My New Intel NUC PC

I recently purchased an Intel NUC, NUC8i7HNK, to use as my home office PC. Here’s a little bit of information about my experience.

Need To Upgrade

I’ve been using a HP micro-tower for around 6-7 years as my home office PC. It was an i5 with 16 GB RAM, originally purchased as part of a pair to use as a lab kit when I started writing Mastering Hyper-V 2012 R2. After that book, I re-purposed the machine as my home PC and it’s been where many of my articles were written and where I work when I work from home.

When Microsoft introduced a workaround security fix for Meltdown/Spectre I noticed the slowdown quite a bit. Over the year, the PC has just felt slower and slower. I don’t do anything that unusual with it, I don’t use it for development, it’s not running Hyper-V – Office, Chrome, Visio, and VS Code are my main tools of the trade. The machine is 6-7 years old, so it was time to upgrade.


Some will ask “wasn’t the Surface Studio the perfect choice?”. No, not for me. The price is crazy, the Studio 1 needs a hard disk replacement, the Studio 2 isn’t available yet, and I need a nice dual monitor supply and I don’t like working with mismatched monitors – Microsoft doesn’t make additional matching monitors for the Studio.

I did look at Dell/Lenovo/HP but nothing there suited me. Some were too lower spec. Some had the spec but a Surface-like price to go with them. I considered home-builds. Most of the PC’s I have owned have been either home-built or customised. But I don’t have time for that malarkey. I looked at custom-builds but they are expensive options for gamers – I don’t have time to play the X-Box games that I already have.

At work, we use Intel NUCs for our training room. They’re small, high spec, and have an acceptable price. So that’s what I went for.


One of my colleagues showed me some of the new 8th generation NUC models and I opted for the NUC8i7HNK (Amazon USA / Amazon UK). A machine with an i7, Radeon graphics instead of the usual Intel HD, USB C and Thunderbolt, TPM 2.0 (not listed on the Intel site, I found), and oodles of ports. Here’s the front:


And here’s the back:


Look at that: 2 x HDMI, 2 x mini-DP, USB C, 6 x USB 3.0, 2 x Ethernet, and there’s the Radeon graphics, speaker, built-in mic, and more. It supports 2 x M.2/NVMe disks and 2 x DIMM slots for up to 32 GB RAM.

The machine is quite tidy and small. It comes with a plate allowing you to mount it to the back of a monitor – if the monitor supports mounting.

My Machine

The NUC kits come built, but you have to add your disk and RAM. I went with:

  • Adata SX6000 M.2 SSD, capable of up to 1000 MB/S read and 800 MB/S write.
  • 2 x Adata DDR4 2400 8 GB RAM

I installed Windows 10 1809 in no time, added the half dozen or so required Windows updates, and installed Office 365 from the cloud. A quick blast of Ninite and I had most of the extra bits that I needed. In terms of data, all of my docs are is either in OneDrive or Office 365 so there was no data migration. My media (movies & photos) are on a pair of USB 3.0 drives configured with Storage Spaces so all I’ll have to do is move the drives over. To be honest, the biggest thing I have to do is buy a pair of video cables to replace my old ones!

Going with a smaller machine will clear up a lot of space from under my desk, and help reduce some of the clutter – there’s a lot of clutter to clear!

Got a Surface Pro

As you might have noticed, myself and my wife have started a new Azure training business called Cloud Mechanix. The thing I fear the most, as a presenter, is my laptop dying. I don’t want to use my employer’s device (a Surface Book) because that would be a conflict of interest. My personal laptop is a 4-year old Lenovo Thinkpad Yoga, which still runs well, but is showing it’s age … Thinkpads have a great build reputation but the rubber feel and logos were all gone in 18 months. Many moons ago, I had a laptop die in England the night before I was to present at an MVP event. I ended up having to borrow a machine, and that’s not a position that I can tolerate as a trainer. So the Yoga will be my backup machine, and I needed something new and suitable for presentations.


My requirements were:

  • Weight: I wanted this machine to be light because I will be travelling light with no checked-in bags.
  • Moderate performance: An i5 was fine, 8-16 GB RAM. I’m not running Visual Studio or games, but I want the machine to run and age well.
  • Touch: I use touch when I’m reading.
  • Stylus: I whiteboard a lot. Hotels charge a fortune for things like flipcharts, and I prefer to use Windows 10 inking, e.g. Microsoft Whiteboard, because it’s being projected onto a big screen. I often draw over my PowerPoint for convenience.

So, that left me with plenty of options. Lenovo was ruled out because of build quality and price – see above. I really liked the look of the recently Dell XPS 13, until I saw what Dell had done with the webcam. Imagine doing Skype calls when everyone is looking up your nose! HP have some nice machines that are similar to the Dell XPS 13. I was tempted by USB-C, but then I thought … how many devices will I hang from my presentation machine? My office machine has 8 on-board USB 2.0 ports and an additional 4 x PCI USB 3.0 ports, most of which are used. But I will be travelling light, so all I’ll need are:

  • Video  out
  • USB 2.0/3.0 for a clicker
  • USB 3.0 for a gigabit network adapter

FYI, Acer, Asus, and Samsung were all ruled out because of terrible post-sales hardware support.

That left me with Microsoft: Surface Laptop and Surface Pro. I like the Surface Laptop. It’s thin, light, and pretty much the Surface Pro in laptop form. I was tempted – if it had been a convertible then I would have pulled the trigger. But what did it for me was the ability to remove or flip up the keyboard of the Surface Pro. Form time to time, I have been known to connect to the screen/projector via Miracast, pick up my device, and walk around while presenting. It’s also handy in a meeting when whiteboarding on screen – get the keyboard out of the way and draw/talk; the flexible stand helps there too.


The purchase was easy; Cloud Mechanix as a service provider is able to buy from my employer (a distributor) at trade prices plus support would be easy for me. The OOBE setup of Windows 10 was interesting:

  • The OOBE was defaulting to UK English/UK as the location so Cortana was there. She walked me through the setup. I had never heard Cortana during setup before, and I never even knew it was possible.
  • I was forced to do Windows updates at the end of the OOBE. A 3 GB download/install was required (I guess 1709 was not in the image). That start at around 4PM and finished sometime after 9PM – I actually left it running in the back of the car when I was driving home from work.

The Surface Pro has 1 x USB 3.0 port, which is not enough for my basic presentation requirements. That’s easily solved. I added a Macally U3HUBGBA USB/Ethernet hub – also purchased through work via trade. From a single (shared bandwidth) USB 3.0 port, I get 3 more ports and a “Gigabit” Ethernet adapter. That’s all my connectivity requirements sorted –


I added the Cobalt stylus and a signature keyboard. The alcantara of the keyboard doesn’t feel like a fabric; it feels more like what it is: the result of 2 chemicals companies cooperating on something. It feels smooth to the touch and like it will wear well. The keyboard is rigid enough to work well, and I haven’t had any issues typing on it, which I often do with some Lenovo and HP machines when they get funky with keyboard layouts, e.g. moving CTRL or ALT.

It’s only been a few days, so a review isn’t justifiable, and others wrote reviews last year.

Intel CPU Security Bug

Gossip started to twirl in the last few days about what was driving both Azure and AWS to push out updates at relatively short notice. And news leaked over the last day that Intel has discovered a significant security flaw in the code of nearly all (or all) Intel processors manufactured in the last decade.

Intel has issued an embargo to partners on sharing the news while fixes are being produced, but the news has leaked, and it affects everything using Intel’s processors: Windows, MacOS, Linux, AWS, Azure, and probably VMware too. It sounds like the error is a hardware error that cannot be fixed using a microcode update by Intel. This means that the hypervisors and operating systems on top of the processors must bypass the flaw in the processor. And here’s where the bad news is.

We can expect Microsoft to issue a security fix very quickly. According to Gizmodo, a redacted form of the fix appeared in the Linux kernel recently. But the fix will bypass the flaw which resides in a performance feature of the processor. My limited understanding is that the feature helps make the switch between user mode and kernel mode less disruptive by tweaking the handling of secure kernel memory. The flaw makes it possible for processes in user mode to scan kernel memory. To bypass this feature, the performance enhancement has to be bypassed, and this could cause anywhere between a “5 and 30 percent” performance hit, according to several news sites, but I don’t know how reliable that number is.

Typical end users won’t notice this. But heavily loaded systems will notice. So if your CPU is heavily used, you can expect that the security fix will cause you problems.

The timing of this flaw/fix and the timing of Azure’s and AWS’s updates cannot be a coincidence.

The iPhone 8–After 1 Week of Ownership

I’ve been using the HTC One (M7 and then M9) for the last 4 years on the Three network in Ireland. I liked Android, but problems that both I and my wife had with the M9, and the lousy camera, convinced me to change handsets. And the awful degradation of the Three network and their rubbish outside-EU roaming offers made me want to go elsewhere.

I reviewed my phone options. The Samsung S8 and The Google Pixel are the best of Android. The Pixel isn’t officially available here, but grey market handsets can be had at a steep price. The S8 … I hate what Samsung does to Android. Prior to going Android, I had an iPhone 4. I didn’t like iTunes, but the platform was stable, and Apple puts pretty good cameras into their phones. That convinced me – I wanted a great camera for family snapshots. Along came news of the iPhone 8. My employer happens to be a distributor of Apple products, so I bought the entry level model (64 GB storage) on the first morning of release.

That was a busy day! I was packing for 2 weeks of travel in the USA (Microsoft Ignite in Orlando, FL, and then to an MS partner bootcamp in Bellevue, WA), but I wanted to change phone carriers. I went with Vodafone Ireland on a SIM-only plan and activated their €2.99 roaming package for outside the EU. With that package, for €2.99/day, I get 200 MB of data and free calls/texts home from the USA.

I loaded up apps, and hit the “road” on Saturday morning, heading to MS Ignite. Google Maps was pre-loaded with maps. I had a rental car waiting in the USA and used maps to navigate quite a bit – to my hotel, and then out west on the Sunday to visit with a friend. All week long I was navigating, listening to Audible, taking photos, tweeting, phoning, texting (SMS/iMessage), using Facetime home, and calling home. The phone is being used … and the battery is easily out-performing the HTC One M9 that I previously owned. The camera is amazing compared to the rubbish in the HTC One – whether it’s a snap, a zoomed in shot of a screen using Office Lens, or a panorama (gloriously easy to use).

The decision for Apple to start with 64 GB was a good one. I was struggling with 32 GB on the previous phone, and even though I use OneDrive, I like to keep photos offline, as well as maps, audio books, and music.

The phone is much smaller than I expected. That’s causing me some issues with getting used to the keyboard. My wife went with the iPhone 8 Plus. I feared that it would be too big for my pocket but it’s not. However, I like not having to adjust my pocket contents when I sit down – and I’m less black & blue in the nether regions!

I’m very happy with the hardware. iOS 11 … we’ve all heard the grumbling. I installed Outlook and set it up for my work and personal email, both on O365. It works well and I’ve never looked at the Apple mail app. I’ve not had any problems with the software.

The switch to Vodafone has also worked out well. I have a data signal all the way between home and work – there’s a mobile antenna at the end of the road that I live on, and I could barely get a 1 bar signal with Three in the house, which does not have the latest signal-blocking insulation. Roaming has been the real test. I love having that 200 MB per day. No; it’s not much in a modern world, but I have something. Most of the time, I’ve been near wi-fi, but hotel/conference wi-fi can suck. Only a little while ago, I wanted to see my family and the hotel wi-fi was crapping out. I jumped off the wi-fi, and had a perfect mobile signal to see my family on Facetime.

This week I’ve been repeatedly asked why I didn’t wait until November for the iPhone X. Well … I’m nether stupid nor am I a poser. There is no way on earth that I was going to pay nearly €1,300 for animated emojis, or to be that plonker that puts their phone on the bar table, waiting for people to tell them how much better they are than everyone else. Seriously!

One week is not a long time, but I’ve used the phone quite a bit this week, more than I normally would. It’s worked out well, and I’m happy with it and the carrier decision that I’ve made.

My Hands-Off Review of Surface Studio

I don’t have a Surface Studio. My access to one was limited to a 10 minute play in a Microsoft Store in Bellevue, WA last month. But I did have that limited hands-on, I know the specs, and I’ve listened to & read other reviews. So I have my opinions on this headline-making PC from Microsoft and here they are.

Styling & Form

If it was possible to give a 12 out of 10 score, then I’d do it. The Surface Studio is a beautifully engineered machine, making all those beige and black cuboid PCs of the past look like dumpster fires. I love the form-factor – I was a fan of a similar machine that Lenovo launched several years ago with Windows 8, the A730, which often appears in TV shows such as The Flash.

Image result for lenovo all in one


The Lenovo A730

When word of a Microsoft PC leaked, I hoped it would look something like the Lenovo. And Microsoft exceeded that, with a machine that is perfectly designed on the exterior. The screen tilt is perfectly balanced; you can pull down or push up the screen with just one finger, and the motion is smooth. That quality makes you think of a €300,000 hand-made car. In “draft mode” with the screen at a low angle, the Studio is perfect for drawing on. The stylus experience is as you’d expect, fluid and responsive.

The Screen

In my opinion, this is the star feature of the Studio: a big bright, contrasty, colour-popping 28” screen that makes all others look like rubbish. I actually went up the escalator to the Apple store to do an eyeball comparison after playing with the Studio. Apple’s stock paled in comparison in my untrained and un-calibrated opinion. As a hobbyist photographer, the Studio’s monitor would be my choice. Now, there are pros out there that will point out some niche editing monitors with better contrast, colour ranges, hoods for blocking reflections, and all that jazz, but those things cost a freaking fortune, and few creatives ever use them. And the Studio’s big win … you don’t need some drawing pad from the likes of Wacom (professional ones can cost in excess of $1500) because the PixelSense monitor on the Studio is a touch screen that supports a stylus, and the screen tilts down to a suitable angle for editing and drawing.

The Peripherals

The keyboard and mouse are stylish and match the design of the machine. The choice of mice/keyboards is usually a personal thing; I hate small keyboards and flat mice so I would prefer to use something like the 2000 combo from Microsoft – which I use at home. Yes, I would “ruin the styling” at my desk, but these devices suit me better.


The 2000 keyboard/mouse from Microsoft which I prefer

Of course, the talking point peripheral is the Dial. The Dial is revolutionary. You press down to activate a menu, twist and select and option, and then twisting the dial impacts how much/little or forward/back the current editing does. For a righty, you have the stylus in your right hand, and the dial in your left on the screen (so you can see your press-down menu options), and editing is just a natural process. If you are editing, you can draw while resizing the brush, changing the tone, lightening/darkening the mask, or undoing/redoing your changes. It’s an extremely natural device to use, and the news that it works with other devices is great for all you graphic artists or photo editors that want a faster way to work.

The Spec

This is where things aren’t 12/10. I’m a big fan of the idea, the styling, the screen and the interaction with the Studio. But the spec has some issues. The first of these is the graphics card. I’m no PC gamer, so graphics cards aren’t something I pay attention to. But I sit beside two graphics artists at work. They LOVED the appearance of the Studio when it was announced, but then they saw the card spec, and were disappointed. The Studio includes a mobile GPU, not a PC one, so performance was sacrificed for form. I would have not been upset if the machine was a few millimetres thicker or wider to get a better card in there.

The other issue is that the machine has a 5400 RPM hard drive (!!!!) with an M2 SSD cache; in other words, a hybrid drive. The prices of flash storage have plummeted. There is no excuse for putting such a dreadful storage solution into a premium machine like the Studio. Hybrid drives, in my opinion, are a waste. The cache just doesn’t impact performance enough to matter – I know, because I replaced a similar 1 TB hybrid drive in my Lenovo Yoga with a 1 TB Samsung Evo SSD. And the reason was identical to what Leo LaPorte of TWiT reported on Windows Weekly a couple of weeks ago.

I might take 1,000 photos on a successful day of wildlife photography – not that similar to what a wedding or news photographer might do. A 36 megapixel photo might be around 60 MB in size. 1000 of those is 58 GB – well beyond the 32 GB SSD cache of a hybrid drive. Let’s say I import those 1000 photos into Adobe Lightroom on my imaginary Surface Studio. The first thing that a photography creative will do is browse through the photos, rate them, and remove what they don’t want to keep. Each photo is pretty large, so loading it from a 5400 RPM HDD will be tedious … 4-8 seconds for each photo! Yes; that’s what Leo LaPorte reported on Windows Weekly, and that’s what I’d expect from such a drive.

Microsoft should never have put such a cheap storage solution into a PC for creatives – that’s like putting a 1 litre engine from a Fiat Punto into a Rolls Royce. If you’re getting a Studio then allow for a couple of hundred dollars to replace the drive (which can be done) with an SSD.

Everything else is great … lots of memory in the choices, and fast CPUs. It’s a pity that the memory is not expandable, but as Apple have realized, that’s creating manufacturing costs and complexity for the 1% of your target market, and it just isn’t worth it.

The Price

There are 3 available specs of Surface Studio:

  • $2,999 plus tax: 1 TB / Core i5 / 8 GB RAM / 2 GB GPU
  • $3,499 plus tax: 1 TB / Core i7 / 16 GB RAM / 2 GB GPU
  • $4,199 plus tax: 2 TB / Core i7 / 32 GB RAM / 4 GB GPU

Your first reaction: whoah! But you need to realize that this is not a PC for everyone. Microsoft is aiming this machine at creating professionals that view their PC as a tool. And like all tool-using professionals, the quality of the tool impacts the effectiveness of their work processes, so professionals are willing to pay for better equipment. Let’s do a comparison with that these people have been purchasing up to now, that offers a similar solution:

  • Apple Mac Pro, the Apple PC that hasn’t been improved in 3 years: 256 GB SSD / Quad Core Intel Xeon / 12 GB RAM / 2 x 2 GB GPU …. $2,999 plus tax.
  • Apple Mac Pro, the Apple PC that hasn’t been improved in 3 years: 256 GB SSD / 6Core Intel Xeon / 16 GB RAM / 2 x 3 GB GPU …. $3,999 plus tax.

The graphics adapters are an advantage for Apple. I think the CPU is a wash because Apple has old hardware verus the Studio’s newer Core i7 (creatives shouldn’t bother with the entry level machine from Microsoft). Apple includes pathetically small storage and the screens neither tilt nor support touch/stylus. This means you need additional capacity:

  • Professional NAS: $1,000 plus Tax for a Netgear device on that came up first in my search for “Apple NAS”.
  • A professional Wacom stylus solution: The Cintiq 27QHD 27” costs $2,550 plus tax on

So the entry level option from Apple will cost: $2,999 + $1,000 + $2,550 = $6,549 plus tax. The top model from Microsoft will cost $4,199 plus an SSD, plus tax. Hmm, that’s around a $2,000 saving, plus I get a cleaner working experience, modern hardware, and tools (Dial and tilt screen) designed for how I work.

The Impact of Surface Studio

My employer (one of the few authorized Surface distributors in the world) got calls about supplying Surface Studio the morning after the launch. The sad news is that the Studio is limited to the USA and it doesn’t look like that will change anytime soon. My personal opinion is that Microsoft accomplished exactly what they wanted with the Studio. The Studio was a concept, much like a Bugatti Veyron or similar. This was an “ultimate machine” designed not to be a profit center, but a highlight, and example of what can be accomplished. By launching a desktop PC, Microsoft risked further angering their OEM partners like Dell, HP, Acer, Asus, and so on. But by making this a very expensive, niche (creatives), and relatively unavailable (tiny supply to a single market) machine, Microsoft created a light in the dark instead of a competitor to their partners.

The Surface Studio is a lighthouse. It has shone a light on what can be done with Windows 10, and most importantly, made the media and the customer aware that Microsoft still exists and is still relevant. That plan was a complete success. Even the most ardent Apple-fanboys in the media were convinced that Microsoft has won the title of “most cool” versus Apple, especially after the poorly timed and underwhelming Apple MacBook Pro “touch” launch. Apple customers were all over forums and social media saying that Microsoft has scored a huge win. Share values of Microsoft have stayed high. And hopefully, the OEM partners have seen what can be done, and will mimic the Studio with cheaper clones (with SSD storage!).

DataOn CiB-9112 V12 Cluster-in-a-Box

In this post I’ll tell you about the cluster-in-a-box solution from DataOn Storage that allows you to deploy a Hyper-V cluster for a small-mid business or branch office in just 2U, at lower costs than you’ll pay to the likes of Dell/HP/EMC/etc, and with more performance.


So you might have noticed on social media that my employers are distributing storage/compute solutions from both DataON and Gridstore. While some might see them as competitors, I see them as complimentary solutions in our portfolio that are for two different markets:

  • Gridstore: Their hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) products remove fear and risk by giving you a pre-packaged solution that is easy and quick to scale out.
  • DataON: There are two offerings, in my opinion. SMEs want HA but at a budget they can afford – I’ll focus on that area in this article. And then there are the scaled-out Storage Spaces offerings, that with some engineering and knowledge, allow you to build out a huge storage system at a fraction of the cost of the competition – assuming you buy from distributors that aren’t more focused on selling EMC or NetApp 🙂

The Problem

There is a myth out there that the cloud has or will remove servers from SMEs. The category “SME” covers a huge variety of companies. Outside of the USA, it’s described as a business with 5-250 users. I know that some in Microsoft USA describe it as a company with up to 2,500 users. So, sure, a business with 5-50 users might go server-less pretty easily today (assuming broadband availability), but other organizations might continue to keep their Hyper-V (more likely in SME) or vSphere (less likely in SME) infrastructures for the foreseeable future.

These businesses have the same demands for applications, and HA is no less important to a 50 user business than it is for a giant corporation; in fact, SMEs are hurt more when systems go down because they probably have a single revenue operation that gets shut down when some system fails.

So why isn’t the Hyper-V (or vSphere) cluster the norm in an SME? It’s simple: cost. It’s one thing to go from one host to two, but throw in the cost of a modest SAS/iSCSI SAN and that solution just became unaffordable – in case you don’t know, the storage companies allegedly make 85% margin on the list price of storage. SMEs just cannot justify the cost of SAN storage.

Storage Spaces

I was at the first Build conference in LA when Microsoft announced Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012. WS2012 gave us Storage Spaces, and Microsoft implored the hardware vendors to invest in this new technology, mainly because Microsoft saw it as the future of cluster storage. A Storage Spaces-certified JBOD can be used instead of a SAN as shared cluster storage, and this could greatly bring down the cost of Hyper-V storage for customers of all sizes. Tiered storage (SSD and HDD) that combines the speed of SSD with the economy of large hard drives (now up to 10 TB) with transparent and automatic demand-based block based tiering meant that economy doesn’t mean a drop in performance – it actually increases performance!


One of the sessions, presented by Microsoft Clustering Principal PM Lead Elden Christensen, focused on a new type of hardware solution that MSFT wanted to see vendors develop. A Cluster-in-a-Box (CiB) would provide a small storage or Hyper-V cluster in a single pre-packaged and tested enclosure. That enclosure would contain:

  • Up to 2 or 4 independent blade servers
  • Shared storage in the form of a Storage Spaces “JBOD”
  • Built in cluster networking
  • Fault tolerant power supplies
  • The ability to expand via SAS connections (additional JBODs)

I loved this idea; here was a hardware solution that was perfect for a Hyper-V cluster in an SME or a remote office/branch office (ROBO), and the deployment could be really simple – there are few decisions to make about the spec, performance would be awesome via storage tiering, and deployment could be really quick.

DataON CiB-9112 V12

This is the second generation of CiBs that I have worked with from DataON, a company that specialises in building state-of-the-art and Mcirosoft-certified Storage Spaces hardware. My employers, MicroWarehouse Ltd. (an Irish company that has nothing to do with an identically named UK company) distributes DataON hardware to resellers around Europe – everywhere from Galway in west Ireland to Poland so far.

The CiB concept is simple. There are two blade servers in the 2U enclosure. Each has the following spec:

  • Dual Intel® Xeon® E5-2600v3 (Haswell-EP)
  • DDR4 Reg. ECC memory up to 512GB
  • Dual 1G SFP+ & IPMI management “KVM over IP” port
  • Two PCI-e 3.0 x8 expansion slots
  • One 12Gb/s SAS x4 HD expansion port
  • Two 2.5” 6Gb/s SATA OS drive bays

Networking wise, there are 4 NICs per blade:

  • 2 x LAN facing Intel 1 GbE NICs, which I team for a virtual switch with management OS sharing enabled (with QoS enabled).
  • 2 x internal Intel 10 GbE , which I use for cluster communications and SMB 3.0 Live Migration. These NICs are internal copper connections so you do not need an external 10 GbE switch. I do not team these NICs, and they should be on 2 different subnets for cluster compatibility.

You can use the PCI-e expandability to add more SAS or NIC interfaces, as required, e.g. DataON work closely with Mellanox for RDMA networking.

The enclosure also has:

  • 12-bay 3.5”/2.5“ shared drive slots (with caddies)
  • 1023W (1+1) redundant power


Typically, the 12 shared drive bays are used as a single storage pool with 4 x SSDs (performance) and 8 x 7200 RPM HDDs (capacity). Tiering in Storage Spaces works very well. Here’s an anecdote I heard while in a pre-sales meeting with one of our resellers:

They put a CiB (6 GB SAS, instead of 12 GB as on the CiB-9112)  into a customer site last year. That customer had the need to run a regular batch job that would normally takes hours, and they had gotten used to working around that dead time. Things changed when the VMs were moved onto the CiB. The batch job ran so quickly that the customer was sure that it hadn’t run correctly. The reseller double-checked everything, and found that Storage Spaces tiering and the power of the CiB blades had greatly improved the performance of the database in question, and everything was actually fine – great actually!

And here was the kicker – that customer got a 2 node Hyper-V cluster with shared storage in the form of a DataON CiB for less than the cost of a SAN, let alone the cost of the 2 Hyper-V nodes.

How well does this scale? I find that CPU/RAM are rarely the bottlenecks in the SME. There are plenty of cores/logical processors in the E5-2600v3, and 512 GB RAM is more than enough for any SME. Disk is usually the bottleneck. With a modest configuration (not the max) of 4 x 200 GB SSDs and 8 x 4 TB drives you’re looking at around 14 TB of usable 2-way mirrored (like RAID 10) storage. Or you could have 4 x 1.6 TB SSDs and 8 x 8 TB HDDs and have around 32 TB of usuable 2-way mirrored storage. That’s plenty!

And if that’s not enough, then you can expand the CiB using additional JBODs.

My Hands-On Experience

Lots of hardware goes through our warehouse that I never get to play with. But on occasion, a reseller will ask for my assistance. A couple of weeks ago, I got to do my first deployment of the 12 Gb SAS CiB-9112. We got it out of the box, and immediately I was impressed. This design indicates that engineers had designed the hardware for admins to manage. It really is a very clever and modular design.


The two side-bezels on the front of the 2U enclosure have a power switch and USB port for each blade server.

On the top, you can easily access the replaceable fans via a dedicated hinged panel. At the back, both fault-tolerant power supplies are in the middle, away from the clutter at the side of a rack. The blades can be removed separately from their SAS controllers. And each of the RAID1 disks for the blades’ OS (the management OS for a Hyper-C cluster) can be replaced without removing the blade.

Racking a CiB is a simple task – the entire Hyper-V cluster is a single 2U enclosure so there are no SAN controllers, SAN switches, SAN cables, and multiple servers. You slide a single 2U enclosure into it’s rail kit, plug in power, networking, and KVM, and you’re done.

Windows Server is pre-installed and you just need to modify the installation type (from eval) and enter your product key using DISM. Then you prep the cluster – DataON pre-installs MPIO, Hyper-V, and Failover Clustering to make your life easy.

My design is simple:

  • The 1 GbE NICs are teamed, connected to a weight-based QoS Hyper-V switch, and shared with the parent. A weight of 50 is assigned to the default bucket QoS rule, and 50 is assigned to the management OS virtual NIC.
  • The 10 GbE NICs are on 2 different subnets.
  • I enable SMB 3.0 Live Migration on both nodes in Hyper-V Manager.
  • MPIO is configured with the LB policy.
  • I ensure that VMQ is disabled on the 1 GbE NICs and enabled on the 10 GbE NICs.
  • I form the cluster with no disks, and configure the 10 GbE NICs for Live Migration.
  • A single clustered storage pool is created in Failover Cluster Manger.
  • A 1 GB (it’s always bigger) 2-way mirrored virtual disk is created and configured as the witness disk in the cluster.
  • I create 2 virtual disks to be used as CSVs in the cluster, with 64 KB interleaves and formatted with 64 KB allocation unit size. The CSVs are tiered with some SSD and some HDD … I always leave free space in the pool to allow expandability of one CSV over the other. HA VMs are balanced between the 2 CSVs.

What about DCs? If the customer is keeping external DCs then everything is done. If they want DCs running on the CiB then I always deploy them as non-HA DCs that are stored on the C: of each CiB blade. I know that since WS2012, we are supposed to be able to run DCs are HA VMs on the cluster, but I’ve experienced issues with that.

With some PowerShell, the above process is very quick, and to be honest, the slowest bit is always the logistics of racking the CiB. I’m usually done in the early afternoon, and that includes some show’n’tell.


If you want a tidy, quick & easy to deploy, and affordable HA solution for an SME or ROBO then the DataOn CiB-9112 V12 is an awesome option. If I was doing our IT from scratch, this is what I would use (we had existing servers and added a DataON JBOD, and recently replaced the servers while retaining the JBOD). I love how tidy the solution is, and how simple it is to set up, especially with some fairly basic PowerShell. So check it out, and see what it can do for you.

My First Hands-On With Surface Book

We’re still not able to distribute Surface Book in Ireland, but I got a very brief play with a demo unit in the office yesterday. What was it like?

Let me preface it by saying that I have owned 3 high-end ultrabooks over the last few years:

  • Asus UX31 which is a class piece of design, other than the flat keyboard. The brushed aluminium back always makes people ask “what is that?”. It’s a few years since I’ve had it out on the road, but only 2 weeks ago some people were asking me about that machine at an event I was speaking at.
  • Lenovo Yoga S1 (gen 2 Yoga laptops): I love the hybrid design, and replacing the 1 TB HDD with a 1 TB SSD made this machine fly. The keyboard is superb (my fave by far) but I wish the screen was a bit larger – the bezel is huge.
  • Toshiba KIRAbook (from work): Similar from a distance to the Asus UX31 but it has a plastic body. It’s very light and thin, and the screen is superb – it has the high res of the UX31 and better screen quality than both of the above. On the downside, this consumer machine is not made from parts that were designed for heavy use.

So how did the Surface Book compare? Straight away, the white/gray material stands out from the crowd. This is a machine that will make people ask “what is that?” and that’s certainly a big positive, especially for people that will be paying a premium for this premium machine. When you lift it up, it feels like a sing piece of nice metal (some might say heavy). But there’s a solid and quality feel about it.

The screen is a little big for a tablet, but few will use it as a tablet. I doubt I would. But it detached cleanly for me. You might be worried about compute being in the screen, but the Surface Book seems to be weighted just right to avoid topple-over which every convertible tablet I’ve tried suffers from. And the screen – wow. If you’ve tried Surface Pro then you know what Microsoft can do with a screen. If you like punchy contrast and vivid natural colours, then Surface Pro and Surface Book might be the machines for you … I am into photography so a quality screen for editing is a necessity.

The keyboard is nice -it’s not Lenovo nice but it’s better than the UX31 or KIRAbook. The track pad is lovely and big – and might be the best I’ve used on a laptop. The stylus works very nicely with a lovely sense of friction that I haven’t gotten from the Yoga or a Samsung tablet. My handwriting was as good as it gets.

I tried Windows Hello sign-in via 3D face scan. It works much better than the Lumia 950. It works from normal viewing distance and it is quick. I think I’d use that as my primary way to unlock the Surface Book.

This machine had the recent updates which appear to have resolved most of the issues so it was shutting down quickly and effectively, and start up was instant. We have not noticed any of the old issues.

I didn’t have much time to play so this isn’t what I’d call a full review – see the posts by Brad Sams and Pault Thurrott on for that. But I will say that Surface Book, albeit at a very high price, might be the best quality laptop that I’ve tried.

Dell Buying EMC Is The Daftest Thing I’ve Heard In Years

Last week I wrote a story for about the rumours of Dell buying EMC. Today, the New York Times, Bloomberg, and Fortune all have stories saying that an announcement could be released as soon as today. The purchase could cost as much as $65 billion.


Let me paint you a picture. Let’s say I have a mortgage on a house, and the balance of that mortgage is €110,000. And to get that loan, I had to get funding from several banks. I’m doing OK, but my savings are small every month. Then I decide I want to buy a second home, and I need a loan of €650,000. After some analysis, it’s decided that the value of the second house is dropping and will never recover. What do you think the bank will say to my application?

  • I have a debt already
  • My savings are small – indicating that servicing larger debts would be a challenge
  • I want a huge loan in addition to the one I already have
  • If it all goes crash-bang-wallop, selling the second house will not recoup the €650,000.

You don’t have to be a financial wizard to figure out that the bank will run me out of their office.

And that’s the position Dell is in right now, with around $11 billion in debt, and possibly now looking for an additional $65 billion.

[EDIT] We later found out that the figure will be $67 billion. What’s $2 billion between friends – let’s ask Microsoft …


This storage giant was once a huge force, but their best days (the 1990’s and 2000’s) are behind them. That’s why EMC has been shopping themselves to anyone that will take a call – I declined last Monday. EMC faces huge challenges:

  • HP and Dell bought their way into enterprise storage. It cost Dell lest than $1 billion to get Compellent. These companies offer integrated solutions via a single vendor, which EMC (storage only) cannot do.
  • New arrivals have arrived on the scene with innovative and often more flexible/affordable solutions.
  • There are no SANs in the cloud. Enterprises are moving to the cloud, where software-defined storage based on commodity hardware (JBODs, SAS, SATA, NVMe) are the rule. RAID-based SANs are just too expensive and don’t scale well.

Dell & EMC

I don’t get why Dell wants to buy the Nokia of storage. They’d be picking up a huge company, with a shrinking presence. Sure, EMC has lots of corporate customers, but isn’t this acquisition an expensive as this.

Dell already has $11-$12 billion of debts from their privatisation. And now someone, some financial genius, is going to give Michael Dell another $65 billion to buy a failing storage company?

Dell is one of the companies killing EMC. Dell already has EquaLogic and Compellent SAN storage. Dell partners with Nutanix, one of those new arrivals. And Dell has solutions for software-defined storage.


EMC owns 80% of VMware, a very healthy company. Until a week ago, there were theories that VMware would acquire their parent, EMC! If Dell acquires EMC then they get 80% of VMware. Could that be the goal? if it is, then it might back fire.

Here is the server market share for Q2, 2015 according to IDC:


Do you think that HP, IBM, Lenovo, or Cisco would be happy to partner with Dell on virtualization and private cloud? I sure don’t! I think we’d see more momentum for source cloud in Fortune 1000s and the Microsoft stack. Acquiring VMware would be not as rewarding as Dell might think – VMware was probably already concerned about the threat of public (Google, Microsoft, AWS) cloud and open source private cloud, and marginalization through acquisition  by the #2 server vendor would not help.

Maybe Dell has promised his backers that he’ll sell EMC’s shares in VMware. That might help finance the $65 billion loan. But that leaves Dell just with the EMC portfolio, one that was once great, but has little place in a new world.

Watch this story develop. In two years, we could be reading about one of the biggest corporate write-downs in tech history.

Microsoft Windows 10 Mobile Phones NEEDS To Be Sold Via Partner Channel

I watched Microsoft’s Bryan Roper perform an awesome demo of Windows 10 Mobile’s Continuum feature yesterday, and it confirmed what I suspected: Windows 10 Mobile is for business users, and that’s because, it could be the phone that replaces the PC for a lot of users.

But there’s a problem. Microsoft has relied on the phone networks, such as Verizon (USA) and Vodafone (UK/Ireland/Europe), to sell there phones. And that has failed drastically.

There’s a thing you need to understand about sales people. They sell toasters. That’s my phrase for insulting a salesperson. Sales people typically know nothing about what they are selling. They learn some lines and pitch it. And sales people are often lazy. They’ll sell what they know, and they learn as little as possible. Walk into any store and you’ll be sold and iPhone, a Samsung S6, and whatever the bargain model is that month. They want the quick and easy sale so they can move on to the next customer and hit their target – understandable based on how sales people are measured (something Microsoft has only started to change internally and with partners).

So how does Microsoft work around these networks’ sales people to put their phone hardware and OS into the hands of the intended market?

I have a solution. Why don’t Microsoft sell “One Windows” via the same channel that sells the rest of Windows to business customer? Microsoft should say “screw you <insert network name here>!”, unlock the phones, and sell them via distribution/resellers to the business. This would allow Dell/HP to sell to Fortune 100/government (as was announced recently with Surface) and distribution to sell via authorised device resellers (as was also recently opened up for Surface) to everyone else.

Microsoft has made similar changes in the past. Office 365 was not sold via resellers to SMEs, but Open licensing was introduced after several years of doing nothing in the market. The same has happened with the Surface 3 generation this year (thousands of authorized device resellers being added worldwide) but it took Microsoft several years to realize that enterprises do not pay consumer rates to buy Surface off of some rather dodgy looking webpage.

I don’t think anyone would disagree that selling Microsoft phones via the reseller channel would be a bad idea. I’m not saying that this will solve the app-gap – but it would put more phones in the market and create more demand for universal apps that can run on any Windows 10 device. And right now, Windows 10 Mobile needs some momentum, that Microsoft has never gotten from the networks, and never will. If Microsoft does not make this necessary change now, then they’d save shareholders a lot of money just by killing of the Windows Phone program right now, and focusing on Android and iPhone apps.

[EDIT] I’ve just read that AT&T has an exclusive on the new phones in the USA. Bye-bye, Windows Phone.

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Surface Book Specs, Availability, Peripherals, Models, & Pricing

Here’s a breakdown of what I know so far:


General availability:

  • The US and Canada can get their hands on Surface Book on October 26th.
  • Australia gets it on November 12th, according to the Microsoft Store site.
  • It looks like most countries will be waiting until 2016 for Surface Book – there’s no mention of it on the UK or Germany sites.

Everything we know (at the time of writing, Comic Book Store Guy who will comment in 6 months’ time) about the NVIDIA GPU is listed above and:

  • It’s a new chipset;
  • The Xbox team was involved in tuning.

Neither Microsoft nor NVIDIA are talking specifics.

A lot was made of the NVIDIA GPU in the launch. Note that the 2 cheaper models use Intel HD graphics instead of the NVIDIA GPU. Using the customizer on the US Microsoft store, the following models were available to me:

  • Intel Core i5, 8 GB RAM, 128 GB SSD (not NVIDIA GPU): $1,499
  • Intel Core i5, 8 GB RAM, 256 GB SSD (not NVIDIA GPU): $1,699
  • Intel Core i5, 8 GB RAM, 256 GB SSD: $1,899
  • Intel Core i7, 8 GB RAM, 256 GB SSD: $2,099
  • Intel Core i7, 16 GB RAM, 512 GB SSD: $2,699

This machine is not priced to compete with a Dell Inspiron or a Lenovo Thinkpad. This is a high-end machine, targeting the same niche market as the MacBook Pro. I expect we’d see sales to artists, engineers, and management types. Asus’s CEO doesn’t need to complain.

Note that the Surface Book was designed to run Windows 10, not Windows 8.1.


Some notes:

  • The top/tablet is referred to as a clipboard by MSFT marketing
  • The battery is split; 4 hours in the top and 8 hours in the keyboard
  • The models with NVIDIA GPU place the GPU in the keyboard. There’s an Intel GPU in the clipboard/tablet.

The New Surface Pen

  • Included with the Surface Book
  • Aluminium
  • 1024 levels of pressure with
  • 1 year rechargeable battery
  • Compatible with Surface Pro 4, Surface Pro 3 and Surface book

The New Surface Dock:

  • Compatible with Surface Pro 4, Surface pro 3, and Surface Book
  • 2 Mini DisplayPorts
  • 1 Gigabit Ethernet port
  • 4 USB 3.0 ports
  • 1 Audio out port
  • 5.12 x 2.36 x 1.18 in (130 x 60 x30 mm)
  • $199.99

Mini-Display Port adapters:

  • 2 models: To-VGA and to-HA AV adapters
  • Compatible with Surface Pro 4, Surface Pro 3, and Surface Book
  • $39.99
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