Think IPM

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

RANT: VMDKs or VHDs ; Why do I have to Choose?!?

imageVirtual Disks.  They are single file containers that hold entire file systems within them (think of the Galaxy Marbles in Men in Black!)  Operating systems blissfully run within them without any knowledge of the outside hypervisors. :) Very nice from a management perspective.  Need a quick backup, just copy the file and you are good to go.  Need an exact byte by byte copy of that server’s C drive, just copy the file and you are good to go.  Very useful and tidy in their current form.

One of the more annoying things for me that has come out of the Hypervisor Wars between Microsoft, VMware and Citrix is the 2 different standards of Virtual Disk file formats.  Microsoft and Citrix have standardized on Virtual Hard Disks(VHDs) while VMware was first to release their Virtual Machine Disks (VMDKs).  In my opinion, there is no real difference between the two formats.  Operationally though, they are incompatible.  I think in most other scenarios, this might be acceptable since most users would choose a hypervisor and run with it.  Even changing between the hypervisors isn’t too difficult with the availability of various conversion tools and methods.  I take issue with the whole situation when I am using solutions that run various products concurrently which are now leveraging the different (and incompatible) formats. 

Take for example a common VDI solution leveraging Citrix Provisioning Services with Citrix XenDesktop running on top of VMware’s vSphere platform.  Citrix Provisioning leverages vDisks (VHDs) to stream an Operating System to a XenDesktop target running as a vSphere Virtual Machine (VMDK).  Everything is fine until you realize how GREAT it would be to mount that VHD directly in ESX to make some modifications to it (Update VM Tools or a NIC driver).  Can’t do it unless you go through a kludge process of converting the VHD to VMDK and then back again.  Under Citrix XenServer and Microsoft Hyper-V, mounting that VHD is a simple supported process.  Even Windows 7 can now directly boot VHDs!

As I create a mental tally in my head, I am currently counting more products out there that are leveraging the VHD format than the VMDK format.  VHDs are and will continue to be an excellent way to evaluate the newest Microsoft Back Office software.

I’m definitely not advocating that VMware change it’s file format from VMDK to VHD but would love to see them begin to support VHDs natively.  It’s not enough to convert them on the fly to VMDKs since sometimes I need to bring them back to their original programs (i.e. Citrix Provisioning Services).

Come on VMware!

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Friday, March 26, 2010

Citrix XenDesktop End Of Life Announcements

imageIn case you missed them this month, Citrix published 2 KB articles detailing the End Of Life support plans for their current XenDesktop products. 

XenDesktop 3 is end of life at the end of this year, and there won’t be patches after 10/28/10.  XenDesktop 4 however, will be supported through 5/2014.

XenDesktop 3 - http://support.citrix.com/article/CTX124351 

XenDesktop 4 - http://support.citrix.com/article/CTX124352

It’s interesting to me that XD3 which was released in February 2009 will have it’s support pulled so soon while XD4 is slated to have support until 2014.  From my perspective, it seems that most of the XD3 implementations where still in Test/Dev while XD4 has made inroads into production environments making support of the product more critical and requiring the customers to upgrade more of an issue.  I would imagine that from now to 2014, at least 2 more major revisions will be released to the public. XenDesktop 6 anyone?

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

VMware View: Direct Connections or Funneled through the Broker?

When using the Broker in View, you basically have 2 options for connecting to your desktops : Direct Connections or Tunneled SLL through the Broker itself.
You can verify the setting you are using in the View Administrator –> Servers –> View Servers.

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The Setting is modified on each VMware View Broker Server individually.  Highlight the server and select Edit.

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Some basic Pros and Cons to Direct Connections vs. SSL Tunnels.

Direct Connection PROs:

  1. Performance should be better since the View client will now be connecting from the Client PC directly to the Agent running in the desktop.  No middle man.
  2. Ability to reboot brokers without affecting View Client or Sessions.  In environments with multiple Brokers load balanced, even incoming sessions will remain unaffected as long as the outages are staggered.
  3. Potentially less brokers are need to ‘load balance’ the solution since client connections are handed off direct after being brokered freeing up resources.

Broker SSL tunneling:

  1. For external solutions, the broker can facilitate secure connections of HTTPS (443) ports without the need for a separate VPN solution.

My recommendation is to go with direct connections for the majority of the implementations.  If external access is required, I tend to prefer 3rd party SSL solutions and use the Broker tunneling only when these solutions are not available.

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Monday, March 22, 2010

No room to upgrade from ESX3 to ESX4 vSphere. Time to Repartition!

imageI was recently upgrading an ESX host from ESX3.5 to vSphere when I ran into an interesting issue.  The server was built with 36GB local drives that utilized the available space to  the fullest with the partition scheme. (Basically the 3 large partitions were 10GB /, 10GB /var & 10GB /tmp.  We were using iSCSI on these servers and leveraging the software initiator within ESX.  The plan was to leverage Update Manager to push the updates and do the in place upgrade keeping all of the iSCSI mappings intact.  So far, so good.  We pushed forward on the first ESX and Update Manager spit up an error.  NOT ENOUGH SPACE on the local VMFS.  Local VMFS? I didn’t even have one! :)
For the in place upgrade, Update Manager required 8GB free space on the local VMFS drive.  A quick and easy solution was to wipe out the /tmp partition and create a new temporary VMFS partition for the upgrade. 
Check out the steps below :
  1. the first step was to edit /etc/fstab file.  Using your favorite editor (vi, nano, whatever), Comment out /tmp line.
  2. REBOOT the ESX server.  Since we have made the modification tot he fstab, VMware will create the /tmp under the / partition freeing up the 10GB previously used by the /tmp partition.
  3. use df –lk to determine the devices currently in use.
  4. using fdisk, delete the old /tmp partition. (commands d, then partition #, then w)
  5. Now that the partition space has been deleted, return to the VI client and format the unassigned space as VMFS as normal.
Resubmit the upgrade task and Update Manager will now see the required space to complete the upgrade. Crisis averted! :)
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Friday, March 19, 2010

COMPLETELY OFF-TOPIC : Induction Charging! – Way Cool!

This post really has nothing to do with Virtualization, work or anything like that but it’s Friday!  In my search for rechargeable batteries for my Wii controllers, I came across a great little device!  The Energizer charging system (on the right).  It is like a power pad that I have seen and heard about and works by replacing your current batteries with a special type that is paired with the mat to allow contactless charging.  Inductive charging allows the charge to occur by just placing the batteries (fully contained within the controllers) onto the pad.   What made this especially appealing to me is the charge worked without issue right through the protective skin encasing the controller.  If you look to the left, my OLD charging system which was the contact type required me to remove the casing which was a super pain!
Chargin Station!
I get the feeling I might have been a late to the game with this find but I think it is great! :)
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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Quick Tip : Slow Microsoft Delivery Services Console Fix

Here is a quick tip from Aaron Silber

I was meaning to send this out a little while ago, but never got around to it. I ran into an issue where you click the AMC, or Delivery Services Console as it is now called and it can literally take upwards of five minutes before it even launches, I was pulling my hair out (ok, the little I have left!), but finally found the answer. All you need to do it create a mmc.exe.config file in the Windows\System32 folder and in it place the following:image

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
<configuration>
<runtime>
<generatePublisherEvidence enabled="false" />
</runtime>
</configuration>

Save the file and try to launch again, presto! From what I understand there is some sort of signature checking that .NET does which can be quite intensive, this disables it for the mmc.exe process.

The full details can be found in this MS article: http://support.microsoft.com/default.aspx/kb/936707

Thanks Aaron!

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

My Journey from 32Bit Win7 Beta to 64Bit Windows 7.

imageIf you are reading this post and your machine keeps shutting down every 2 hours, you might be running a Beta version of Windows 7! :)

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That was almost me about 3 weeks ago.  I got this notification from my system tray followed up by an official email from Microsoft (** on the bottom) letting me know that my beta version of Windows 7 (that I had been running gleefully for about 7 months) was about to EXPIRE.  Oh and yeah, beginning March 1st, the machine would shut down every 2 hours!  Nice!  To further complicate matters, there is no LEGIT way of upgrading from a Beta copy to a Released version of Windows 7.  It is recommended to wipe the machine and start from scratch.  Although there were some hacks to upgrade the Beta version, I took the opportunity to wipe the machine and go from a 32 bit Beta straight to 64 Bit Production! :)

I personally am always nervous to wipe my laptop and start from scratch in fear of screwing up my productivity.  As a consultant, I use my laptop as my primary machine and use it everyday.  I have tons of little tweaks and programs that I never remember until I need them.  Here are three solid practices I used this time around for a successful wipe and rebuild.

1) I P2V’d my laptop to an external USB drive.  This worked out great for me.  I had a 320 GB passport USB drive that was fully capable of storing my 250GB Laptop image.  After P2Ving the machine, I wiped the laptop, installed the new OS and immediately installed VMware Workstation.  With the base OS and Workstation running, I was able to fire up my P2V’d Laptop Virtual Machine directly from the USB drive and copy things from the VM to the REAL laptop.  This also gave me an opportunity to ‘remember’ how I had everything set up and what programs I had installed.  A great reference for me to use while rebuilding the machine.

2) I bookmarked all the cool utilities/programs/tweaks I found using Delicious.com.  Although I started this practice a little too late, I had been bookmarking all the neat things I installed on my laptop with Delicious with the tag of REBUILD.  The idea behind this one is clear.  After rebuilding my machine, sign into Delicious and begin downloading all the programs again.

3) I never used the Windows Settings Transfer Wizard.  Rather than having all the junk from my old build dragged into my new build, I leveraged the P2V’d image.  For many applications, I took the defaults for the installations and then just overwrote the Program Files Application directory with it’s equivalent from the Virtual Machine.  This worked great for many applications that I had done a lot of customizations on.  Firefox is a perfect example.  All the Add-ons and tweaks are stored in the file structure so after the initial install and copy, the application was back exactly the way I wanted it.

So after a couple of days of reinstalling programs, copying down documents, and changing things around, I am now 100% back to my 80% productive self. :) 64 Bit no less!

On a side note, I don’t really notice much difference between my old 32bit version of Win7 and my new 64Bit Win7 – Even with the FULL 4GB RAM now.

** Here is the Microsoft Email I received prior to my upgrade.

It’s time to upgrade from the Windows 7 Release Candidate

While most people who tested Windows 7 have now moved to the final version, some are still running the Release Candidate. If you haven’t moved yet, it’s time to replace the RC.
Starting on March 1, 2010 your PC will begin shutting down every two hours. Your work will not be saved during the shutdown.

The Windows 7 RC will fully expire on June 1, 2010. Your PC running the Windows 7 RC will continue shutting down every two hours and your files won’t be saved during shutdown. In addition, your wallpaper will change to a solid black background with a persistent message on your desktop. You’ll also get periodic notifications that Windows isn’t genuine. That means your PC may no longer be able to obtain optional updates or downloads requiring genuine Windows validation.

To avoid interruption, please reinstall a prior version of Windows or move to Windows 7. In either case, you’ll need to do a custom (clean) install to replace the RC. As with any clean installation, you’ll need to back up your data then reinstall your applications and restore the data. For more details about replacing the RC, see the Knowledge Base article KB 971767. For more information, visit the Window 7 Forum.

Thanks again for helping us test Windows 7.

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Monday, March 15, 2010

Upgrading your NT guests on your vSphere Hosts


imageYep! Still have some NT guest Virtual Machines hanging out there. :)   During a recent VI3 to vSphere upgrade, we had just finished upgrading both vCenters, upgraded Site Recovery Manager, upgraded all the ESX hosts to ESX4 and were now upgrading the VM Tools and then upgrading the Virtual Hardware on the Virtual Machines. We had devised our plan to upgrade the VMTools BEFORE upgrading the Virtual Hardware to avoid any IP related issues.
Of course, after upgrading the VMTools and then the Virtual Hardware on the NT guests, no IP addresses!  Argh!  After searching around the OS for the actual NICs (yeah – It’s been a LONG time) We were able to re-install the vmxnet driver and everything worked fine.
Here’s a quick refresher for those that don’t remember NT. :)
To add a virtual network adapter

    1.   Right-click the Network Neighborhood tab and select Properties.
    2.   Click the Adapters tab.
    3.   Remove the existing adapter and add a new adapter. Specify the new path as C:\winnt\system32.
    4.   To add a a virtual network adapter as AMD PCNet driver, select AMD PCNET Family Ethernet adapter. Specify the path as C:\winnt\system32 and reboot the virtual machine
    5.   To add a virtual network adapter to vmxnet driver, click Have disk and specify path as C:\Program Files\VMware\VMware Tools\Drivers\vmxnet\. Upgrade to the latest VMware Tools version
        and reboot the virtual machine.
Here is the KB article that got us moving in the right direction :
http://kb.vmware.com/selfservice/microsites/search.do?language=en_US&cmd=displayKC&externalId=1007168
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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Windows 7 DirectAccess Pre-Requisites

imageOne of the new features of Windows 7 / Windows 2008 R2 is DirectAccess.  The promise of DirectAccess is the ability for corporate laptops and machines to connect to the corporate LAN seamlessly without the need for a VPN. (Or rather, DirectAccess will be your VPN).  The machine will be connected whenever it is connected to internet access.  All of your internal resources will be available to the client machine whenever it has internet access.  Marcos Velez summarized some of the requirements and challenges clients may face when looking to implement the new Windows DirectAccess feature.

… as with everything that is too good to be true, the requirements [for DirectAccess] are enormous.  I will try to summarize some of those right now:

  1. DirectAccess requires Windows 2008 R2
  2. DirectAccess requires IPv6
  3. DirectAccess clients need a client certificate in order to be able to connect to the network
  4. DirectAccess requires deploying a DirectAccess server
  5. DirectAccess STILL requires users to log in, but
  6. DirectAccess client laptops (or computers) are ALWAYS connected to the corporate network (even before the user has logged on)

By the way, DirectAccess is a very cool idea, and it really is worth considering, but the list of pre-requisites is long.  Daunting, even.  DirectAccess requires a large investment (of time and money) by clients into technologies that they might not be able (or willing) to undertake at this time.  That is a discussion that needs to be taken up with the client, of course.

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Friday, March 5, 2010

VMware’s Script-O-Mania ESXi Contest – 10 Days Left!

Just helping get the word out on VMware’s Script-O-Mania contest.  VMware is hoping that creative, clever and cash strapped developers and scripters out there will be enticed enough by the $20,000 (1st, 2nd and 3rd in 5 different Categories – If I am interpreting it correctly) in cash prizes to create and share some of the scripts they have developed to help manage ESXi.  There are 4 main categories and 1 free for all category that you can enter your scripts into for a chance to win.  If this is anything like past contests VMware has held, your odds of winning (assuming you have the skill set to come up with a suitable script) will be very good.  You could, depending on the category, only be competing with a dozen or so other entries.

To me, this is a clear effort to get ESXi more widely adopted and accepted by companies that are still more comfortable with the Service Console of ESX (Count me as part of this group).  Hopefully some kick ass scripts come out of this contest that really make ESXi easier to manage, configure and monitor since it seems to me that ESXi will be the platform (code base) that VMware has decided on for future releases.

Check out the full contest rules and regulations @ http://vmware.com/go/scriptomania.

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Thursday, March 4, 2010

Enable VT and EVC in the Hewlett Packard (HP) BIOS

I’ve posted screen shots on how to enable VT and EVC on Dell servers before so when I had an opportunity to grab the screenshots for the HP models, I figured I’d round the collection out. :)

To enable 64-Bit support for Virtual Machines in VMware ESX, you must Enable Intel® Virtualization Technology and to configure the ESX host for Enhanced vMotion Compatibility, you must Enable No-Execute Memory Protection. These settings can be found under the CPU info section of the HP BIOS. (F9 to enter HP BIOS)

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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Separate Virtual Disks for each volume in Virtual Machines.

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It’s a pretty solid best practice to create a separate virtual disk or VMDK/VHD for each volume in a virtual machine.  The alternative is to create 1 vDisk and then partition the drives within it.   Single volumes per virtual hard drive allow for much easier management in my opinion.  Growing, shrinking and otherwise manipulating a single volume when it is 100% of the virtual disk becomes a trivial thing with most hypervisors.  Situations where a single virtual disk is partitioned to multiple volumes and manipulating the first partition on the disk, becomes an exercise in data block juggling.  Sometimes preventing the operation from occurring at all.  Of course for new VMs, I still tend to favor a single partition approach but when multiple partitions are in play, separate virtual disks are the way to go.

From within the Windows’ Disk Manager/Administrator, multiple VMDK/VHDs will just look like separate Hard Disks within the Operating System.  Hopefully, these Virtual Disks will also be located on a SAN storage LUN somewhere! :)

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