Create your DB Server in the Cloud with Windows Azure

First of all I would like you to think of your response for below questions.

  1. Are you a Database administrator?

  2. Do you have headaches with hosting your own Database server?

  3. Are hosting providers giving you hard time with limited capacity and bandwidth?

Now if your answer is YES to all of above, I’m gonna show you that you don’t have to worry about that anymore. Windows Azure provides a powerful data platform called Windows Azure SQL Database (formerly SQL Azure) and it is a fully managed relational database service. It offers flexible manageability, built-in high availability,  predictable performance, and supports scaling. No matter whether your database requirement is small or large, Windows Azure provides excellent plans for dedicated database hosting in a scalable manner.

You can either create a Azure VM with SQL or use this service to manage your hosted databases. If you want to skip all the hassle with configuring a VM then this is your toy.I had a requirement to move a hosted SQL database to Azure. Well SQL is not my area of expertise so I thought it would be a nightmare. Guess what! I was totally wrong.

Here is what I’ve done to achieve this challenge. But keep in mind I did this by restoring the hosted database on on-premise SQL server as my service provider doesn’t support Azure. Also I had to re-create the user logins and mappings (If you your SQL it’s basically creating the users and giving them proper permissions as required). You can pretty much manage everything from SQL Management Studio (2012 only) and if you need to perform administrative tasks you can easily do them the Azure Management Portal itself.

WELL WHAT ABOUT THE COST?

Actually when I compared the cost with hosting providers, Azure seems to be in the middle, but the features and flexibility worth the pennies. You can find additional information from here about SQL Azure.

So join the club today and start using SQL in the cloud.

Build your Test Lab | Client Hyper-V

If you are by any chance a developer reading my blog, you know how painful it is to go after IT department begging for resources for your test lab. Guess what! Screw IT guys (Don’t take it hard on them. They are doing their best. Only problem is $$$$) with Windows 8 & Windows 8.1 you can build your own test lab using Client Hyper-V. Now I know this first hand because I face this problem daily with our development team and we had a awareness session recently on Client Hyper-V.

Client Hyper-V is same as Hyper-V server or Windows Server with Hyper-V role installed (of source with some limitations). All you have to do is enable Hardware Virtualization in you laptop/PC and enable the Hyper-V feature in the OS.

Following features from the Server version of Hyper-V is lack on the Client version.

  • Remote FX ability to virtualize GPUs
  • Live migration of VMs
  • Hyper-V Replica
  • SR-IOV networking
  • Virtual Fibre Channel

Now lets take a peek on how to do it in a proper way.

Pre-requisites

  1. A PC/laptop with a minimum of 4 GB RAM running on 64 bit version of Windows 8/8.1 Professional or Enterprise version (Yes this is a as it is requirement)
  2. 64 bit processor with Second Level Address Translation (SLAT)
  3. Hardware Virtualization support in the chipset. You can check this in your BIOS. Most of the modern motherboards have this feature and you can turn it on from BIOS setup. It should be something of a check box saying”enable Virtualization Technology  (VTx)”

Installation

  1. Enable Hardware Virtualization from your BIOS setup (Not so sure. Just Google it)
  2. Go to Control Panel > Programs and Features > Turn Windows Features on or off > Select Hyper-V and Click OK. You need to chosse both Hyper-V Management Tools & Hyper-V Platform. If you choose the management tools alone, you can only remotely administer Hyper-V host and cannot create any VMs on your PC.

AND THAT’S IT! NO MORE BUGGING.

Well you may still require to create a Virtual switch (External Virtual Switch is recommended in order to allow Internet access to your VMs) and associate vNICs of your VMs to that. Well here is a fully featured article from Canadian IT PRO connection blog that explains how to do it yourself. (A big thank you for them as well). Now take advantage of this cool feature from you Windows 8/8.1 PC/laptop and build your test lab in minutes.

One more thing.

More VMs = More Physical RAM + Disk Space

Obviously you need around 16 GB of RAM plus adequate disk space if you need couple VMs depending on your memory allocation. Also take a look at your CPU as well/ Better the CPU is better the performance of your VMs.

Introducing ExpressRoute | A safe passage to Windows Azure

Today I got an interesting e-mail from my boss which has caught my attention.  Microsoft has partnered with Equinix, AT&T and Level3 to deliver a new service offered by Windows Azure called ExpressRouteExpressRoute offers private, reliable and low latency connections between customers’ data centers and Azure. This is good news for those who willing to maximize the efficiency of their on-premise infrastructure while moving into the  hybrid cloud. Currently this is available only in US region as a preview feature.

With this new service, you have multiple ways of connecting to Azure.

  1. Aggregate your traffic over VPN connections at Equinix datacenters, or add Azure services to your MPLS VPN provided by AT&T.
  2. Level 3 offers traffic aggregation over a single hand-off or enable multiple locations to connect to Azure services as an extension of your MPLS VPN.

If you fear that your connections to the Microsoft Cloud over Internet is not secure and reliable you can use direct connections to Azure with this feature. Well folks isn’t it exciting news from Microsoft indeed?

References:

Windows Azure Hyper-V Recovery Manager

As a SysAdmin you are responsible for the protection of your data center. We are all comfy with traditional backups and DR methods with off-site backup infrastructure. But what happens if your secondary site caught up in a fire?  The worst case is you are running the whole data center in a private cloud. This gives us a good example of why we should backup our VMs to the cloud.

Windows Hyper-V Recovery Manager protects applications by coordinating the replication of virtual machines at a secondary location. It provides Hyper-V Replica asynchronous virtual machine replication capabilities in Windows Server and the Virtual Machine Manager component of system center and combines them with the power of Windows Azure to provide site-to-site protection of your virtual machines and private clouds. There are three key functions provided by this feature.

Automated Protection

Protection of VMs can be automated once configured. This integrates with Hyper-V replica and SCVMM technologies and delivers on going replication of VMs. Also all the work load data remains in your network which means they neither moved into or passes through Windows Azure.

Continuous Health Monitoring

Once automated protection is in place the Hyper-V Replica Manager monitors the health of VMs real-time with SCVMM. Keep in mind that only SCVMM servers can communicate directly with Azure.

Orchestrated Recovery

In an event of a failure, VMs can be recovered in an orderly fashion. You can predefine which VMs you need to recover first. You can create customized recovery workflow, store them in Azure and even test them before deploying.

How it works Windows Azure Recover Manager

If you have,

  • a secondary site
  • a SCVMM server
  • Unprotected workloads

Then Azure Recovery Manager is the best solution for your data center protection.

Resources

  1. Hyper-V Recovery Manager
  2. Configure Windows Azure Hyper-V Recovery Manager

Take your office to home with Work Folders

Windows Server 2012 R2 release has introduced the concept of Work Folders which is similar to the functionality of Dropbox or SkyDrive to corporate servers. Work folders is a file replication service which enables you to access your corporate files even when you are roaming or at home from your own device.

This feature is only supported in Windows 8.1/8.1 RT clienst yet but Microsoft is planning to introduce it to Windows 7, iPad and Android (may be) pretty much soon. The operation is pretty much simple. Work folders keep copies of files both in server and client, syncs the files when connected to the server. But keep in mind this feature doesn’t support web access or sharing like Dropbox which I think is clear, because you don’t wanna see your sensitive data in wrong hands.

This feature include the following functionality.

  • Data encryption capability and remote data wipe with Windows Intune
  • Security policies for PCs and devices (i.e encrypt lock folders and use a lock screen password)
  • High availability is possible with Failover clustering
  • Files can be accessed offline and will be synced with the central file server when the device is connected to the corporate network or Internet depending on the scenario

OK. What about the limitations and scope considerations on this one?

  • Work folders must reside in local storage of file servers.
  • Cannot sync arbitrary file shares. Users sync to their own folder on the file serve.r (e.g. you can’t sync sales file share to your device)
  • Doesn’t provide sharing & collaboration capabilities. Microsoft recommends using SkyDrive Pro if you need document collaboration features.

If you plan to deploy work folders in your environment, here is the comprehensive TechNet article on how to do it. You can refer the storage team blog article here if you need more insight.

See below video from BJTechNews on how to create work folders in Windows Server 2012 R2.

Migrating WSUS 3.2 to Windows Server 2012 R2

Couple months back  I was assigned a task to migrate our WSUS server which was running under W2k3 R2 to W2k12 R2. The existing WSUS server was 10+ years old and actually was installed in a Domain Controller (Don’t laugh at me. I didn’t do that). The challenge I had to face was migrate all the content along with approved updates. To be exact I worked on this for 4 days following every article I could find but each time I failed at approvals. Finally it was just a simple task (I was a fool to not look at TechNet) described as in here.

I’m gonna describe how I did it (just the facts, cut the crap)

Migrate WSUS update binaries

  1. Before starting the work, I stopped WSUS service and the synchronization schedule in the existing server.
  2. Installed WSUS role on the new server. At the end of the configuration wizard I’ve left the configuration for later. This is a  must.
  3. Then created a NT Backup task to the entire WSUS Backup content folder (in my case this was 97 GB+)
  4. As Windows Server 2008 onwards NT Backup is retired, I copied the NT Backup binaries from a W2k3 server and copied it to the 2012 server. It works just fine and from there I imported the backup to the new WSUS location.

Migrate WSUS security groups

I didn’t do anything specific in this step. All the users, groups and security permissions were exact same in my new setup. If you are not certain go ahead  and double check as described here.

Back up the WSUS database

This is the most important step. I’m not gonna fill all the details but you can see how to do it here. Remember you need to install SQL Server 2012 Management Studio in your new server as 2005 version is not supported in 2012. This is required for WSUS database import.

Final steps

  1. After completing the WSUS database migration, open up WSUS console in the new server. You may notice that approved updates along with rest (yes 97 GB+) are there.
  2. Configure the new WSUS server with exact same configuration (products, classifications, automatic approvals, sync schedule etc… ). Most of the items are already there as we imported the WSUS database but make sure everything is same.
  3. In my organization, we had group policy in place to define the WSUS server. I just had to change the host name to the new one.
  4. Start a manual synchronization in the new server. Once it is finished make sure that the sync is Succeeded.
  5. As you have change the WSUS server in the domain group policy, you may need to log off and log in to client computers or run a gpupdate /force. Alternatively follow the step in the TechNet article to manually detect a client computer.

At the end of the day I saved a huge amount bandwidth for my company with a minimum downtime. So now you can stop worrying about downloading everything from the beginning if you are planning to migrate your WSUS setup to Server 2012 R2.

Watch below video from MVA featuring Andrew McMurry on how to perform this.

Hyper-V Server 2012 R2 | Facts that matter

For those who have been working with Microsoft Virtualization platform, the free enterprise grade hypervisor is a valuable product for running VMs on the fly. The new version of Hyper-V Server has number of advantages compared to it’s  predecessor. If you take a look at the features of Windows Server 2012 R2 with Hyper-V role installed vs. free hypervisor there is no difference. That is all the features are exact same.

Now lets focus on why you should use the Hyper-V Server 2012 R2 for you virtualization platform.

Free forever

YES it’s free as in FREE BEER (the product). You’ll need to license only the VMs. If you are a developer or an IT PRO who just needs a host to run you test lab this is it.

Shared VHDX storage

Hyper-V 2012 R2 is capable of clustering virtual machines using shared virtual hard disk (VHDX) files. I you need high availability in your private cloud deployment for large workloads this feature enables multiple VMs to access the same same virtual hard disk (VHDX) file, providing Windows Failover Clustering. VHDX files can be stored in CSV or SMB 3.0 Scale-out file server shares. This is a new feature with this release.

GEN 2 VMs

2012 R2 provides two different platforms for your VMs. Generation 1 VMs  provides the same virtual hardware as in previous versions of Hyper-V while Generation 2 VMs provide new functionality such as,

  • Secure Boot (enabled by default)
  • Boot from a SCSI virtual hard disk
  • Boot from a SCSI virtual DVD
  • PXE boot by using a standard network adapter
  • UEFI firmware support

Important fact is that IDE drives and legacy network adapter support along with legacy hardware support has been removed in Generation 2 VMs. This way the boot up time for a typical VM has been increased by 90%. Not all Guest OS are supported in this architecture (only Windows Server 2012/2012 R2, Windows 8/8.1 x64 versions are supported). You can choose what generation of a VM you’ll need in the New VM creation wizard and once created you can’t change the generation of a VM.

Enhanced Session Mode

Hyper-V now allows you to use your local resources such as Display configuration, Audio, Printers, Clipboard, Smart cards,  Drives, USB devices and Supported Plug and Play devices to be redirected to a Virtual Machine Connection session. Yet again this feature only supports Windows Server 2012 R2 and Windows 8.1 client.

Storage Quality of Service

This enables you to specify the maximum and minimum I/O operations per second (IOPS) for each virtual disk in your virtual machines. This way you have a guarantee that one VHD doesn’t impact the performance of another on the same host.

You can download the free Hypervisor from here. If you are new to virtualization with Microsoft you can have an idea about what it is by going through the below TechNet article.

http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/hh831531.aspx

The era of physical machines has come to an end. Therefore get yourself familiarize with the virtualization before you become a LEGACY SysAdmin.

P.S Following is an interesting video about what’s new in Hyper-V 2012 R2 presented at TechEd 2013 North America featuring Rick Claus and Benjamin Armstrong.

OneDrive is coming

Microsoft has decided to re-brand their cloud storage offering “SkyDrive” to “OneDrive“. This was announced on January 27th and Microsoft states the transformation as,

“OneDrive name conveys the value we can deliver for you and best represents our vision for the future.”

The company hasn’t given an exact launch date yet. But we can expect this change to hit within next few weeks. Existing SkyDrive & SkyDrive PRO users will be automatically converted to the new name. Seems to me it would just be re-branding the existing service but Microsoft may surprise us with new features as they always do. I personally prefer SkyDrive over Google Drive because it’s much neat & pretty much easier to use.

You can find more information about this from OneDrive Blog. Enjoy the video from below.

Windows Server 2000 P2V with Disk2VHD

Nowadays lot of companies are moving to either private or public cloud to host their IT infrastructure. But at the end of the day sysadmins need to migrate the physical servers to VMs with less effort. In earlier editions of SCVMM this was possible but not with Systems Center 2012 R2.

Sysinternals suite provides a hassle free tiny tool called Disk2VHD to achieve this. This is actually a small exe file which will capture the physical hard disk volumes to VHDs and allows you to save them locally or into a network share.

Disk2vhd_v2.0In December 2013 Disk2VHD v2.0 has been released with support for VHDX format. But you need to keep in mind that in order to convert, the OS must support Windows’ Volume Snapshot. This is a must and it means that you can only convert from Server 2003/Windows XP onwards.

Then we come to the next BIG question. WHAT ABOUT MY WINDOWS SERVER 2000 SERVERS? Personally this was a headache for myself as well as I needed to do a P2V conversion for some Windows Server 2000 machines. After spending few hours in Google (Yes it was somewhere in a TechNet answer. If you couldn’t find it don’t worry) I found a simple trick to make it happen.

  1. Make sure that your grandpa server is running on W2K SP4.
  2. Shutdown the server and take off the hard disk.
  3. Install the hard disk on a computer with Windows XP (anything above that is OK too)
  4. Boot up the second computer and make a note of the new volumes.
  5. Download Disk2VHD exe from here
  6. Create VHDs as you want. You can save them to a local drive or if you have a fast network (from my experience 1 Gbps LAN connection would save a 40 GB hard disk in a matter of 15 minutes via network) you can use an existing shared folder. I still prefer to save to VHD format for Windows 2000.

Et voilà! Your old 2000 server is running on Hyper-V within a matter of minutes.

P.S : Installing guest additions for Windows Server 2000 SP4 is literally a NIGHTMARE unless you know your keyboard shortcuts in VM connection. Take a look at here for list of keyboard shortcuts which may come in handy.