Great Hardware Support Equals Fast Windows 2012 R2 Implementation


I love it when a plan comes together

We adopted Windows 2012 when right after it went RTM in august 2012. Today we’re are already running Windows 2012 R2 and ready to step up the pace. If you are a VAR/ISV that does not have fast & good support for Windows Server 2012 R2 consider this your notice. You can’t lead from behind. Get your act together and take an example from Altaro. Small, sure, but good & fast. How do we get our act together so fast? Fast? Yes, but it does take time and effort.

As it turns out, we’re pretty well of with the DELL hardware stack. The generation 11 and 12 servers are supported by DELL and on the Windows Server Catalog for Windows Server 2012 R2.

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For more information on Dell Server inbox driver support see: Windows Server 2012 R2 RTM Inbox Driver Support on Dell PowerEdge Servers. By the way I can testify that we’ve run Windows Sever 2012 R2 successfully on 9th Generation hardware (PowerEdge 1950/2950).

We’ve been running tests since Windows 2012 R2 Preview on R710/R720 and it has been a blast. We’ve kept them up to date with the latest firmware & drives via SUU. And for our Intel X520 and Mellanox ConnectX-3 we’ve had rapid support as well.

So what more could you want? Well support from your storage array vendor I would think. I’m happy to report that Storage Center 6.4 has been out since October 8th and it supports Windows Server 2012 R2. Dell Compellent Adds MLC SSD Tier – Bests 15K HDDs on Price and Performance. Mind you on a lazy Sunday afternoon 2 quick e-mails to CoPilot got me the answer that Storage Center 6.3.10 also supports Windows Server 2012 R2.  Sweet!

And that’s not just DELL, the Dell Compellent Storage Center 6.4 is fully Windows Server 2012 R2 logo certified! That’s what you want to see from you vendor. Fast & excellent support.

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Here’s the entire DELL hardware line up with Windows Server 2012 R2 support. Happy upgrading & implementation! If you have Software Assurance you’re set to reap the benefits of that investment today!

To my all employers / clients, you see now, told you so. Now, I have a thing in common with Col. Hannibal Smith, I love it when a plan comes together Open-mouthed smile.

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I know some of you think that all the testing, breaking, wrecking of Preview bits, RTM & GA versions we do looks like chaos. Especially when you visually add the test server & switch configurations. But that’s what it looks like to YOU. To the initiated this is well executed plan, dropping all assumptions, to establish what works & will hold up. The result is that we’re ready today and by extension, so are you.

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E2EVC Rome 2013–Attending & Speaking


I’m attending and speaking at the E2EVC (Experts2Experts Virtualization Conference) in Rome, November 1-3.

I’ll be doing a talk on networking features in Windows Server 2012 R2 & Hyper-V. The good, the bad & the ugly. And no, no SDN talk. It’s about the other stuff.

“Session Topic: Networking Options For Virtualization in Windows Server 2012 R2
Short description: In Windows 2012 R2 there are many networking options available to optimize for both speed & redundancy. Let’s talk about some of them and see where and when they can help. The biggest problem is thinking you need  all of them or wanting all of them. Others are knowledge& complexity. Join us for a chalk & talk discussing all this. Some fellow MVPs will be there and we all have different experiences in different environments.
Presenter: Didier Van Hoye, Microsoft MVP”

It will be an interactive chalk & talk based on testing & experiences with these features & demos if the internet holds up.

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It’s a suburb non-commercial, virtualization community Event. It brings the best real life  virtualization experts together to exchange knowledge and to establish new connections. Lots of presentations, Master Classes and discussions going on both the attendees, vendors product teams & independent experts.

Now this is a conference where marketing & marchitecture is shot down fast & hard. But always in a friendly way. These people are all working in the sector and they have to keep it real. They have a business & a livelihood that depends on them delivering results, not fairy tales & management pleasing BS. These people tell you what you need to know, not what you want to hear.

Look at the turnout for this event, this twitter list reads as the “Who’s Who In Virtualization”: @pcrampton, @joe_elway, @shawnbass, @ThomasMaurer, @Andrea_Mauro, @hansdeleenheer, @drtritsch, @WorkingHardInIT, @HelgeKlein, @JimMoyle, @neilspellings, @andyjmorgan, @KBaggerman, @CarlWebster, @bsonposh, @gilwood_cs, @E2EVC, @KristianNese, @_POPPELGAARD, @barryschiffer, @RemkoWeijnen, @IngmarVerheij, @WilcovanBragt, @david_obrien, @Microspecialist, @virtualfat, @LFoverskov, @virtuEs_IT, @stibakke, @granttiller, @Easi123, @ChrisJMarks, @arbeijer, @znackattack, @ShaunRitchie_UK, @Rob_Aarts, @StefanKoell, @EHouben, @crachfahl, @JeroenTielen, @plompr, @Gkunst, @drmiru, @espenbe, @marcdrinkwater, @DocsMortar, @AlBayliss, @wedelit, @pzykomAtle, @LoDani, @fborozan, @JeffWouters, @mrpickford, @smspasscode, @schose, @rvanderkruk, @TimmBrochhaus, @HansMinnee, @JZanten, @Sargola, @JaspervanWesten, @airdeca_nl, @danielBuonocore, @PeppelT, @TondeVreede, @pcortis, @ConorScolard, @CarstenDreyer, @arnaud_pain, @RoyTextor, @saschazimmer, @abstrask, @loopern, @PulseITch, @joarleithe, clarecoops9, @rfolmer, @wimoortgiesen  …

Here’s the conference agenda: http://www.e2evc.com/home/Agenda.aspx

See you there Smile and I’m looking forward to seeing my community buddies!

Windows Server 2012 R2 Virtual RSS (vRSS) In Action


The Need For Speed

My clients or employers are normally into lots of data, large files &  number crunching. That means they like CPU power, memory, bandwidth & IOPS. That doesn’t mean they want to spend fortunes but it does mean I got a standing order to get every last ounce of optimization and efficiency out of commodity hardware.

Today that means we prefer to work with DELL generation 12 servers like the R620 & R720 which are the best possible value for money you can get. They deliver all features in box at no extra cost / licensing crap and they can be fine tuned and optimized for top performance. Windows Server 2012 R2 can handle loads higher than the hardware today can throw at it so you want all you can get without breaking the bank. Add Intel X520/540, Mellanox (RoCE) or Cheslio (iWarp) 10Gbps cards and you’re ready to rumble with some nice PowerConnect 81XX Series or even the Force10 S4810 10Gbps switches.

CPU Power is not an issue, just bring money. You have 8-12 core CPUs. You can scale up to 4 socket systems & scale out as well. Licensing is probably your biggest concern here due to cost.

Memory?  DDR3 is readily available and compared to other costs cheap. DDR4 is on the way. For max performance you possibly won’t do Dynamic Memory to avoid a NUMA hit but otherwise it helps with efficiencies.

Network. We’ll you’ve seen/heard/read me on topics like 10Gbps, RDMA/SMB Direct, (Dynamic VMQ) but today we’ll look at virtual RSS. In Windows Server 2008 R2 VMQ helped us beyond the scalability issues of a single core on the host having to handle all interrupts for the traffic going the virtual machines. In Windows 2012 that got optimized with Dynamic VMQ. For workloads that need the absolute best performance & lowest latency we got SR-IOV support. That works fine but it has some potentially important draw backs on bot the manageability (NIC teaming needs to be done inside the guest) & security front (it bypasses the virtual switch, so no ACLs or NVGRE).

Today with Windows 2012 R2 we have a new optimization for network traffic in a virtual environment. It’s “Virtual RSS” or vRSS. I tell you it’s sweet and you’d do well to investigate this and enable it in your environment especially if, like we, you move lots of data around & virtualization is default. We don’t do physical unless for very strict reasons, i.e. it cannot be virtualized. Otherwise … no excuses, the economics and benefits are just to good not to do so. It’s not as supper low latency as SR-IOV but depending on your needs you might never notice and … it plays nicely with all other network features in Hyper-V.

Show me vRSS already!

Inside the guest we see vRSS in action as multiple cores are put in to action to handle the interrupts of incoming traffic. This takes away the single vCPU bottle neck.

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And the result is a sweet 17.2Gbps from VM1 to VM2. For the sharp eyed ones amongst you, they are on the same host so yes in this case we get top bandwidth as the traffic doesn’t have to go across the wire over the 2*10Gbps NIC team but stays within the same host or better, vSwitch.

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The GUI is very friendly and suggest I can go to 100Gbps networking hardware Smile Well, not yet I’m afraid, but I’ve taken note Winking smile.

Here’s what it looks like when the sending and receiving VM are on different hosts and the vSwitch is connected to a 2*10Gbps team, switch independent, dynamic mode. You “only” get 10Gbps as the team can send on all members but receive on only one. But that’s still fine.

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So how this look like on the host?

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Here you see Dynamic VMQ in action. To prevent one core of becoming overloaded the host puts more of them into service. This depends on the load and it’s dynamic. Hence Dynamic VMQ. Where VMQ was great it still a limiting factor as you used to be tied to one core / VM.

This means that our network traffic processing is no longer limited by the OS or better the use of a single core, both inside the VM and on the host. Our bottleneck now is the maximum throughput the NICs can deliver. In our 2 member NIC team that’s 20Gbps max under the right circumstances. Yup. Line speed. Need more? Throw 40Gbps NICs at the problem or even 100Gbps pretty soon. Windows Server 2012 R2 is ready for this.

Sharing the wealth

Now to make sure a bunch of these VMs on your cluster don’t starve the rest of the VM population with their greed for and lust after bandwidth you have the option of using Bandwidth management on the VM NIC.

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This is one of the cases where this option can be very useful.

VM mobility without boundaries

Also consider this capability and this type of high workloads combined while leveraging SMB Direct. This offloads the processing of CSV traffic,  Live Migration, Shared Nothing Live Migration and under certain conditions Storage Live Migration to the NIC by leveraging RDMA.  In other words it doesn’t tax your host CPUs. This means you can have these kinds of network traffic loads going on and still live migrate at will. Scalable VM mobility anyone? You’ll understand what tremendous network loads the combination Windows Server 2012 R2 Hyper-V host & guests can handle.

It’s virtualization, not magic

OK, time for a little reality check, just in case it’s needed. Virtualization is technology, not magic. For all of you “thinking” they can push 20GBps into 20 VMs simultaneously on single host over just a single Team of 2 *10Gbps … ah well, get real Smile OK?

Teaser

I can talk about the benefits of vRSS all day and show you some more screenshots but I’m working on “vRSS, The Movie’”.  Perhaps even a sequel already.

Update Your KMS Service Key To Activate Windows Server 2012 R2 And Windows 8.1


It’s a great day as Windows Server 2012 R2 and Windows 8.1 bits have gone GA (“General Availability”). So it’s of to the Volume License Servicing Center to get the bits and the keys.

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Before we start the roll out we need to either bring up a Windows Server 2012 R2 (or Windows 8.1) KMS host or upgrade the existing one that runs Windows Server 2012 or lower. In this example our KMS Service is running on Windows Server 2008 R2 so we need to do a couple of things.

Install the following update: KB 2885698: Update adds support for Windows 8.1 and Windows Server 2012 R2 clients to Windows Server 2008, Windows 7, Windows Server 2008 R2, Windows 8, and Windows Server 2012 KMS hosts (see Windows Server 2012 R2 & Windows 8.1 KMS Service Activation).  If you don’t install this hotfix registering a Windows Server 2012 R2 KMS key will throw an error:

0xc004f015: The Software Licensing Service reported that the license is not installed.
SL_E_PRODUCT_SKU_NOT_INSTALLED

So grab the hotfix and install it from an elevated command prompt. Just follow the instructions and you’ll be fine Smile

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Once you’ve clicked “Yes” the installation will start

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When the installation has finished you will be asked to restart the server. You need to do so. Just restarting the KMS service ("net stop sppsvc" and "net start sppsvc") doesn’t seem to suffice.

When your server comes back up you’ll be ready to install and activate the Windows Server 2012 R2 KMS key.

First we take a look at the current situation:

slmgr.vbs /dlv => clearly the Windows 2012 KMS key
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Uninstall the current KMS key using slmgr.vbs /upk, please use an elevated command prompt Winking smile

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Now you can install the new Windows 2012 R2 KMS key. If you run in to any issues here, restarting the KMS Service can help (("net stop sppsvc" and "net start sppsvc") . Try that first.

slmgr.vbs /ipk PIRAT-ESARE-NOTGE-TTING-AKEY!

Be patient, it’s not instantaneous.

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The key listed here is for all you wannabe pirates out there, sorry, this is the navy. If you’re, looking for illegal keys, cracks, keygens, activators or dodgy KMS virtual machine for Windows  8.1 activation and such this is not the place Winking smile.

You now need to activate your brand new KMS key running slmgr.vbs /ato

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Show what’s up and running now by running slmgr.vbs /dlv again and as you can see we’re in business to activate all our Windows Server 2012 R2 and Windows 8.1 hosts. I’m happy to report that our users will be enjoying Windows 8.1 on the clients in 2014 & the infrastructure in the data center will be benefiting form the goodness Windows Server 2012 R2 brings.

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Windows Server 2012 R2 & Windows 8.1 KMS Service Activation


As with all new versions of Windows since 2008 / Vista we need to set up the KMS (Key Management Service) to support the newest versions. Our KMS servers are running on Windows Server 2012 now. But perhaps yours are still running on a Windows Server 2008, 2008 R2 or even a Windows 7 or Windows 8 host That’s not a problem.

Microsoft just released KB 2885698 Update adds support for Windows 8.1 and Windows Server 2012 R2 clients to Windows Server 2008, Windows 7, Windows Server 2008 R2, Windows 8, and Windows Server 2012 KMS hosts 

This update extends the Key Management Service (KMS) for Windows Vista, Windows Server 2008, Windows 7, Windows Server 2008 R2, Windows 8, and Windows Server 2012 to enable the enterprise licensing of Windows 8.1 and Windows Server 2012 R2.
KMS provides support for the following KMS client activations:

  • Windows Vista
  • Windows Server 2008
  • Windows 7
  • Windows Server 2008 R2
  • Windows 8
  • Windows Server 2012
  • Windows 8.1
  • Windows Server 2012 R2

KMS uses a KMS host key to activate itself on a KMS host and to establish a local activation service in your environment. This update extends support for KMS to provide activation for Windows 8.1 and for Windows Server 2012 R2.

Just grab the package you need via the links in this KB article.

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Install it before you update the KMS key to avoid any error thrown at you. When our KMS keys are available I’ll be doing an upgrade and will blog about it. For now you can read how this went for us with Windows Server 2012 here.

UPDATE: Well Windows Server 2012 R2 has gone GA on October 17th 2013 and you can read about updating the KMS Service key for that and Windows 8.1 right here.

KMS Client Setup Keys For Windows Server 2012 R2 & Windows 8.1

For those of you looking for the client setup keys; you can find them here:
http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/jj612867.aspx as they have already been added to our trusted Appendix A: KMS Client Setup Keys in the Volume Activation documentation on TechNet.

Automatic Virtual Machine Activation With Windows Server 2012 R2 Datacenter

One more thing. If you’re doing lots of virtualization in various scenarios please take note of Automatic Virtual Machine Activation. Basically this means that your VMs will automatically activate if you’ have the hosts activated properly. Just one more improvement that will make live a bit easier for legal use in certain scenarios. I support that 100%. I just don’t like it when I, the paying customer, have to jump through hoops. I like it when I get great service, easily accessible. Compare it to shopping in  a supermarket. Make it to hard for the paying customers to fend of theft and you’ll see them leave for place where there are more welcome and have a better experience.

Upgrading Firmware Of Mellanox RoCE Cards for Final Windows Server 2012 RDMA Testing


Upgrading Mellanox Firmware

As we are preparing to roll out Windows Server 2012 R2 we are also updating the Mellanox cards we have. At the moment of writing the final driver & firmware for Windows Server 2012 R2 isn’t out yet, but let’s take a look at the process so you’re ready for prime time. If you need the latest public Mellanox driver for Windows Server 2012 R2 it’s here. Installing the driver is a straight forward process (upgrading servers with Mellanox drivers in place has been an issue however).

Mellanox provides good documentation on their site (http://www.mellanox.com/page/firmware_HCA_FW_identificationhttp://www.mellanox.com/page/firmware_NIC_FW_update) but for Mellanox newbies & many Windows server admins the process might be a bit more hands on than via a single installer they are used to.

What do you need?

The Windows Mellanox Firmware Tools (WinMFT). This gives you all the tools you need to get the job done.

It helps us with two things: find out Card ID and using that we can determine the PSID (Board ID) which tells us what firmware we need to down load.

The Win MFT tools are also used to burn the firmware.

Practical Tip 1: I have found that it pays to launch the installers Mellanox provides from an elevated command prompt as other wise UAC might trip up some clean finalization of a launched msi. The driver installer is more sensitive to this that the firmware installer.

Practical Tip 2: I you have OEM Mellanox cards from DELL/ HP/IBM … and they haven’t released the new firmware yet you can always burn your own. Please find the instructions here.

Walkthrough

I have a Windows Server 2012 R2 RTM running and I already installed the latest beta drivers I could find on the Mellanox site. But I’m a firmware version behind. So let’s fix this.

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I put all the files I need in one handy spot

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I launch an elevated command prompt

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And from there I lauch the WinMFT installer

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Just follow the instructions. image

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Now you’re ready to determine the Device ID of your Mellanox card. From that same elevated command prompt navigate to C:\Program Files\Mellanox\WinMFT and run mst status

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Grab the Device ID (marked in green) and execute following command:

flint -d /dev/mst/mt4099_pci_cr0 query

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The Board ID (marked in yellow) is actually the PSID (more information here) will tell you what firmware to download from the Mellanox site). By the way, note this also tells you the current firmware.

You download the firmware from http://www.mellanox.com/page/firmware_download by selecting the card you have. In my case a ConnectX®-3 EN PCI-Ex Network Interface Cards (Ethernet Only NICs) and is use the Board ID to find my download.

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All that’s left to do is burn the firmware image by executing the following command:

flint -d /dev/mst/mt4099_pci_cr0  -i C:\SysAdmin\Mellanox\Firmware\fw-ConnectX3-rel-2_30_3000-MCX312A-XCB_A2-A6-3.4.142_EN.bin burn

This requires you to confirm by typing in “y” and you can follow the process via a counter.image

When done you’ll need to reboot the server I order for the new firmware to actually get used. You can verify success by running the command again or by checking the information tab of you cards configuration settings. As you can see we’re running 2.30.3000 now.

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So here you go. You might need to do this again after October 18th 2013 but you’re ready for now and all the testing you do is on the latest version of both the driver and the firmware. Happy testing!