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.

Respect my Certificate Authoritah

Fellow #VFD3 Delegate and Chicago-area vExpert Eric Shanks has recently posted two great pieces on how to setup an Active Directory Certificate Authority in your home lab environment.

Say what? Why would you want the pain of standing up some certificate & security infrastructure in your home lab?

Eric explains:

Home Lab SSL Certificates aren’t exactly a high priority for most people, but they are something you might want to play with before you get into a production environment.

Exactly.

Security & Certificate infrastructure are a weak spot in my portfolio so I’ve been practicing/learning in the Daisetta Lab so that I don’t fail at work. Here’s how:

As I was building out my lab, I knew three things: I wanted a routable Fully Qualified Domain Name for my home lab, I was focused on virtualization but should also practice for the cloud and things like ADFS, and I wanted my lab to be as secure as possible (death to port 80 & NTLM!)

With those loose goals in mind, I decided I wanted Daisetta Labs.net to be legit. To have some Certificate Authority bonafides…to get some respect in the strangely federated yet authoritarian world of certificate authorities, browser and OS certificate revocations, and yellow Chrome browser warning screens.

dlabs

Too legit, too legit to quit

So I purchased a real wildcard SSL certificate from a real Certificate Authority back in March. It cost about $96 for one year, and I don’t regret it at all because I’m using it now to secure all manner of things in Active Directory, and I’ll soon be using it as Daisetta Labs.net on-prem begins interfacing with DaisettaLabs.net in Azure (it already is, via Office 365 DirSync, but I need to get to the next level and the clock is ticking on the cert).

Building on Eric’s excellent posts, I suggest to any Microsoft-focused IT Pros that you consider doing what I did. I know it sucks to shell out money for an SSL certificate, but labwork is hard so that work-work isn’t so hard.

So, go follow Eric’s outline, buy a cert, wildcard or otherwise (got mine at Comodo, there’s also an Israeli CA that gives SSL certs for free, but it’s a drawn-out process) and stand up a subordinate CA (as opposed to a on-prem only Root CA) and get your 443 on!

Man it sucks to get something so fundamentally wrong. Reader Chris pointed out a few inaccuracies and mistakes about my post in the comments below.

At first I was indignant, then thoughtful & reflective, and finally resigned. He’s right. I built an AD Root -not a subortinate as that’s absurd- Certificate Authority in the lab.

Admittedly, I’m not strong in this area. Thanks to Chris for his coaching and I regret if I mislead anyone.

Cloud Praxis lifehax: Disrupting the consumer cloud with my #Office365 E1 sub

E1, just like its big brothers E3 & E4, gives you real Microsoft Exchange 2013, just like the one at work. There’s all sorts of great things you can do with your own Exchange instance:

  • Practice your Powershell remoting skills
  • Get familiar with how Office 365 measures and applies storage settings among the different products
  • Run some decent reporting against device, browser and fat client usage

But the greatest of these is Exchange public-facing, closed-membership distribution groups.

Whazzat, you ask?

Well, it’s a distribution group. With you in it. And it’s public facing. Meaning you can create your own SMTP addresses that others can send to. And then you can create Exchange-based rules that drop those emails into a folder, deletes them after a certain time, runs scripts against them, all sorts of cool stuff before it hits your device or Outlook.

All this for my Enterprise of One, Daisetta Labs.net. For $8/month.

You might think it’s overkill to have a mighty Exchange instance for yourself, but your ability to create a public-facing distribution group is a killer app that can help you rationalize some of your cloud hassles at home and take charge & ownership of your email, which I argue, is akin to your birth certificate in the online services world.

My public facing distribution groups, por ejemplo:

distrogroups

 

There are others, like career@, blog@ and such.

The only free service that offers something akin to this powerful feature is Microosft’s own Outlook.com. If the prefixed email address is available @outlook.com, you can create aliases that are public-facing and use them in a similar way as I do.

But that’s a big if. @outlook.com names must be running low.

Another, perhaps even better use of these public-facing distribution groups: exploiting cloud offerings that aren’t dependent on a native email service like Gmail. You can use your public-facing distribution groups to register and rationalize the family cluster’s cloud stack!

app

It doesn’t solve everything, true, but it goes along way. In my case, the problem was a tough one to crack. You see, ever since the child partition emerged out of dev, into the hands of a skilled QA technician, and thence, under extreme protest, into production, I’ve struggled to capture, save & properly preserve the amazing pictures & videos stored on the Supervisor Module’s iPhone 5.

Until recently, Supe had the best camera phone in the cluster (My Lumia Icon outclasses it now). She, of course, uses Gmail so her pics are backed up in G+, but 1) I can’t access them or view them, 2) they’re downsized in the upload and 3) AutoAwesome’s gone from being cool & nifty to a bit creepy while iCloud’s a joke (though they smartly announced family sharing yesterday, I understand).

She has the same problems accessing the pictures I take of Child Partition on the Icon. She wants them all, and I don’t share much to the social media sites.

And neither one of us want to switch email providers.

So….

Consumer OneDrive via Microsoft account registered with general@mydomain.com with MFA. Checks all the Boxes. I even got 100GB just for using Bing for a month

Available on iPhone, Windows phone, desktop, etc? Check.

Easy to use, beautifully designed even? Check

Can use a public-facing distribution group SMTP address for account creation? Check

All tied into my E1 Exchange instance!

It works so well I’m using general@mydomain.com to sync Windows 8.1 between home, work & in the lab. Only thing left is to convince the Supe to use OneNote rather than Evernote.

I do the same thing with Amazon (caveat_emptor@), finance stuff, Pandora (general@), some Apple-focused accounts, basically anything that doesn’t require a native email account, I’ll re-register with an O365 public-facing distribution group.

Then I share the account credentials among the cluster, and put the service on the cluster’s devices. Now the Supe’s iPhone 5 uploads to OneDrive, which all of us can access.

So yeah. E1 & public facing distribution groups can help sooth your personal cloud woes at home, while giving you the tools & exposure to Office 365 for #InfrastructureGlory at work.

Good stuff!