Workshop Datacenter Modernization -Microsoft Technical Summit 2014 Germany (Berlin)


While speaking (What’s new in Failover Clustering in Windows Server 2012 R2) and attending the Microsoft Technical Summit 2014 I’m taking the opportunity to see how Microsoft Germany and partners are doing a workshop which is based on the IT Camps they have been delivering over the past year. There is a lot of content to be delivered and both trainers Carsten Rachfahl (Rachfahl IT-Solutions GmbH) and Bernhard Frank (Partner Technology Strategist (Hosting), Microsoft) are doing that magnificently.

One thing I note is that they sure do put in a lot of effort. The one I’m attending requires some server infrastructure, a couple of switches, cabling for over 50 laptops etc. These have been neatly packed into road cases and the 50+ laptops had been placed, cabled and deployed using PXE boot /WDS the night before. Yes even in the era of cloud you need hardware especially if you’re doing an IT Camp on “Datacenter Modernization” (think private & hybrid infrastructure design and deployment).

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Not bypassing this aspect of private cloud building adds value to the workshop and is made possible with the help of Wortmann AG. Yes the attendees get to deploy storage spaces, Scale Out File Server, networking etc. They don’t abstract any of the underlying technologies away, I like that a lot, it adds value and realism.

I’m happy to see that they leverage the real world experience of experts (fellow Hyper-V MVP Carsten Rachfahl) who helps hosting companies and enterprises deploy these technologies. Storage, Scale Out File Server, Hyper-V clusters, System Center and self service (Azure Pack) are the technologies used to achieve the goals of the workshop.

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The smart use of PowerShell (workflows, PDT) allows to automate the process and frees up time to discuss and explain the technologies and design decisions. They take great care to explain the steps and tools used so the attendees can use these later in their own environments. Talking about their own experiences and mistakes helps the attendees avoid common mishaps and move along faster.

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The fact that they have added workshops like this to the summit adds value. I think it’s a great idea that they are held on the last day as this means that attendees can put the information they gathered from 2 days of sessions into practice. This helps understanding the technologies better.

There is very little criticism to be given on the content and the way they deliver it. I have to say that it’s all very well done. Perhaps they make private cloud look a bit too easy Winking smile. Bernard, Carsten, well done guys, I’m impressed. If you’re based in Germany and you or your team members need to get up to speed on how these technologies can be leveraged to modernize your data center I can highly recommend these guys and their workshops/IT Camps.

Microsoft Keeps Investing In Storage Big Time


Disclaimer: These are my musing on the limited info available about Windows Server vNext and based on the Technical Preview bits at the time of writing. So it’s not set in stone & has a time limited value.

Reading the documentation that’s already available on vNext of Windows it’s clear that Microsoft is continuing it’s push towards the software defined data center. They are also pushing high to continuous availability ever more towards the  “continuous” side of things.

It’s early days yet and we just only downloaded the Technical Preview but what do we read in What’s New in Storage Services in Windows Server Technical Preview

Storage Quality of Service

  • They are giving us more Storage Quality of Service tied into the use of SOFS as storage over SMB3. As way to many NAS solutions don’t support SMB3 or only partially (in a restricted way) it’s clear too me that self build SOFS solution on a couple of servers is and remains the best SMB3 implementation on the market and has just gotten storage QoS.

Little Rant here: To the people that claim that this is not capable of high performance, I usually laugh. Have you actually build a SOFS or TFFS with 10Gbps networking on modern enterprise grade servers line the DELL R720 or 730? Did you look at the results form that relative low cost investment? I think not, really. And if you did and found it lacking, I’ll be very impressed of the workload you’re running.  You’ll force your storage to the knees earlier than your Windows file server nowadays.

  • It’s in the SOFS layer, so this does not tie you into to Storage Space if you’re not ready for that yet but would like the benefits of SOFS. As long as you have shared storage behind the SOFS you’re good.
  • It’s policy based and can apply to virtual machines, groups of virtual machines a service or a tenant
  • The virtual disk is the level where the policy is set & enforced.
  • Storage performance will dynamically adjust to meet the policies & when tied the performance will be fairly distributed.
  • You can monitor all this.

It’s right there in the OS.

Storage Replica

This gives us “storage-agnostic, block-level, synchronous replication between servers for disaster recovery, as well as stretching of a failover cluster for high availability. Synchronous replication enables mirroring of data in physical sites with crash-consistent volumes ensuring zero data loss at the file system level. Asynchronous replication allows site extension beyond metropolitan ranges with the possibility of data loss.”

Look for Hyper-V we already had Hyper-V replica (which is also being improved), but for other workloads we still rely on the storage vendors or 3rd party solutions. But now I can have my storage replicas for service protection and continuity out of the box with Windows.  WOW!

and as we read on ..

  • Provide an all-Microsoft disaster recovery solution for planned and unplanned outages of mission-critical workloads.
  • Use SMB3 transport with proven reliability, scalability, and performance.
  • Stretch clusters to metropolitan distances.
    Use Microsoft software end to end for storage and clustering, such as Hyper-V, Storage Replica, Storage Spaces, Cluster, Scale-Out File Server, SMB3, Deduplication, and ReFS/NTFS.
  • Help reduce cost and complexity as follows:

Hardware agnostic, with no requirement to immediately abandon legacy storage such as SANs.

Allows commodity storage and networking technologies.
Features ease of graphical management for individual nodes and clusters through Failover Cluster Manager and Microsoft Azure Site Recovery.

Includes comprehensive, large-scale scripting options through Windows PowerShell.

  • Helps reduce downtime, and increase reliability and productivity intrinsic to Windows.
  • Provide supportability, performance metrics, and diagnostic capabilities.

I have gotten this to work in the lab with some trial and error but this is the Technical Preview, not a finish product. If they continue along this path I’m pretty confident we’ll have functional & operational viable solution by RTM. Just think about the possibilities this brings!

Storage Spaces

Now I have not read much on Storage Space in vNext yet but I think its safe to assume we’ll see major improvements there as well. Which leads me to reaffirm my blog posy here: TechEd 2013 Revelations for Storage Vendors as the Future of Storage lies With Windows 2012 R2

Microsoft is delivering more & great software defined storage inbox. This means cost effective yet very functional storage solutions. On top of that they put pressure on the market to deliver more value if they want to stay competitive. As a customer, whatever solution fits my needs the best, I welcome that. And as a consumer of large amounts of storage in a world where we need to spend the money where it matters most I like what I’m seeing.

Tip for Microsoft: configurability, reliability and EASY diagnostics and remediation are paramount to success. Sure some storage vendor solution aren’t to great on that front either but some are awesome. Make sure your in the awesome category. Make it a great user experience from start to finish in both deployment and operations.

Tip for you: If you’re not ready for prime time with Storage Spaces , SMB Direct etc … do what I’ve done. Use it where it doesn’t kill you if you hit some learning curves. What about storage spaces as a backup target where you can now replicate the backups of to your disaster recovery site?

Win a free ticket to Experts Live 2014


As you might already know I’m speaking at the Dutch IT community event Experts Live 2014 in the Netherlands. The talk is about “The Capable & Scalable Cloud OS “ where we’ll highlight and show some of the scalable capabilities in Windows Server 2012 R2 when combined with great hardware.

You can find the program at Experts Live 2014 which is very rich in content. There are 7 tracks and over 40 sessions! Chose a track or mix and match to your hearts content between  Microsoft Azure, System Center, Hyper-V, SQL, Windows, PowerShell and Office365. It’s all good.

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To celebrate the success of the event the organizers have allowed us to give away some free entrance tickets. This is a very nice gift that will allow you to enjoy a full day of learning for free.

So convince me you’re willing to put in the time and effort to learn and we’ll help you do exactly that by making sure you get a free ticket!  Leave a reply to this blog post from Thursday October 9th till Thursday October 16th in which you tell me what blog or blogs of mine you’ve enjoyed most. Leave your name, e-mail, your company and function title so we can arrange things for you. Don’t worry we will not publish these.

There is only one request/condition … if you win a ticket come to the event as a no show means some one else can’t come.

First we take Redmond, then we take Berlin & Ede: Summits & Conferences


The traveling & speaking MVP

MVPs are a busy lot. They work, learn, travel & talk a lot. Why to share knowledge & experiences for the benefit of all. So in order to keep that reputation going I’ll be heading to SEATAC to attend the Global MVP Summit 2014 in Bellevue/Redmond. After that tech fest I return to Belgium where I’ll immediately head towards Berlin to present at the Microsoft Technical Summit 2014. After a weekend of rest I head north to The Netherlands to present at Experts Live.

No rest for the wicked. There is a a tremendous amount of things happening in IT right now. It takes a little bit of effort to keep up an asses the benefits and value butt once you’re doing that as part of your normal day to day operations it becomes a lot easier to map out  why it’s useful to you and what to use where, when and how.

All this is happening at a time that the information on “Treshold” or Windows vNext is becoming available if we can believe the rumors and the buzz on the internet. Don’t forget that TechEd Europe 2014 is on in the last week of October in Barcelona right before the MVP Summit in Redmond. Like Aidan Finn said, we could go on a 3 month presenting, training & consulting tour right now as the need for insights & skills is growing with the growth in Hyper-V adoption and with that all related technologies from networking, storage to Azure.

Now I can’t invite you to the MVP Summit but I can do that for both the Microsoft Technical Summit 2014 and Experts Live. There will be a lot of international expertise at both events who have hands on expertise with the technology in real life production environments. I always pick up knowledge form them myself.

The Global MVP Summit 2014

Every MVP on this planet tries to make it to the MVP Summit. The face time with and access to so many intelligent people at MSFT is invaluable. Combine that with the opportunity to network experts form all over the globe and you realize why we spend the time effort and money to attend.

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So once more we hop on that great Boeing 747 and let BA fly us to SEA-TAC airport from where we’ll head to Bellevue/Redmond as the summit is spread between both locations.

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The MVP is NDA. So there will be tweets about the fun stuff with fellow MVPs but other than that we’ll be going dark. We have never and will never breach NDA. We’ll also make some time to meet up with old acquaintances, friends and fellow Belgians living & working around Seattle/Bellevue/Redmond.

Microsoft Technical Summit 2014

The moment I get back home I grab a change of clothes & a flight to Berlin.

The Microsoft Technical Summit 2014 is on in Berlin and together with a great number of fellow MVPs I have the distinct pleasure of presenting What’s new in Failover Clustering (Windows 2012 R2).

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It’s amazing to see how many of our community experts are actually from Germany, Austria & Switzerland (DACH) and I’ll be happy so see so many familiar faces I just saw on the other side of the big pond just a week before Smile

Experts Live 2014

On November 18th I’ll be in The Netherlands at Experts Live 2014 in Ede. This is a great event and if you know the brain power of the organizers & presenters this is no surprise. I’ll be presenting “The Capable & Scalable Cloud OS “ and showing some of the scalable capabilities in Windows Server 2012 R2 when combined with great hardware. image

So that’s the travelling & scheduling agenda for now. Perhaps I’ll see you at one of those events & if you’re a reader of this blog ping us if you’ll be there for a meet and great. Live is good Smile.

Dell generation 13 servers & Intel E5 v3 18 core CPUs are upon us in world where per core licensing is reality


As I watched the Intel E5 v3 launch event & DELL releasing their next generation servers to the public to purchase there is a clear opportunity for hardware renewal next year. I’m contemplating on what the new Intel E5 v3 18 core processors

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and the great DELL generation 13 PowerEdge Servers mean for the Hyper-V and SQL server environments under my care.

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For the Hyper-V clusters I’m in heaven. At least for now as Windows is still licensed per socket at the time of writing. vNext has me worried a bit, thinking about what would happen if that changes to core based licensing to. Especially with SQL Server virtualization. I do hope that if MSFT ever goes for per core licensing for the OS they might consider giving us a break for dedicated SQL Server Hyper-V clusters.

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For per core licensing with SQL Server Enterprise we need to run the numbers and be smart in how we approach this. Especially since you need Software Assurance to be able to have mobility & failover / high availability. All this at a time you’re told significant cost cutting has to happen all over the board.

So what does this mean? The demise of SQL Server in the Enterprise like some suggest. Nope. The direct competitors of SQL Server in that arena are even more expensive. The alternatives to SQL are just that, in certain scenarios you don’t need SQL (Server) or you can make due with SQL Server Express. But what about all the cases where you do really need it? You’ll just have to finance the cost of SQL Server. If that’s not possible the business case justifying the tool is no longer there, which is valid. As the saying goes, if you can’t afford it, you don’t need it. A bit harsh yes, I realize, but this is not a life saving medicine we’re talking about but a business tool. There might be another reason your SQL Server licensing has become unaffordable. You might be wasting money due to how SQL Server is deployed and used in your environment. To make sure you don’t overpay you need to evaluate if SQL Server consolidation is what is really needed to save the budget.

Now please realize that consolidation doesn’t mean stupidly under provisioning hardware & servers to make budget work out. That’s just plain silly. For some more information on this, please read Virtualizing Intensive Workloads on Hyper-V, Can It Be Done

So what is smart consolidation (not all specific to SQL Server by the way):

  • You have to avoid physical SQL Server sprawl with a vengeance.
  • You need to consolidate SQL Servers aggressively.
  • Virtualize on a dedicated SQL Server Hyper-V cluster if possible
  • Favor scale out over scale up in the Hyper-V scenario to keep node costs reasonable and allow for affordable expansion.
  • Use 2 socket servers and replace the hardware faster to keep the number of needed cores down.
    • This allows to leverage modern commodity, high performance storage, networking and compute where you can in order to optimize workloads & minimize costs.
    • It helps save on power consumption & cooling
    • More nodes with lesser cores (scale out approach) reduces VM density per node but also keep the cost of adding a node (with SQL Server per core licensing, or when it comes to that for the OS as well), which is your scaling block with a fixed cost under control. It’s all about balance and it isn’t as easy as it seems.
  • Play the same game with storage. This can be a harder sale to make internally. Traditionally people hang on to storage longer due to the high CAPEX. I have said it before, storage vendors have to deliver more & better. Even the challengers & hyper converged systems are still too expensive to really get into a short renewal cycle for most organizations.

Be smart about it. A great DBA can make a difference here and some hard core performance tuning is what can save a serious amount of money. If on top of that you have some good storage & network skills around you can achieve a lot. Next to the fact that you’ll have to spend serious money for serious workloads the ugly truth is that consolidation requires you find your peak loads and scale for those with a vengeance. Look, maxing out one server on which one SQL Server is running isn’t that bad. But what if 3 SQL Servers running a peak performance spread over a 3 node Hyper-V cluster dedicated to SQL Server VMs might kill performance all over!

The good news is I have solid ideas,visions, plans and options to optimize both the on premise & cloud of part of networking, storage & compute. Remember that there is no one size fits all. Execution follows strategy. The potential for very performant, cost effective  & capable solutions are right there. I cannot give you a custom solution for your needs in a blog post. One danger with fast release cycles is that it requires yearly OPEX end if they cannot guarantee it the shift in design to solutions with less longevity  could become problematic if they can’t come up with the money. Cutting some of the “fat” means you will not be able to handle longer periods of budget drought very well. There is no free lunch.

So measure twice & cut once or things can go wrong very fast and become even more expensive.

You might think this sounds a bit pessimistic. No this is an opportunity, especially for a Hyper-V MVP who happens to be a MCDBA Winking smile. The IT skills shortage is only growing bigger all over the planet, so not too much worries there, I won’t have to collect empty bottles for a living yet. The only so called “draw back” here could be that the environments I take care of have been virtualized and optimized to a high extend already. The reward for being good is sometimes not being able to improve things in orders of magnitude. Bad organizations living in a dream world, the ones without a solid grasp of the realities of functional IT in practice, might find that disappointing. Yes the “perception is reality” crowd. Fortunately the good ones will be happy to be in the best possible shape and they’ll invest money to keep it that way.  Interesting times ahead.

Migrate an old file server to a transparent failover file server with continuous availability


This is not a step by step “How to” but we’ll address some thing you need to do and the tips and tricks that might make things a bit smoother for you.

1) Disable Short file names & Strip existing old file names

Never mind that this is needed to be able to do continuous availability on a file share cluster. You should have done this a long time ago. For one is enhances performance significantly. It also make sure that no crappy apps that require short file names to function can be introduced into the environment. While I’m an advocate for mutual agreements there are many cases where you need to protect users, the business against itself. Being to much of a politician as a technologist can be very bad for the company due to allowing bad workarounds and technology debt to be introduced. Stand tall!

Read up on this here Windows Server 2012 File Server Tip: Disable 8.3 Naming (and strip those short names too. Next to Jose’s great blog read Fsutil 8dot3name on how to do this.

If you still have applications that depend on short file names you need to isolate and virtualize them immediately. I feel sorry for you that this situation exists in your environment and I hope you get the necessary means to deal with swiftly and decisively by getting rid of these applications. Please see The Zombie ISV® to be reminded why.

Some tips:

  • Only use the /F switch if it’s a non system disk and you can afford to do so as you’re moving the data LUN to a new server anyone. Otherwise you might run into issues. See the below example.image
  • If you stumble on path that are too long, intervene. Talk to the owners. We got people to reduce “Human Resources Planning And Evaluations” sub folder & file names reduced to HRMPlanEval. You get the gist, trim them down.
  • You’ll have great success on most files & folders but if they are open. Schedule a maintenance window to make sure you can run without anyone connected to the shares (Stop LanManServer during that maintenance window).image
  • Also verify no other processes are locking any files or folders (anti virus, backups, sync tools etc.)

2) Convert MBR disks to GPT if you can

With ever growing amounts of data to store and protect this makes sense. I’m not saying you need to start doing 64TB disks today but making sure you can grown beyond 2TB is smart. It doesn’t cost anything when you start out with GPT disks from the start.  If you have older LUNs you might want to use the migration as an opportunity to convert MBR LUNs to GPT. That means copying the data and all NTFS permissions.

Please see  NTFS Permissions On A File Server From Hell Saved By SetACL.exe & SetACL Studio for some tools that might help you out when you run into NTFS/ACL permissions and for parsing logs during this operation.

Here’s a useful Robocopy command to start out with:

ROBOCOPY L:\ V:\ /MIR /SEC /Z /R:2 /W:1 /V /TS /FP /NP /XA:SH /MT:16 /XD "System Volume Information" *RECYCLE* /LOG:"D:\RoboCopyLogs\MBR2GPTLUNL2V.txt"

3) Dump the existing shares on the old file sever into a text file for documentation an use on the new file server

Pre Windows Server 2012 the new SMB Cmdlets don’t work, but no fear, we have some other tools to use. Using NET SHARE does work and with you can also show the hidden and system share but the layout is a bit of a mess. I prefer to use.

Get-WmiObject –class Win32_Share > C:\temp\OldFileServerShares

It’s fast, complete and the layout is very user friendly. Which is what I need for easy use with PowerShell on the W2K12R2  file server. Some of you might say, what about the share security settings. 1) We’re going to cluster so exporting these from the registry doesn’t work and 2) you should have kept this plain vanilla and done security via the NFTS permissions on the folder structure only. But hey I’m a nice guy, so here’s a link to a community PowerShell script if you need to find out the share permissions: http://gallery.technet.microsoft.com/scriptcenter/List-Share-Permissions-83f8c419 I do however encourage you to use this time to consider just using security on NFTS.

4) Create the clustered file shares

Amongst the many gems in Windows Server 2012 R2 are the new SMB PowerShell Cmdlets. They are a simple and great way to create clustered files shares. Read up on these SMB Share Cmdlets and especially New-SmbShare

When we’ve unmapped the LUNs from the old file server and exposed them to the new file server cluster you’re ready to go. You can even reorganize the Shares, consolidate to less but bigger LUNs and, by just adapting the path to the share in the script make sure the users are not confused or nee to learn new shares and adapt how & what they connect to them. Here it goes:

New-SmbShare -Name "TEST2" -path "T:\Shares\TEST2" -fullaccess Everyone -EncryptData $True -FolderEnumerationMode AccessBased -ConcurrentUserLimit 0 -ScopeName TF-FS-MIG

First and foremost, this is where the good practice of not micro managing file hare permissions will pay back big time. If you have done security via NTFS permissions with AG(U)DLP principle to your folder structure granting should be breeze right?

Before you ask, no you can’t do the old trick of importing the registry export of the shares and their security settings form the old file server when you’re going to cluster the file shares. That might sound bad but with some preparation and the PowerShell I demonstrated above you’ll find it easy enough.

5) Recuperate old file server name (Optional)

After you have decommissioned the old file server you could use a cluster alias to keep the old file server UNC path. This has the drawback you will fall back to connecting to the SMB shares via NTLM as aliases don’t support Kerberos authentication. But there is another trick. Once you got rid of the old server object in AD you can rename. If you can do this you’ll be able to keep Kerberos for authentication.

So after you’ve gotten rid of the old server in Active Directory go to the file server role. Select properties and rename it to recuperate the old files server name.

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Now look at the resources tab. Right click and select the properties tab of “Server Name”. Rename the DNS Name. That will update the server name and the DNS record. This will cause the role to go down temporarily.

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Right click and select the properties tab of “File Server”. Rename the UNC path to reflect the older file server name.

image For good measure and to test everything works: stop and restart the cluster role, connect to the shares and voila live should be good. Users can access the transparent failover file server like they used to do with the old non cluster file server and they don’t sacrifice Kerberos to be able to do so!

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Conclusion

I hope you enjoyed the tips and pointers on migrating an old file server to a  Windows Server 2012 R2 file share cluster. Remember that these tips apply for various permutations of P2V, V2V as well as for P2P migrations.

DELL Has Great Windows Server 2012 R2 Feature Support – Consistent Device Naming–Which They Help Develop


The issue

Plug ‘n Play enumeration of devices has been very useful for loading device drivers automatically but isn’t deterministic. As devices are enumerated in the order they are received it will be different from server to server but also within the system. Meaning that enumeration and order of the NIC ports in the operating system may vary and “Local Area Connection 2” doesn’t always map to port 2 on the  on board NIC. It’s random. This means that scripting is “rather hard” and even finding out what NIC matches what port is a game of unplugging cables.

Consistent Device Naming is the solution

A mechanism that has to be supported by the BIOS was devised to deal with this and enable consistent naming of the NIC port numbering on the chassis and in the operating system.

But it’s even better. This doesn’t just work with on board NICs. It also works with add on cards as you can see. In the name column it identifies the slot in which the card sits and numbers the ports consistently.

In the DELL 12th Generation PowerEdge Servers this feature is enabled by default. It is not in HP servers for some reason, you need to turn in it on manually.

I first heard about this feature even before Windows Server 2012 Beta was released but as it turns out Dell has been involved with the development of this feature. It was Dell BIOS team members that developed the solution to consistently name network ports and had it standardized via PCI SIG.  They also collaborated with Microsoft to ensure that Windows Server 2012 would support all this.

Here’s a screen shot of a DELL R720 (12th Generation PowerEdge Server) of ours. As you can see the Consistent Device Naming doesn’t only work for the on broad NIC card. It also does a fine job with add on cards of which we have quite a few in this server.image

It clearly shows the support for Consistent Device Naming for the add on cards present in this server. This is a test server of ours (until we have to take it into production) and it has a quad 1Gbps Intel card, a dual Intel X520 DA card and a dual port Mellanox 10Gbps RoCE card. We use it to test out our assumptions & ideas. We still need a Chelsio iWarp card for more testing mind you Winking smile

A closer look

This solution is illustrated the in the “Device Name column” in the screen shot below. It’s clear that the PnP enumerated name (the friendly name via the driver INF file) and the enumerated number value are very different from the number in Name column ( NIC1, NIC2, NIC2, NIC4) even if in this case where by change the order is correct. If the operating system is reinstalled, or drivers changed and the devices re-enumerated, these numbers may change as they did with previous operating systems.

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The “Name” column is where the Consistent Device Naming magic comes to live. As you can see you are able to easily identify port names as they are numbered consistently, regardless of the “Device Name” column numbering and in accordance with the numbering on the chassis or add on card. This column name will NEVER differ between identical servers of after reinstalling a server because it is not dependent on PnP. Pretty cool isn’t it! Also note that we can rename the Name column and if we choose we can keep the original name in that one to preserve the mapping to the physical hardware location.

In the example below thing map perfectly between the Name column and the Device Name column but that’s pure luck.image

On of the other add on cards demonstrates this perfectly.image