Up to now I’ve been using beta releases and evaluation copies for all of my test and lab work.  That’s about to change.  Products only stay in beta for so long.  Evals are fine but they timebomb.  Microsoft TechNet gives you a range of products where you can get a very wide range of the Microsoft products for testing and evaluation purpose, without the timebomb!  The products are not meant to be used for production systems.  Also in the package is a lot of documentation and beta products.

I’ve just subscribed to TechNet Direct, a single user subscription that allows me to download whatever I want.  I’ve had CD subscriptions at workplaces before and I used to fear those CD packages coming in.  Not any longer.  I can download ISO images and burn them as I require them … or seeing as I use virtualisation I’ll just mount them in my VM’s … you gotta love virtualisation!

A big perk will be early access to RTM products.  Vista and Office 2007 are both supposed to be available for download within 7 days of RTM and that was just this week.

Stuff I’m Hoping To Do Documentation On Soon

I only get limited time to play with stuff in my virtual lab between working 8 hours a day and commuting for another 3.5.  This is some of the stuff I’m looking to work on (or have worked on) and want to document and put up on this site.

I’m a big fan of SMS 2003 and MOM 2005 and that will continue with CM 2007 and OM 2007.  I’ve had some time to play with the beta releases in the past and I will definitely spend more time with them, hopefully starting this side of Christmas/New Years.  We can expect RTM releases in mid 2007.

I’ve had a very quick look at Exchange 2007 and like what I saw at a high level.  I’m scheduled to get some more hands-on next month.  That was supposed to happen early last month but my contract started the day before.  I’d like to have a look at some of Exchange in a bit more detail but I don’t know how much documentation I’ll get done.  Guys like Nathan Winters can do Exchange much better than me.

Vista will be available to Volume License with SA, MSDN and TechNet customer this month, maybe even next week.  Obviously I want to have a look at Vista.  My focus will start with OS deployment.  I really don’t think the Irish market is going to jump at Vista.  It’ll take at least 12 months at least before any demand gets going.  Still, Mark Minasi has a Vista security book on the way and a Mastering Vista book in his lineup.

I’ve spent a bit of time with Microsoft Sybari for Exchange 2006 on an Exchange 2003 cluster.  I’ve got that running on a virtual cluser in Virtual Server 2005 R2.  I’ve been meaning to document that for some time so that’ll be on the way soon.

Speaking of Microsoft Anti-Virus, Forefront Client Security is currently in private beta.  I’ve put in a request to sign up for the public beta.  I’m really looking forward to that release.

What I’m planning to do next is Windows Deployment Services (WDS).  I was hoping to include it in my Windows 2003/XP x64 SP2 document but that was starting to get too big without WDS being delved into.  I"m hoping I can get this working in a virtual environment.  I’ve got my RIS server working and I’ve upgraded to W2003 R2 SP2 so we’ll likely see how it goes next week.

I only get to work on this stuff on alternate weekends.  Somewhere I’ve got to fit in a life outside of IT: friends, family, sitting in bogs or ditches with my camera waiting for the right animal or birds to pass by and sleep, the latter being all to rare lately.

Update #3: Brightstore 11.5 Disk Staging Option

Last night’s backup ran with 8 concurrent streams.  The time for Agent to Tape was 3 hours exactly.  An identical traditional backup two weeks ago took 13.5 hours.  One interesting thing: The same two machines had TCP communication timeouts again.  I dug back further in the logs and found they’d been doing this for some time when there was only 1 stream for agent-tape backups.  Their problem is independant fo multiple streams.  I’m switching back to 15 streams and will wait to see how it works out this weekend with a full backup.

Update #2: Brightstore 11.5 Disk Staging Option

Last night’s backup time was cut once again by running 15 concurrent streams from agent to disk.  The differential backup took only 2.7 hours instead of the 3.5 the night before (10 streams).  Disk to tape took 1.4 hours instead of 1 hour but that’s not a problem because it’s an "offline" process.  It’s tough to really compare 2 sequential differentials because the second will always have more data, especially 24 hours later during the week.  I compared the 2.7+1.4 hours against a Tuesday differential from 2 weeks ago.  The previous backup took 13 hours!  This Disk Staging Option really works.

There was a downside to going with 15 streams.  We appeared to have some network congestion.  Two agents had communication timeouts.  I’ve reduced the number of stream to 8.  This will give us a good opportunity for comparison and analysis.

Windows Sysinternals

Anyone who’s done any decent amount of Windows administration or consulting will be familiar with the name Mark Russinovich and his old company, Sysinternals.  A while back, they were bought out by Microsoft and Mark became one of Microsoft’s "fellows", a big brain repsonsible for coming up with new ideas and research.

The Sysinternals site has now been migrated into Microsoft.  To coincide with this, a new tool called Process Monitor has been released.  How does one describe this new tool … it’s a completely new tool that is like Filemon and Regmon togehter and on steroids.  Yeap … that does it.  This utility is a very useful addition to your toolkit and you’ll find it very useful to track what a program is doing, what it’s touching or even to find out what is touching a file or registry value.

Here’s the blurb from the MS site:

Process Monitor’s user interface and options are similar to those of Filemon and Regmon, but it was written from the ground up and includes numerous significant enhancements, such as:

  • Monitoring of process and thread startup and exit, including exit status codes
  • Monitoring of image (DLL and kernel-mode device driver) loads
  • More data captured for operation input and output parameters 
  • Non-destructive filters allow you to set filters without losing data
  • Capture of thread stacks for each operation make it possible in many cases to identify the root cause of an operation
  • Reliable capture of process details, including image path, command line, user and session ID
  • Configurable and moveable columns for any event property
  • Filters can be set for any data field, including fields not configured as columns
  • Advanced logging architecture scales to tens of millions of captured events and gigabytes of log data
  • Process tree tool shows relationship of all processes referenced in a trace
  • Native log format preserves all data for loading in a different Process Monitor instance
  • Process tooltip for easy viewing of process image information
  • Detail tooltip allows convenient access to formatted data that doesn’t fit in the column

The best way to become familiar with Process Monitor’s features is to read through the help file and then visit each of its menu items and options on a live system.

The "installation" process will be familiar to anyone familiar with Sysinternals tools.  All you have to do is download the tool and run it.

Windows Vista RTM

It’s been much talked about.  It’s late.  It’s here.  Windows Vista has just gone RTM.  Jim Allchin made one simple blog entry to announce the fact on the Vista Blog.  Another entry goes into a little more detail

I’m hoping to find out when TechNet and Volume Customers will be able to download the DVD ISO image.  It will be sometime later this month.  Retail outlets and sales channels will be able to start shipping on January 30th.

You can find out what all the fuss is about on the Microsoft website.

SQL 2005 Service Pack 2 CTP

A customer technology preview (CTP) release of SP2 for SQL 2005 has been released for general consumption.  The list of changes is way too long to list here but you can find them on the Microsoft website.  Key additions include:
  • Support for Office 2007 business intelligence functionality.
  • Integration of SQL Reporting Services with Windows Sharepoint Services 3.0 and Office Sharepoint Portal Server 2007.
  • The ability to build reports from Oracle servers.

The CTP release is available for download.  As usual, this sort of release should not be installed on production or valued systems.

Web Server Downtime

Apologies to anyone who tried to download any of my documents from my site today.  My web server (a VM) failed to autostart after it’s host rebooted according to a schedule last night.  That was quickly sorted out when I got home.  All of my documents are stored on this web server and any download links I have here redirect to it.  Everything should be back working now.

Update: Brightstor 11.5 Disk Staging Option

After the first backup (a differential) we found the backup server CPU (max 85%) and RAM (around 60%) handled having 10 simultaneous streams.  The 1GB NIC appeared to be 50% utilised.  What was interesting was that the MSA1500 being used for disk staging was hammered.  Current Disk Queue Length was spiking quite frequently at 27 … well above the recommended maximum of 2!  Seeing as the system isn’t interactive we’re not too worried but the disk (RAID 5 … slow, I know) or controller (shared with other systems that are heavily used at night) could be our bottlenecks.  This new bottleneck was not considered in our estimations.  I never though disk would be a bottleneck before the NIC.  A comparison against a similar job saw agent-tape being 8.5 hours (total 8.5), agent-disk being 3.5 hours and disk to tape being 1 hour (total 4.5 hours).  That’s nearly a 50% reduction on our impact on production systems for backup.  We want to find our optimum setting for concurrent streams.  The only true test is to suck it and see.  Tonight, we will run 15 streams at once.  We’ll then compare against a previous Tuesday differential job from another week and see what the time savings were.  After that, we’ll try 5 streams and see what the trends are.

I mentioned that we had to call in tapes for file recovery.  The file server is Windows 2003 and I would normally utilise Volume Shadow Copy and make use fo the Previous Versions Client for operational file recoveries.  However, the file server is struggling with disk space so this is not an option.

Microsoft VHD Test Drive Program

Microsoft has long since made their products available for evaluation.  But consider this.  You’re a busy administrator.  You’ve been asked by your boss to have a look at SQL 2005 or ISA 2006.  You might not know these products so installing and configuring them is going to be time consuming and difficult.  In the end, you will have to invest a lot of time to in configuring the software to fairly evaluate all of the features.  This is time wasted because if you like the product then you’re going to have to do this all over again when you buy it.
Yesterday (at VMWorld, I think) Microsoft announced the launch of their VHD Test Drive Program.This will accelerate any evaluation of a Microsoft product by leveraging virtualisation technology.  VHD is the disk format that Microsoft uses in their virtualisation products to provide a virtual hard disk.  Microsoft has released 4 pre-installed and configured virtual machines so that you can evaluate the installed products.  This list (Windows 2003 R2, SQL 2005, ISA 2006 and Exchange 2007) will be expanded to include other products.

Now the evaluation process gets a lot easier.  Download and install the free Virtual Server 2005 R2 and install it on a decent machine.  Download and install the appropriate evaluation VHD and install it.  Then fire up the virtual machine(s) and try out the pre-installed product.  The software will naturally have an expiration, e.g. ISA 2006 expires after 30 days.

These VHD’s might be handy for anyone looking to do some testing or self-paced training.