It’s been awhile since I posted about my home lab, Daisettalabs.net, but rest assured, though I’ve been largely radio silent on it, I’ve been busy.

If 2013 saw the birth of Daisetta Labs.net, 2014 was akin to the terrible twos, with some joy & victories mixed together with teething pains and bruising.

So what’s 2015 shaping up to be?

Well, if I had to characterize it, I’d say it’s #LabGlory, through and through. Honestly. Why?

I’ve assembled a home lab that’s capable of simulating just about anything I run into in the ‘wild’ as a professional. And that’s always been the goal with my lab: practicing technology at home so that I can excel at work.

Let’s have a look at the state of the lab, shall we?

Hardware & Software

Daisetta Labs.net 2015 is comprised of the following:

  • Five (5) physical servers
  • 136 GB RAM
  • Sixteen (16) non-HT Cores
  • One (1) wireless access point
  • One (1) zone-based Firewall
  • Two (2) multilayer gigabit switches
  • One (1) Cable modem in bridge mode
  • Two (2) Public IPs (DHCP)
  • One (1) Silicon Dust HD
  • Ten (10) VLANs
  • Thirteen (13) VMs
  • Five (5) Port-Channels
  • One (1) Windows Media Center PC

That’s quite a bit of kit, as a former British colleague used to say. What’s it all do? Let’s dive in:

Physical Layout

The bulk of my lab gear is in my garage on a wooden workbench.

Nodes 2-4, the core switch, my Zywall edge device, modem, TV tuner, Silicon Dust device and Ooma phone all reside in a secured 12U, two post rack I picked up on ebay about two years ago for $40. One other server, core.daisettalabs.net, sits inside a mid-tower case stuffed with nine 2TB Hitachi HDDs and five 256GB SSDs below the rack.

Placing my lab in the garage has a few benefits, chief among them: I don’t hear (as many) complaints from the family cluster about noise. Also, because it’s largely in the garage, it’s isolated & out of reach of the Child Partition’s curious fingers, which, as every parent knows, are attracted to buttons of all types.

Power & Thermal

Of course you can’t build a lab at home without reliable power, so I’ve got one rack-mounted APC UPS, and one consumer-grade Cyberpower UPS for core.daisettalabs.net and all the internet gear.

On average, the lab gear in the garage consumes about 346 watts, or about 3 amps. That’s significant, no doubt, costing me about $38/month to power, or about 2/3rds the cost of a subscription to IT Pro TV or Pluralsight. 🙂

Thermals are a big challenge. My house was built in 1967, has decent insulation and holds temperature fairly well in the habitable parts of the space. But none of that is true about the garage, where my USB lab thermometer has recorded temps as low as 3C last winter and as high as 39c in Summer 2014. That’s air-temperature at the top of the rack, mind you, not at the CPU.

One of my goals for this year is to automate the shutdown/powerup of all node servers in the Garage based on the temperature reading of the USB thermometer. The $25 thermometer is something I picked up on Amazon awhile ago; it outputs to .csv but I haven’t figured out how to automate its software interface with powershell….yet.

Anyway, here’s my stack, all stickered up and ready for review:

IMG_20150329_214535914

Beyond the garage, the Daisetta Lab extends to my home’s main hallway, the living room, and of course, my home office.

Here’s the layout:

homelab2015

Compute

On the compute side of things, it’s almost all Haswell with the exception of core and node3:

[table]

Server, Architecture, CPU, Cores, RAM, Function, OS, Motherboard

Core, AMD A-series, A8-5500, 2, 8GB, Tiered Storage Spaces & DC/DHCP/DNS, Server 2012 R2, Gigabyte D4

Node1, Haswell, i7-4770k, 4, 32GB, Main PC/Office/VM host/storage, 2012R2, Supermicro X10SAT

Node2, Haswell, Xeon E3-1241, 4, 32GB, Cluster node, 2012r2 core, Supermicro X10SAF

Node3, Ivy Bridge, i7-2600, 4, 32GB, Cluster node, 2012r2 core, Biostar

Node4, Haswell, i5-4670, 4, 32GB, Cluster node/storage, 2012r2 core, Asus

[/table]

I love Haswell for its speed, thermal properties and affordability, but damn! That’s a lot of boxes, isn’t it? Unfortunately, you just can’t get very VM dense when 32GB is the max amount of RAM Haswell E3/i7 chipsets support. I love dynamic RAM on a VM as much as the next guy, but even with Windows core, it’s been hard to squeeze more than 8-10 VMs on a single host. With Hyper-V Containers coming, who knows, maybe that will change?

Node1, the pride of the fleet and my main productivity machine, boasting 2x850 Pro SSDs in RAID 0, an AMD FirePro, and Tiered Storage Spaces
Node1, the pride of the fleet and my main productivity machine, boasting 2×850 Pro SSDs in RAID 0, an AMD FirePro, and Tiered Storage Spaces

While I included it in the diagram, TVPC3 is not really a lab machine. It’s a cheap Ivy Bridge Pentium with 8GB of RAM and 3TB of local storage. It’s sole function in life is to decrypt the HD stream it receives from the Silicon Dust tuner and display HGTV for my mother-in-law with as little friction as possible. Running Windows 8.1 with Media Center, it’s the only PC in the house without battery backup.

Physical Network
About 18 months ago, I poured gallons of sweat equity into cabling my house. I ran at least a dozen CAT-5e cables from the garage to my home office, bedrooms, living room and to some external parts of the house for video surveillance.
I don’t regret it in the least; nothing like having a reliable, physical backbone to connect up your home network/lab environment!

Meet my underlay
Meet my underlay

At the core of the physical network lies my venerable Cisco 2960S-48TS-L switch. Switch1 may be a humble access-layer switch, but in my lab, the 2960S bundles 17 ports into five port channels, serves as my DG, routes with some rudimentary Layer 3 functions ((Up to 16 static routes, no dynamic route features are available)) and segments 9 VLANs and one port-security VLAN, a feature that’s akin to PVLAN.

Switch2 is a 10 port Cisco Small Business SG-300 running at Layer 3 and connected to Switch1 via a 2-port port-channel. I use a few ports on switch2 for the TV and an IP cam.

On the edge is redzed.daisettalabs.net, the Zyxel USG-50, which I wrote about last month.

Connecting this kit up to the internet is my Motorola Surfboard router/modem/switch/AP, which I run in bridge mode. The great thing about this device and my cable service is that for some reason, up to two LAN ports can be active at any given time. This means that CableCo gives me two public, DHCP addresses, simultaneously. One of these goes into a WAN port on the Zyxel, and the other goes into a downed switchport

Love Meraki's RF Spectrum chart!
Love Meraki’s RF Spectrum chart!

Lastly, there’s my Meraki MR-16, an access point a friend and Ubiquity networks fan gave me. Though it’s a bit underpowered for my tastes, I love this device. The MR-16 is trunked to switch1 and connects via an 802.3af power injector. I announce two SSIDs off the Meraki, both secured with WPA2 Personal ((WPA2 Enterprise is on the agenda this year)). Depending on which SSID you connect to, you’ll end up on the Device or VM VLANs.

Virtual Network

The virtual network was built entirely in System Center VMM 2012 R2. Nothing too fancy here, with multiple Gigabit adapters per physical host, one converged logical vSwitch and a separate NIC on each host fronting for the DMZ network:

Nodes 1, 2 & 4 are all Haswell, and are clustered. Node3 is standalone.

Thanks to VMM, building this out is largely a breeze, once you’ve settled on an architecture. I like to run the cmdlets to build the virtual & logical networks myself, but there’s also a great script available that will build a converged network for you.

A physical host typically looks like this (I say typically because I don’t have an equal number of adapters in all hosts):

I trust VLANs and VMM's segmentation abilities, but chose to build what is in effect air-gapped vSwitch for the DMZ/DIA networks
I trust VLANs and VMM’s segmentation abilities, but chose to build what is in effect air-gapped vSwitch for the DMZ/DIA networks

We’re already several levels deep in my personal abstraction cave, why stop here? Here’s the layout of VM Networks, which are distinguished from but related to logical networks in VMM:

labnet13

I get a lot of questions on this blog about jumbo frames and Hyper-V switching, and I just want to reiterate that it’s not that hard to do, and look, here’s proof:

jumbopacket

Good stuff!

Storage

And last, and certainly most-interestingly, we arrive at Daisetta Lab’s storage resources.

My lab journey began with storage testing, in particular ZFS via NexentaCore (Illumos), NAS4Free and Solaris 11. But that’s ancient history; since last summer, I’ve been all Windows, all the time in my lab, starting with SAN.Daisettalabs.net ((cf #StorageGlory : 30 Days on a Windows SAN)).

Now?

Well, I had so much fun -and importantly so few failures/pains- with Microsoft’s Tiered Storage Spaces that I’ve decided to deploy not one, or even two, but three Tiered Storage Spaces. Here’s the layout:

[table]Server, #HDD, #SSD, StoragePool Capacity, StoragePool Free, #vDisks, Function

Core, 9, 6, 16.7TB, 12.7TB, 6 So far, SMB3/iSCSI target for entire lab

Node1,2, 2, 2.05TB, 1.15TB,2, SMB3 target for Hyper-V replication

Node4,3,1, 2.86TB, 1.97TB,2, SMB3 target for Hyper-V replication

[/table]

I have to say, I continue to be very impressed with Tiered Storage Spaces. It’s super-flexible, the cmdlets are well-documented, and Microsoft is iterating on it rapidly. More on the performance of Tiered Storage Spaces in a subsequent post.

Thanks for reading!

Big Data for Server Guys : Azure OpsInsight Review

Maybe it’s just my IT scars that bias me, but when I hear a vendor push a “monitoring” solution,  I visualize an IT guy sitting in front of his screen, passively watching his monitors & counters, essentially waiting for that green thing over there to turn red.

He’s waiting for failure, Godot-style.

That’s not a recipe for success in my view. I don’t wait upon failure to visit, I seek it out, kick its ass, and prevent it from ever establishing a beachhead in my infrastructure. The problem is that I, just like that IT Guy waiting around for failure, am human, and I’m prone to failure myself.

Enter machine learning or Big Data for Server Guys as I like to think of it.

Big Data for Server Guys is a bit like flow monitoring on your switch. The idea here is to actively flow all your server events into some sort of a collector, which crunches them, finds patterns, and surfaces the signal from the noise.

Big Data for Server Guys is all about letting the computer do what the computer’s good at doing: sifting data, finding patterns, and letting you do what you  are good at doing: empowering your organization for tech success.

But we Windows guys have a lot of noise to deal with: Windows instruments just about everything imaginable in the Microsoft kingdom, and the Microsoft kingdom is vast.

So how do we borrow flow-monitoring techniques from the Cisco jockeys and apply it to Windows?

Splunk is one option, and it’s great: it’s agnostic and will hoover events from Windows, logs from your Cisco’s syslog, and can sift through your Apache/IIS logs too. It’s got a thriving community and loads of sexy, AJAX-licious dashboards, and you can issue powerful searches and queries that can help you find problems before problems find you.

It’s also pretty costly, and I’d argue not the best-in-class solution for Hoovering Windows infrastructure.

Fortunately, Microsoft’s been busy in the last few years. Microsoft shops have had SCOM and MOM before that, but now there’s a new kid in town ((He’s been working out and looks nothing like that the old kid, System Center Advisor)) : Azure Operational Insights, and OpsInsight functions a lot like a  good flow collector.

opsinsight3

And I just put the finishing touches on my second Big Data for Server Guys/OpsInsight deployment. Here’s a mini-review:

The Good:

  • It watches your events and finds useful data, which saves you time: OpsInsight is like a giant Hoover in the sky, sucking up on average about 36MB/day of Windows events from my fleet of nearly ~150 VMs in a VMware infrastructure. Getting data on this fleet via Powershell is trivial, but building logic that gives insight into that data is not trivial. OpsInsight is wonderful in this regard; it saves you from spending time in SSRS, Excel, or diving through the event viewer haystack MMC or via get-event looking for a nugget of truth.
  • It has a decent config recommendation engine: If you’re an IT Generalist/Converged IT Guy like me, you touch every element in your Infrastructure stack, from the app on down to the storage array’s rotating rust. And that’s hard work because you can’t be an expert in everything. One great thing about OpsInsight is that it saves you from searching Bing/Google (at worst) or thumbing through your well-worn AD Cookbook (at best) and offers Best practice advice and KB articles in the same tab in your browser. Awesome!
  • Thanks Opsinsight for keeping me out of this thing
    Thanks Opsinsight for keeping me out of this thing

    Query your data rather than surfing the fail tree: Querying your data is infinitely better than walking the Fail Tree that is the Windows Event Viewer looking for errors. OpsInsight has a powerful query engine that’s not difficult to learn or manipulate, and for me, that’s a huge win over the old school method of Event Viewer Subscriptions.

  • Dashboards you can throw in front of an executive:  I can’t understate how great it is to have automagically configured dashboards via OpsInsight. As an IT Pro, the less time I spend in SSRS trying to build a pretty report the better. OpsInsight delivers decent dashboards I’m proud to show off. SCOM 2012 R2’s dashboards are great, but SCOM’s fat client works better than its IIS pages. Though it’s Silverlight-powered, OpsInsight wins the award for friction-free dashboarding.
  • Flexible Architecture: Do you like SCOM? Well then OpsInsight is a natural fit for you. I really appreciate how the System Center team re-structured OpsInsight late last year: you can deploy it at the tail end of your SCOM build, or you can forego SCOM altogether and attach agents directly to your servers. The latter offers you speed in deployment, the former allows you to essentially proxy events from your fleet, through your Management Group, and thence onto Azure. I chose the latter in both of my deployments. Let OpsInsight gate through SCOM, and let both do what they are good at doing.
  • It’s secure: The architecture for OpsInsight is Azure, so if you’re comfortable doing work in Azure Storage blobs, you should be comfortable with this. That + encrypted uploads of events, SCOM data and other data means less friction with the security/compliance guy on your team.

The Bad:

  • It’s silverlight, which makes me feel like I’m flowing my server events to Steve Ballmer: I’m sure this will be changed out at some point. I used to love Silverlight -and maybe there’s still room in my cold black heart for it- but it’s kind of an orphan media/web child at the moment.
  • There’s no app for iOS or Android…yet: I had to dig out my 2014 Lumia Icon just to try out the OpsInsight app for Windows phone. It’s decent, just what I’d like to see on my 2015 Droid Turbo. Alas there is no app for Android or IOS yet, but it’s the #1 and #2 most requested feature at the OpsInsight feedback page (add your vote, I did!)
  • It’s only Windows at the moment: I love what Microsoft is doing with Big Data crunching; Machine Learning, Stream Analytics and OpsInsight. But while you can point just about any flow or data at AzureML or Stream Analytics, OpsInsight only accepts Windows, IIS, SQL,Sharepoint, Exchange. Which is great, don’t get me wrong, but limited. SCOM at least can monitor SNMP traps, interface with Unix/Linux and such, but that is not available in OpsInsight. However, it’s still in Preview, so I’ll be patient.
  • It’s really only Windows/IIS/SQL/Exchange at the moment: Sadface for the lack of Office 365/Azure intelligence packs for OpsInsight, but SCOM will do for now.
  • Pricing forecast is definitely…cloudy: Every link I find takes me to the general Azure pricing page. On the plus side, you can strip this bad boy down to the bare essentials if you have cost pressures.

The Ugly:

  • Where are my cmdlets? My interface of choice with the world of IT these days is Powershell ISE. But when I typed get-help *opsinsight, only errors resulted. How’d this get past Snover’s desk? All kidding aside, SCOM cmdlets work well enough if you deploy OpsInsight following SCOM, and I’m sure it’s coming. I can wait.

All in all, this is shaping up to be a great service for your on-prem Windows infrastructure, which, let’s face it, is probably neglected.

System Center MVP Stanislav Zhelyazkov has a great 9-part deep dive on OpsInsight if you want to learn more.

Whitebox lab server

Node1.daisettalabs.net, my primary PC and the best-equipped server in the homelab, has received an upgrade.

A whitebox upgrade. Literally:

IMG_20150303_052455318

 

I’m a fan of metaphors and whitebox everything is a powerful one in our line of work, so I figured why not roll my own whitebox server in the lab?

Node1 vitals:

  • Motherboard: Supermicro X10SAT with all the PCIe 3.0 slots you’d need, Thunderbolt port, and integrated Haswell graphics plus a pair of Intel NICs
  • CPU: Intel Core i7-4770K (Haswell), quad core with hyperthreading
  • RAM: 4x8GB Kingston Hyper-X non-ECC
  • Storage (Boot): 2xSamsung 850 SSD (240GB) in RAID 0 because I like to live dangerously  I’ve just about automated the buildout of this server and most of my data is in One Drive for Business
  • Storage (Tiered Storage Spaces): 2x 128GB SanDisk Extreme + 2x1TB WD Red 2.5″
  • Graphics: AMD FirePro W4100 w/ 2GB RAM makes my Visio buttery smooth.
  • Networking:  The Supermicro has a pair of Intels, an I-210 and a 217V, both of which connect up to my Cisco 2960S in the garage. To that I’ve also added a Pro1000 PCIe 2.0 card with dual ports, one of which also connects to the 2960S (I only ran 3 cables from the garage to my home office)
  • OS: Server 2012 R2 Standard, naturally, with full Desktop GUI and Windows Management Framework February 2015 preview so that I can tinker with DSC
  • Case: NZXT 340 something or other. Very nice case for $70. I’ve never wanted to exhibit the inside of a PC I’ve built, but this case makes it so simple to hide the nasty PC underlay (power, SATA etc)

#WhiteboxGlory shot of the innards that make the child partition go “wooooow!!”

IMG_20150303_052331601

 

 

Nimble Storage now integrates with System Center VMM

Just as I was wrapping up my time at my last employer, Nimble Storage delivered a great big Christmas gift, seemingly prepared just for me. It was a gift that brought a bit of joy to my blackened, wounded heart, which has suffered so much at the hands of storage vendors in years gone by.

What was this amazing gift that warmed my soul in the bleak, cold Southern California winter? Something called SMI-S, or Smizz as I think of it. SMI-S is an open standard management framework for storage. But before I get into that, some background.

You may recall Nimble Storage from such posts as “#StorageGlory at 30,000 IOPS,” and “Nimble Storage Review: 30 Days at Ludicrous Speed.” It’s fair to say I’m a fan of Nimble, having deployed two of their mid-level arrays this year into separate production datacenter environments I was responsible for as an employee, not as a consultant. From designing the storage network & virtualization components, to racking & stacking the Nimble, to entrusting it with my VMs, my SQL volumes, and Exchange, I got to see and experience the whole product, warts and all, and came away damned impressed with its time-to-deploy, its flexibility, snapshotting, and speed.

But one of the warts really stood out, festered, itched and nagged at me. While there has been support for VMware infrastructure inside a Nimble array since day one, there was no integration or support for Microsoft’s System Center Virtual Machine Manager, or VMM as us ‘softies call it. What’s a Hyper-V & System Center fanboy to do?

Enter SMI-S, the Storage Management Initiative – Specification,

Connecting green blobs to other green blobs, SMI-S is now in release candidate form for your Nimble
Connecting green blobs to other green blobs, SMI-S is now in release candidate form for your Nimble

a somewhat awkwardly-named but comprehensive storage management spec allowing you to provision/destroy volumes, create snapshots or clones, and classify your tiers via 3rd party tools, just the way $Deity intended it.

SMI-S is a product of the Storage Networking Industry Association and there’s a ton of in-depth, technical PDFs up on their site, but what you need to know is the specification has been maturing for a decade or longer, and it’s been adopted by a modest but growing number of storage vendors. The big blue N has it, for instance, as does HP and Hitachi Data Systems.

The neat thing about SMI-S is that it’s built atop yet another open management model, the Common Information Model, which, as MS engineers know, is baked right into Windows Server (both as a listener and provider).

And that has made all the difference.

I love SMI-S and CIM (as well as WBEM)  because it’s a great example of agnostic computing theory working out to my benefit in practice. SMI-S and CIM are open-standards that save time, money & complexity, abstracting (in this case) the particulars of your storage array and giving you the freedom to purchase & manage multiple different arrays from one software interface, System Center via that other great agnostic system, https.

Or, to put it another way, SMI-S and CIM help keep your butt where it should be, in your chair, doing great IT engineering work, not in the CIO’s office meekly asking, “Please sir, may I have another storage system API license?”

Single Pane o' glass in VMM with SMI-S for the Hyper-V set
Single Pane o’ glass in VMM with SMI-S for the Hyper-V set ***

Fantastic. No proprietary or secret or expensive API here, no extra licensing costs on the compute side, no new SKUs, no gotchas.*

And now Nimble Storage has it.

Nimble’s implementation of SMI-S is based on the Open Pegasus project**, the Linux/Unix world’s implementation of CIM/WBEM. All Nimble had to do to make me feel happy & warm inside was download the tarball, make it, and stuff it into NimbleOS version 2.2, which is the release candidate OS posted last week.

For IT organizations looking to reduce complexity & consolidate vendors, a Nimble Array that can be managed via System Center is a good play. For Nimble, that may only be a small slice of the market, but in that slice and among IT pros who focus on value-engineering just as much as they focus on convergence, System Center support enhances the Nimble story and puts them in league with the bigger, more established players, like the big blue N.

Which is just where they want to be, it appears.

Nimble’s on a roll and closing out 2014 strong, with fiber channel support, new all-flash shelves, faster models, a more mature OS (in fact, I believe it’s mostly re-written from the 1.4x days), stable DSMs for my Microsoft servers, and  now, like icing on the cake, an agnostic standards-based management layer that plugs right into my System Center.

* Well, one gotcha. As the release notes say: “Note: SCVMM can only discover volumes that have the agent_type smis attribute.When logical units are created using SCVMM, the SMI-S provider ensures the agent_type smis attribute is added to the volumes. However, volumes created from the array do not automatically have the attribute.You must add the attribute when you create the volume; otherwise, SCVMM will not be able to discover it. For more information about the agent_type smis attribute, see Create a Starter Volume.” So existing volumes won’t show in your VMM but’s not too big of a headache as you can storage live migrate your VMs to volumes you’ve provisioned via VMM. 

Also, as a footnote, I believe NetApp charges for SMI-S support. 
** Open Pegasus is itself affiliated with the Open Group, an unsexy but in my view exciting & important IT standards organization that 1) is legit as the official certifying body of the UNIX trademark, 2)  is not ITIL-affiliated as best I can tell and 3) aligns very well with Microsoft’s servers & systems. SMI-S is Ajust one piece of the puzzle; another is instrumentation & other infrastructure items. To that end, the Open Group oversees work being done on Open Management Infrastructure, which Microsoft supports and can utilize via WSMAN and wmi. Cisco, Arista and others are on board with this, and though I haven’t yet programmed a Nexus switch with Powershell yet, it is a real option and offers a compelling vision for infrastructurists like me: best-in-class storage, network, compute hardware, all managed & instrumented via System Center or whatever https front-end is suitable. Jeff Snover detailed the relationship over two years ago in this blog.
 *** Incidentally,without SMI-S & CIM, there’d be no way for me to build a simulation SAN in the Daisetta Lab (#StorageGlory Achieved : 30 Days on a Windows SAN) and management via VMM, but as I detailed earlier this summer, you can: stand up a Windows file server box, turn on the feature “Standards Based Storage Management,” point VMM at it and provision

Hyper-V + VXLAN and more from Tech Ed Europe

If you thought -as I admittedly did- that on-prem Windows Server was being left for dead on the side of the Azure road, then boy were we wrong.

Not sure where to start here, but some incredible announcements from Microsoft in Barcelona, most of which I got from Windows Server MVP reporter Aidan Finn

Among them:

  • VXLAN, NVGRE & Network Controller, courtesy of Azure: This is something I’ve hoped for in the next version of Windows Server: a more compelling SDN story, something more than Network Function Virtualization & NVGRE encapsulation. If bringing the some of the best -and widely supported- bits of the VMware ecosystem to on-prem Hyper-V & System Center isn’t a virtualization engineer’s wet dream, I don’t know what is.
  • VMware meet Azure Site Recovery: Coming soon to a datacenter near you, failover your VMware infrastructure via Azure Site Recovery, the same way Hyper-V shops can

    Not sure what to do with this yet, but gimme!
    Not sure what to do with this yet, but gimme!
  • In-place/rolling upgrades for Hyper-V Clusters: This feature was announced with the release of Windows Server Technical Preview (of course, I only read about it after I wiped out my lab 2012 R2 cluster) but there’s a lot more detail on it from TechEd via Finn:  rebuild physical nodes without evicting them first.You keep the same Cluster Name Object, simply live migrating your VMs off your targeted hosts. Killer.
  • Single cluster node failure: In the old days, I used to lose sleep over clusres.dll, or clussvc.exe, two important pieces in Microsoft Clustering technology. Sure, your VMs will failover & restart on a new host, but that’s no fun.  Ben Armstrong demonstrated how vNext handles node failure by killing the cluster service live during his presentation. Finn says the VMs didn’t failover,but the host was isolated by the other nodes and the cluster simply paused and waited for the node to recovery (up to 4 minutes). Awesome!
  • Azure Witness: Also for clustering fans who are torn (as I am) between selecting file or disk witness for clusters: you will soon be able to add mighty Azure as a witness to your on-prem cluster. Split brain fears no more!
  • More enhancements for Storage QoS: Ensure that your tenant doesn’t rob IOPS from everyone else.
  • The Windows SAN, for real: Yes, we can soon do offsite block-level replication from our on-prem Tiered Storage Spaces servers.
  • New System Center coming next year: So much to unpack here, but I’ll keep it brief. You may love System Center, you may hate it, but it’s not dead. I’m a fan of the big two: VMM, and ConfigMan. OpsMan I’ve had a love/hate relationship with. Well the news out of TechEd Europe is that System Center is still alive, but more integration with Azure + a substantial new release will debut next summer. So the VMM Technical Preview I’m running in the Daisetta Lab (which installs to C:Program FilesVMM 2012 R2 btw) is not the VMM I was looking for.

Other incredible announcements:

  • Docker, CoreOS & Azure: Integration of the market-leading container technology with Azure is apparently further along than I believed. A demo was shown that hurts my brain to think about: Azure + Docker + CoreOS, the linux OS that has two OS partitions and is fault-tolerant. Wow
  • Enhancements to Rights Management Service: Stop users from CTRL-Cing/CTRL-Ving your company’s data to Twitter
  • Audiocodes announces an on-prem device that appears to bring us one step closer to the dream: Lync for voice, O365 for the PBX, all switched out to the PSTN. I said one step closer!
  • Azure Operational Insights: I’m a fan of the Splunk model (point your firehose of data/logs/events at a server, and let it make sense of it) and it appears Azure Operational Insights is a product that will jump into that space. Screen cap from Finn

This is really exciting stuff.

Commentary

Looking back on the last few years in Microsoft’s history, one thing stands out: the painful change from the old Server 2008R2 model to the new 2012 model was worth it. All of the things I’ve raved about on this blog in Hyper-V (converged network, storage spaces etc) were just teasers -but also important architectural elements- that made the things we see announced today possible.

The overhaul* of Windows Server is paying huge dividends for Microsoft and for IT pros who can adapt & master it. Exciting times.

* unlike the Windows mobile > Windows Phone transition, which was not worth it

Containers! For Windows! Courtesy of Docker

DockerWithWindowsSrvAndLinux-1024x505 (1)

Big news yesterday for fans of agnostic cloud/on-prem computing.

Docker -the application virtualization stack that’s caught on like wildfire among the *nix set- is coming to Windows.

Yeah baby.

Mary Jo with the details:

Under the terms of the agreement announced today, the Docker Engine open source runtime for building, running and orchestrating containers will work with the next version of Windows Server. The Docker Engine for Windows Server will be developed as a Docker open source project, with Microsoft participating as an active community member. Docker Engine images for Windows Server will be available in the Docker Hub. The Docker Hub will also be integrated directly into Azure so that it is accessible through the Azure Management Portal and Azure Gallery. Microsoft also will be contributing to Docker’s open orchestration application programming interfaces (APIs).

When I first heard the news, emotion was mixed.

On the one hand, I love it. Virtualization of all flavors -OS, storage, network, and application- is where I want to be, as a blogger, at home in my lab, and professionally.

Yet, as a Windows guy (I dabble, of course), Docker was just a bit out of reach for me, even with my lab, which is 100% Windows.

On the other hand, I also remembered how dreadful it used to be to run Linux applications on Windows. Installing GTK+ Libraries on Windows isn’t fun, and the end-result often isn’t very attractive. In my world, keeping the two separate on the application & OS side/uniting them via Kerberos and/or https/rest has always been my preference.

But that’s old world thinking, ladies and gentlemen.

Because you see, this announcement from Microsoft & Docker Inc sounds deep, rich, functional. Microsoft’s going to contribute some of its Server code to the Docker folks, and the Docker crew will help build Container tech into Windows Server and Azure. I’m hopeful Docker will just be another Role in Server, and that Jeffrey Snover’s powershell cmdlets will hook deep into the Docker stuff.

This probably marks the death of App-V, which I wrote about in comparison to Docker just last month, but that’s fine with me.

Docker on Windows marks a giant step forward for Agnostic Computing…do we dare imagine a future in which our application stacks are portable? Today I’m running an application in a Docker Container on Azure, and tomorrow I move it to AWS?

Microsoft says that’s exactly the vision:

Docker is an open source engine that automates the deployment of any application as a portable, self-sufficient container that can run almost anywhere. This partnership will enable the Docker client to manage multi-container applications using both Linux and Windows containers, regardless of the hosting environment or cloud provider. This level of interoperability is what we at MS Open Tech strive to deliver through contributions to open source projects such as Docker.

Full announcement.

Microsoft to introduce the New Shiny Windows

Devoted readers of Agnostic Computing.com, I write today to implore you to set your powershell scripts to Signed, get your Windows Key + R trigger fingers ready, and prep your forests and domains for a functional upgrade because today ladies and gentlemen, today, we get a new Windows. 

Ahhh yeah.

There’s some excitement in Microsoft Country again.

No one knows what it’ll be called. Windows 9 is the front-runner, but late-breaking rumors say big MS could throw us for a loop too and name it Windows TH (Threshold?!?! the pundits echo) or just plain old Windows.

It's always a good day when a new Windows is detailed
It’s always a good day when a new Windows is detailed

I say they should name it Windows TNS: Windows The New Shiny. Because among the rumors I’ve enjoyed hearing most is the one Microsoft may offer a sort of Windows 365 subscription for fanbois like me, a continuously morphing and changing OS, just like my O365 experience has been. New Shiny Windows every month…well maybe I’d tell ConfigMan to delay updates for a week or so, just to shake the bugs loose. But still. A subscription OS would be great.

But that’s a long-shot and probably not a very strong selling point for today’s event, which is, as everyone has noted, focused entirely on enterprise computing.

You see, Microsoft is trying desperately to court Enterprise IT people, to bring us back into the fold, targeting this entire event today at IT people like me who were aghast & horrified two years ago when they first installed Windows 8 in a VM.

“No. No. To get to start screen, hover your mouse in the lower corner. The lower corner, not the charms bar.There it is. Click that. Ahh shit, you missed it. Try again.” was how the conversation went throughout IT departments in ‘Merica.

As I’ve written before, the experience of Windows 8 & Server 2012 was so shocking and painful, it sent me running and crying into the Mac OS X camp, and then into ChromeBook fantasyland.

But I got over it. I overcame, and I figured out how to move all that nonsense touch stuff away when Windows 8.1/Server 2012 R2 debuted about a year ago.

Apparently other IT pros haven’t, and are still sticking to Windows 7 as if it’s the greatest thing since Active Directory. Thus today’s event.

To them I say: get with the program, or get left behind. Windows 8 did suck, but 8.1 & 2012 R2 were fine recoveries. If you decided to punt on learning about Windows 8.1/2012 R2, you missed a whole bunch of incredible advancements that are only going to improve with Windows TNS. Have fun catching up on this:

  • Baked in Hyper-V. Free on Windows 8.1 Pro and up. A virtual lab on every desktop.
  • Tiered Storage Spaces in Windows server 2012 R2: yet another software abstraction framework, but for your storage! You missed out on this too!
  • An awesome networking stack, totally rewritten: Native support for teaming, network function virtualizations, Layer 3 routing protocols via PowerShell…oh my. I’d hate to be you stuck with a Server 2008 R2 box, running your old tired batch files, your dated vbs scripts and ipconfig. You missed out on some incredible advancements

And the great thing is that all this is going to get better, I think (hope). True, we won’t be learning about Windows Server today (Aidan Finn reckons that + nextgen System Center will be next month) but there will be lots of detail about our next Enterprise desktop product, by which you can bet people like me will make inferences for the next server product.

Things are looking up in Microsoft Country. We’ve a ten year head start on Trustworthy Computing (ShellShock couldn’t have had better timing for MS), a highly-modular & secure OS, a mature cloud stack, a SaaS offering second to-none (O365) and now, today, a new Windows OS.

Good times.

2014 is the Year the Application broke free

It’s only September but I feel like 2014 is the year the Application broke free -was liberated if you will- from the infrastructure beneath it.

“What?!? That’s crazy talk,” the two of you who read this say in response.

Maybe, but consider this.

Untitled pictureDocker is huge and growing in popularity. As the drip-drip of my Enterprise RSS feed attests, interest in Docker has been growing steadily all year long; at times it seems there’s more Docker hype than even SDN hype. People seem as excited about Docker as they were about x86 virtualization, way back in the day. It’s real and it’s something.

But what is it?

The Infrastructurist in me cries a little bit to admit this, but it’s about time the Application was unyoked from the OS, the spindles, the network and the compute beneath it. And that’s what Docker does.

You see, Docker positions itself as a “container” (shipping metaphors abound in this space, which is just great) for your apps; once safely ensconsed in a container, your app, or more properly your entire application supply chain, can be moved from platform to platform with virtually no configuration changes, downtime, or dependency on your infrastructure guy.

That’s right baby. If you’re a Linux guy, no more fiddling around with Ubuntu VMs, BSD jails, standing up dev VMs or any of that nonsense. Docker takes your Ruby/Java/Objective C application, your backend MySQL DB or your NoSQL MongoDB, and your Android / IOS app, containerizes it, and lets you run it on just about anything capable of issuing a ping command. It makes it super-simple to go from dev to test to production, and it’s all free and made of wholesome open source stuff.

Neat bit of tech, wouldn’t you say?

Little boxes, full of apps, little boxes full of streaming apps!
Little boxes, full of apps, little boxes full of streaming apps!

In the Microsoft kingdom, I was doing similar things with App-V about two years ago. App-V is similar in concept to Docker, though admittedly App-V was never built to allow cross-platform application migration, and it’s not as all-encompassing as Docker. Yet, one can’t help but draw comparisons.

App-V is, how shall we say, a bit less elegant. Simple to install and build-out, but a bit clumsy in execution, App-V works by more or less capturing what an application does to an underlying Windows system. Por ejemplo: take your average ordinary WIndows executable (I’ll pick Spotify, as that’s what came up first in Task Manager).

To virtualize Spotify, all one has to do (after standing up a an App-V VM) is tell App-V to capture all the things spotify_installer.exe  does to a Windows system. Once finished, you signal to App-V that it should build a virtualized app for Spotify, and then, voila! You can “stream” the Spotify app -plus all the registry bits ‘n bobs it changed, the dll libraries it created/modified, and all that stuff- down to your Windows clients, where it will have zero interaction with potentially hostile local registry entries or dlls.

Two years ago, this was hot stuff and I was gung-ho on Application Virtualization to the point where I was thinking server virtualization wasn’t long for this world. Who wants to virtualize an OS when you can simply virtualize & delivery the application?

Sadly, App-V seems to have been placed on the “Neglect” shelf at Microsoft. It’s still around (still running on Silverlight too), but you don’t hear about it much anymore. I want to use it, but I can’t commit.

Microsoft’s taking a different approach to de-coupling the app from its OS, it seems to me: Universal binaries. At least that was the pre-Satya Nadella thinking, but it’s very close to realization. Saddle on up next to your favorite Visual Studio developer and ask him to show you how it works: you can build one codebase and compile it for multiple platforms. It’s almost to the point where you do a “Save As IOS App” then a “Save as Android App” and, of course,  “Save as Windows app.” Awesome!

One could argue this is the ultimate app endgame…universal binaries that run on any OS would seem to be a more elegant solution than even Docker’s portability.

And then there’s Google. In the last two weeks, Google has announced that some Android applications can now run on ChromeOS. Sharp devs took very little time to expand the library of Android apps you can run and touch on a standard Chromebook.

Then they took it a step further- some devs have gotten Android apps to run on Chrome within Windows, a feat of software engineering so amazing, I think it deserves one of the same fancy nicknames Google used to employ in its financial engineering efforts (“a reverse double starbuck” comes to mind).

This is an exciting space, way more exciting and real than SDN, I’d reckon. Whether you want to virtualize your application by containerizing its infrastructure, building a binary that runs on everything, or going full Trojan Horse with Browser-as-a-Platform strategy, there’s real movement and change afoot.

And it’s all aimed at making computing more agnostic, if you’ll forgive the self-referential plug.

Forget infrastructure…How long until we stop talking about Operating Systems at all?

Thoughts on EVO:RAIL

So if you work in IT, and even better, if you’re in the virtualization space of IT as I am, you have to know that VMworld is happening this week.

VMworld is just about the biggest vCelebration of vTechnologies there is. Part trade-show, part pilgrimage, part vLollapalooza, VMworld is where all the sexy new vProducts are announced by VMware, makers of ESXi, vSphere, vCenter, and so many other vThings.

It’s an awesome show…think MacWorld at the height of Steve Jobs but with fewer hipsters and way more virtualization engineers. Awesome.

And I’ve never been :sadface:

And 2014’s VMworld was a doozy. You see, the vGiant announced a new 2U, four node vSphere & vSAN cluster-in-a-box hardware device called EVO:RAIL. I’ve been reading all about EVO:RAIL for the last two days and here’s what I think as your loyal Hyper-V blogger:

  • What’s in a name? Right off the bat, I was struck by the name for this appliance. EVO:RAIL…say what? What’s VMware trying to get across here? Am I to associate EVO with the fast Mitsubishi Lancers of my youth, or is this EVO in the more Manga/Anime sense of the word? Taken together, EVO:RAIL also calls to mind sci-fi, does it not? You could picture Lt. Cmdr Data talking about an EVO:RAIL to Cmdr Riker, as in “The Romulan bird of prey is outfitted with four EVO:RAIL phase cannons, against which the Enterprise’s shields stand no chance.” Speaking of guns: I also thought of the US Navy’s Railguns; long range kinetic weapons designed to destroy the Nutanix/Simplivity the enemy.
  • If you’re selling an appliance, do you need vExperts? One thing that struck me about VMware’s introduction of EVO:RAIL was their emphasis on how simple it is to rack, stack, install, deploy and virtualize. They claim the “hyper-converged” 2U box can be up and running in about 15 minutes; a full rack of these babies could be computing for you in less than 2 hours. evo1They’ve built a sexy HTML 5 GUI to manage the thing, no vSphere console or PowerCLI in sight. It’s all pre-baked, pre-configured, and pre-built for you, the small-to-medium enterprise. It’s so simple a help desk guy could set it up. So with all that said, do I still need to hire vExperts and VCDX pros to build out my virtualization infrastructure? It would appear not. Is that the message VMware is trying to convey here?
  • One SKU for the Win: I can’t be the only one that thinks buying the VMware stack is a complicated & time-consuming affair. Chris Wahl points out that EVO:RAIL is one SKU, one invoice, one price to pay, and VMware’s product page confirms that, saying you can buy a Dell EVO:RAIL or a Fujitsu EVO:RAIL, but whatever you buy, it’ll be one SKU. This is really nice. But why? VMware is famous for licensing its best-in-class features…why mess with something that’s worked so well for them?
    Shades of Azure simplicity here
    Shades of Azure simplicity here

    One could argue that EVO:RAIL is a reaction to simplified pricing structures on rival systems…let’s be honest with ourselves. What’s more complicated: buying a full vSphere and/or vHorizon suite for a new four node cluster, or purchasing the equivalent amount of computing units in Azure/AWS/Google Compute? What model is faster to deploy, from sales call to purchasing to receiving to service? What model probably requires consulting help?

    Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great. I like simple menus, and whereas buying VMware stuff before was like choosing from a complicated, multi-page, multi-entree menu, now it’s like buying burgers at In ‘n Out. That’s very cool, but it means something has changed in vLand.

  • I love the density: As someone who’s putting the finishing touches on my own new virtualization infrastructure, I love the density in EVO:RAIL. 2 Rack Units with E5-26xx class Xeons packing 6 cores each means you can pack about 48 cores into 2U! Not bad, not bad at all. The product page also says you can have up to 16TB of stroage in those same 2U (courtesy of VSAN) and while you still need a ToR switch to jack into, each node has 2x10GbE SFP+ or Copper. Which is excellent. RAM is the only thing that’s a bit constrained; each node in an EVO:RAIL can only hold 192GB of RAM, a total of 768GB per EVO:RAIL.In comparison, my beloved 2U pizza boxes offer more density in some places, but less overall, given than 1 Pizza Box = one node. In the Supermicros I’m racking up later this week, I can match the core count (4×12 Core E5-46xx), improve upon the RAM (up to 1TB per node) and easily surpass the 16TB of storage. That’s all in 2U and all for about $15-18k.Where the EVO:RAIL appears to really shine is in VM/VDI density. VMware claims a single EVO:RAIL is built to support 100 General Purpose VMs or to support up to 250 VDI sessions, which is f*(*U#$ outstanding.
  • I wonder if I can run Hyper-V on that: Of course I thought that. Because that would really kick ass if I could.

Overall, a mighty impressive showing from VMware this week. Like my VMware colleagues, I pine for an EVO:RAIL in my lab.

I think EVO:RAIL points to something bigger though…This product marks a shift in VMware’s thinking, a strategic reaction to the changes in the marketplace. This is not just a play against Nutranix and other hyper-converged vendors, but against the simplicity and non-specialist nature of cloud Infrastructure as a Service.  This is a play against complexity in other words…this is VMware telling the marketplace that you can have best-in-class virtualization without worst-in-class licensing pain and without hiring vExperts to help you deploy it.

Tales from the Hot Lane

A few brief updates & random thoughts from the last few days on all the stuff I’ve been working on.

Refreshing the Core at work: Summer’s ending, but at work, a new season is advancing, one rack unit at a time. I am gradually racking up & configuring new compute, storage, and network as it arrives; It Is Not About the Hardware™, but since you were wondering: 64 Ivy Bridge cores and about 512GB RAM, 30TB of storage, and Nexus 3k switching.

Cisco_logoAhh, the Nexus line. Never had the privilege to work on such fine switching infrastructure. Long time admirer, first-time NX-OS user. I have a pair of them plus a Layer 3 license so the long-term thinking involves not just connecting my compute to my storage, but connecting this dense stack northbound & out via OSPF or static routes over a fault-tolerant HSRP or VRRP config.

To do that, I need to get familiar with some Nexus-flavored acronyms that aren’t familiar to me: virtual port channels (VPC), Control Plane policy (COPP), VRF, and oh-so-many-more. I’ll also be attempting to answer the question once and for all: what spanning tree mode does one use to connect a Nexus switch to a virtualization host running Hyper-V’s converged switching architecture? I’ve used portfast in the lab on my Catalyst, but the lab switch is five years old, whereas this Nexus is brand new. And portfast never struck me as the right answer, just the easy one.

To answer those questions and more, I have TAC and this excellent tome provided gratis by the awesome VAR who sold us much of the equipment.

Into the vCPU Blender goes Lync: Last Friday, I got a call from my former boss & friend who now heads up a fast-growing IT department on the coast. He’s been busy refreshing & rationalizing much of his infrastructure as well, but as is typical for him, he wants more. He wants total IT transformation, so as he’s built out his infrastructure, he laid the groundwork to go 100% Microsoft Lync 2013 for voice.

Yeah baby. Lync 2013 as your PBX, delivering dial tone to your endpoints, whether they are Bluetooth-connected PC headsets, desk phones, or apps on a mobile.

Forget software-defined networking. This is software-defined voice & video, with no special server hardware, cloud services, or any other the other typical expensive nonsense you’d see in a VoIP implementation.

If Lync 2013 as PBX is not on your IT Bucket List, it should be. It was something my former boss & I never managed to accomplish at our previous employer on Hyper-V.

Now he was doing it alone. On a fast VMware/Nexus/NetApp stack with distributed vSwitches. And he wanted to run something by me.

So you can imagine how pleased I was to have a chat with him about it.

He was facing one problem which threatened his Go Live date: Mean Opinion Score, or MOS, a simple 0-5 score Lync provides to its administrators that summarizes call quality. MOS is a subset of a hugely detailed Media Quality Summary Report, detailed here at TechNet.

thMy friend was scoring a .6 on his MOS. He wanted it to be at 4 or above prior to go-live.

So at first we suspected QoS tags were being stripped somewhere between his endpoint device and the Lync Mediation VM. Sure enough, Wireshark proved that out; a Distributed vSwitch (or was it a Nexus?) wasn’t respecting the tag, resulting in a sort of half-duplex QoS if you will.

He fixed that, ran the test again, and still: .6. Yikes! Two days to go live. He called again.

That’s when I remembered the last time we tried to tackle this together. You see, the Lync Mediation Server is sort of the real PBX component in Lync Enterprise Voice architecture. It handles signalling to your endpoints, interfaces with the PSTN or a SIP trunk, and is the one server workload that, even in 2014, I’d hesitate making virtual.

My boss had three of them. All VMs on three different VMware hosts across two sites.

I dug up a Microsoft whitepaper on virtualizing Lync, something we didn’t have the last time we tried this. While Redmond says Lync Enterprise Voice on top of VMs can work, it’s damned expensive from a virtualization host perspective. MS advises:

  • You should disable hyperthreading on all hosts.
  • Do not use processor oversubscription; maintain a 1:1 ratio of virtual CPU to physical CPU.
  • Make sure your host servers support nested page tables (NPT) and extended page tables (EPT).
  • Disable non-uniform memory access (NUMA) spanning on the hypervisor, as this can reduce guest performance.

Talk about Harshing your vBuzz. Essentially, building Lync out virtually with Enterprise Voice forces you to go sparse on your hosts, which is akin to buying physical servers for Lync. If you don’t, into the vCPU blender goes Lync, and out comes poor voice quality, angry users, bitterness, regret and self-punishment.

Anyway, he did as advised, put some additional vCPU & memory reservations in place on his hosts, and yesterday, whilst I was toiling in the Hot Lane, he called me from Lync via his mobile.

He’s a married man just like me, but I must say his voice sounded damn sexy as it was sliced up into packets, sent over the wire, and converted back to analog on my mobile’s speaker. A virtual chest bump over the phone was next, then we said goodbye.

Another Go Live Victory (by proxy). Sweet.

Azure Outage: Yesterday’s bruising hours-long global Azure outage affected Virtual Machines, storage blobs, web services, database services and HD Insight, Microsoft’s service for big data crunching. As it unfolded, I navel-gazed, when I felt like helping. There was literally nothing I could do. Had I some crucial IaaS or PaaS in the Azure stack, I’d be shit out of luck, just like the rest. I felt quite helpless; refreshing Mary Jo’s pageyellow-exclamation-mark-in-triangle-md and the Azure dashboard didn’t help. I wondered what the problem was; it’s been a difficult week for Microsofties whether on-prem or in Azure. Had to be related to the update cycle, I thought.

On the plus side, Azure Active Directory services never went down, nor did several other services. Office 365 stayed up as well, though it is built atop separate-but-related infrastructure in my understanding.

Lastly, I pondered two thoughts: if you’re thinking of reducing your OpEx by replacing your DR strategy with an Azure Site Recovery strategy, does this change your mind? And if you’re building out Azure as your primary IaaS or PaaS, do you just accept such outages or do you plan a failback strategy?

Labworks : Towards a 100% Windows-defined Daisetta Lab: What’s next for the Daisetta Lab? Well, I have me an AMD Duron CPU, a suitable motherboard, a 1U enclosure with PSU, and three Keepin’ it RealTek NICs. Oh, I also have a case of the envies, envies for the VMware crowd and their VXLAN and NSX and of course VMworld next week. So I’m thinking of building a Network Virtualization Gateway appliance. For those keeping score at home, that would mean from Storage to Compute to Network Edge, I’d have a 100% Windows lab environment, infused with NVGRE which has more use cases than just multi-tenancy as I had thought.