonstrations there were Linux virtual machines in both Hyper V and Windows Azure so I am guessing that Microsoft has finally come around to the fact that some businesses chose to use Linux rather than Windows (especially on servers).  What Microsoft is banking on is that you use them to manage ALL your virtual servers whether they run Windows or not.  From what I saw they are capable of doing just that.

After lunch we were introduced to System Center 2012 and some of its components (Operations Manager and Virtual Machine Manager to name just two).  This was a very heavy session (boy did my head hurt) and all I can say is that you can manage just about anything on your network (inc iOS and Android software deployment) with System Center 2012.  The type of clients I have will never use System Center 2012 and it is definitely aimed at the enterprise.

One of the surprises of the day was the Surface RT tablet I had a play with during lunch.  I like!! It is a cracking piece of kit and I want one. There I have said it.  Yes it is restricted to software from the Windows store but it comes with Office 2013 installed and has the ability to print.  The keyboard (optional) was nicely laid out and even the mouse pad worked. Only the high price is holding me back form buying one.  If they dropped the price they would sell a shed more of these I am sure but at this price (£400 +) they will struggle.

So what did I think overall?

I was surprised that Office 365 wasn’t mentioned especially with Microsoft marching full steam into the cloud and I was also surprised they only mentioned Windows Server 2012 Essentials in passing.  Yes a lot of the software on show is aimed straight at the enterprise but Microsoft can’t forget the small businesses who don’t need virtualization rights or want to keep their stuff inhouse (lack of broadband speed anyone?) and for these Windows  Server 2012 Essentials will be the software of choice.  Most of my customers (if not all) would probably choose Windows Server 2012 Essentials when Small Business Server 2011 reaches end of life.

I was pleasantly surprised by the Surface RT and Hyper V and it will be these snippets I will take away from the course and learn more about.

About the Author

P1020114

Hi I am Chris Wakefield the owner of ComTech IT Support. I provide Windows and Linux based IT Support, laptop repairs and computer repairs to both business and personal clients in and around Stirling.

For a list of what I can offer you why not visit my website www.comtech247.net where you will find a list of my services, testimonials, blog and much more.

 

 

 

 

 

Amazon Web Services (AWS)

I have a problem.  Regular readers of this blog will know that I use Oracle Virtualbox for all my virtualization needs.  It has all the features I require and is very easy to set up and administer.  There is however one slight issue that has reared its head recently with the release of Windows Server 2012 and that is Hyper V.  Hyper V is so intergrated within Windows Server 2012 that it would be stupid not to use it for virtualization in this kind of environment.  And herein lies the problem – I have never used Hyper V and I have no hardware at the moment to run it on.  In short I would have to spend hundreds of pounds purchasing new hardware inorder to learn it and that is not an option at the moment.


Enter stage left Amazon Web Services (AWS).  I have used this service in the past as part of a job interview (5 interviews and still didn’t get the job!!).  I decided to have a second look yesterday to see if I could use an online server to install Hyper V and learn it that way.  For readers who have never used AWS it is an online service from Amazon which allows you to ‘rent’ server space in the cloud.  You only pay for the time that you use rather than a set fee.  This means that if you require extra capacity on your network for a short period you could use AWS rather than invest in new hardware.  Their pricing is not bad either.

There are so many products that are offered it can get a bit confusing.  The one I chose is EC2  (Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud) which allows me to use the AWS Free Tier.  As a new user you can sign up to AWS Free Tier and get 750 hours FREE each month for a year (and then standard pricing after that) using the t1.micro instances.  An instance is basically a virtual server and Amazon has some predefined ready for you to use.  In the t1 bracket you can choose from a selection of Linux servers (RedHat, SUSE, Ubuntu etc), Windows based (Server 2012 or 2008 R2) or even Amazon based.

I have chosen both Windows Server 2012 and 2008 R2 (along with Ubuntu in the past) which you connect to using Remote Desktop (Windows) or SSH (Linux) using a key pair. Whatever you do don’t lose the key pair as you will not be able to use the server if you do (trust me I have done this in the past!!).

I still haven’t figured out how you connect further computers to the servers yet or even set static ip addresses (DO NOT CHANGE THE AMAZON ONES OR YOU WILL NOT BE ABLE TO CONNECT AGAIN) but will figure these out in due course and provide you with details.  As a tool to test out new software (fancy learning Windows Server 2012 anyone?) AWS surely can’t be beaten.

And Hyper V? It turns out that Amazon Web Services use the Xen Hypervisor so I can’t install Hyper V anyway.  Bugger!! Never mind I still get to learn new software along the way.

About the Author

Hi I am Chris Wakefield the owner of ComTech IT Support. I provide Windows and Linux based IT Support, laptop repairs and computer repairs to both business and personal clients in and around Stirling.

For a list of what I can offer you why not visit my website www.comtech247.net where you will find a list of my services, testimonials, blog and much more.

Virtualization

What is Virtualization?

Virtualization is the creation of a virtual (rather than actual) version of something, such as an operating system, a storage device or network resources. For example you can run a virtual Windows operating system within an actual Linux system, thereby giving you two working systems on one set of hardware.

Advantages

  • Less hardware is required to run the same amount of software, therefore saving in hardware costs. You could happily run all your applications on one server while running four virtual servers inside it performing other roles.
  • Data recovery is simplified. If your virtual server becomes corrupted then you just delete it and restore from a virtual backup.
  • Allows you to test different software configurations on different platforms before you deploy it.
  • Reduces energy consumption.
  • Improved system reliability and security. Virtualization of systems helps prevent crashes due to memory corruption caused by software like device drivers.


Disadvantages

  • Magnified physical failures. If your main hard drive (or raid configuration) containing all your physical and virtual data goes down you would have to restore all your servers (physical and virtual).
  • Virtualization requires more memory and processing power. This would need to be factored into any virtualization strategy.
  • Training. Administrators might not have the skills necessary to administer a virtual environment.
  • Complex troubleshooting when things don’t work. Is there a issue with the virtual machine or some other problem?

Virtual Software choices

There is a multitude of companies offering their own flavour of virtual software. The main ones are detailed below:

VMWare www.vmware.com

Oracle Virtualbox www.virtualbox.org (ComTech uses this software for both our clients and our own systems)

Microsoft Hyper V www.microsoft.com

Citrix Xen Software www.citrix.com

About the Author

P1020114

Hi I’m Chris Wakefield the owner of ComTech IT Support. I provide Windows, Mac and Linux based IT Support to small businesses in Stirling, Alloa and Falkirk.

Follow @Comtech247 on Twitter

 

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