Sunday, August 31, 2008

Applying XenServer Updates

I've been playing with the XenServer 4.1 product on a low end spare server I have laying around. To it's credit XenServer is the only one the big three hypervisors that will run on this Pentium D 820 server, as Hyper-V requires DEP, 64bit and processor side virtualization, and ESX3i requires specific approved hardware to function. Granted, without the processor virtualization assistance, XenServer is limited to deploying Linux guests only, it's still enough to be able to play with the interface and deploy some basic machines.

While not a complex and deep as VMware Update Manager, I am impressed with Citrix's simple "just the servers" approach to patching. While we are deploying VMware Update Manager to handle the ESX hosts, I can't see us ever using the guest patching capabilities, nor could I see any large organization doing so. In my opinion , most large IT shops won't want to maintain a separate update process for virtual machines and a separate update process for physical machines, despite the ability to roll back changes and other benefits of VMware Update Manager.

One of the best features of Citrix's product is their "Check For Updates" launcher. It gives you a clear view of what updates you already have, and which updates you should apply. Along with the download links are links to the patch notes. While it is much more rudimentary than VMware Update Manager, I appreciate the simplicity.


The Citrix patching utilities obviously don't compare with VMware Update Manager, but they certainly have the advantage over the VMware patching website. :


I found the deployment of the updates once they were downloaded to be incredibly simple, and the updater to be intelligent when it came to evaluating the server receiving the patches. It first attempted to evaluate moving the guest to another host, which was impeded by the fact I only have one server. Once it realized there were no migration options, it suspended the VM while applying the update and rebooting. After communication was re-established with XenCenter, the guest was resumed automatically. End to end, a pretty simple and intelligent process.

I hope VMware and Citrix (as well as Microsoft) are learning from each other, and improving their products based on their competitors strengths and weaknesses. I would like to see VMware implement a "simple" host updater into a future version of VirtualCenter. I will also be watching to see if XenCenter implements some of the more advanced features of VMware Update Manager directly into XenCenter.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

PowerShell for VMware

Rich over at VM/ETC just posted a great bunch of links to various PowerShell scripts that he has run across in his Internet travels, as well as some links on learning the PowerShell scripting language.

One other link I had planned on posting as well was one from the Planet VMware blog : Managing VMware with PowerShell Webinar

I expect that the VMware Developer Center's PowerShell scripting contest should yield many interesting new VMware PowerShell scripts once it's finished.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Free Microsoft Training - How Cool is That ?

Have you been waiting for an introduction to the some of the newer Microsoft technologies?  Wait no longer,  Microsoft Learning has something prepared for you,  assuming you have a few hours to spare.  

Microsoft is branding them as clinics,  but I think the name doesn't do them justice.    They are interactive and engaging combinations of video presentations, demos, interactive content, and quizzes.   Now I wouldn't recommend them as study guides for the MCITP exams,  but they are definitely not "fifty thousand foot view" marketing slides either.   Most of them appear to have a 90 day subscription, so if you don't have 2 whole hours to spend, you can chip away at it a little at a time.  

Clinic 5935: Introducing Hyper-V in Windows Server 2008
Clinic 5938: Introducing Terminal Services Presentation Virtualization in Windows Server®2008
Clinic 5936: Introducing Security and Policy Management in Windows Server® 2008
Clinic 5939: Introducing Server Management in Windows Server®2008
Clinic 5937: Introducing Branch Office Management in Windows Server®2008

To review all the free clinics available from Microsoft click the link below.   There's a large variety of content available at the best possible price.   I suspect some of the material is only free temporarily,  so don't wait too long to give it a try.
Microsoft Learning - Free Content

They also appear to be releasing a large amount of content for a $39 usd per two hours of content price point as well.   I plan on giving a couple a try and assessing whether they are still a great value at $39.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

VMware Joins the SVVP

In a letter from the CEO of VMware today it was announced that VMware is in the Server Virtualization Validation Program. I'm fairly sure they weren't on the list yesterday when I checked. This officially ends any ambiguity of whether you will be fully supported using VMware with Microsoft products.

VMware in the SVVP is a great win for them, but I don't think it dulls Microsoft's new advantage of having the only virtualization platform that is guaranteed not to have to be reproduced on physical hardware.

You can read VMware's statement here :
The Console : VMware is in the SVVP

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

One Small Press Release for Microsoft, One Giant Leap for Virtualization

Microsoft made a major annoucnement today regarding the licensing and support of their products in the virtual environment, and even threw a curveball in one of the linked kb article.

First up, the shift in licensing policy. previously Microsoft licensing was tied to server named instances, with a single move permitted every 90 days. This announcement seems to be suggesting a move toward capacity on demand. The other part of the announcement was a brief explanation of the much longer new Microsoft whitepaper on licensing on virtual hardware, found here: Microsoft Server Products in Virtual Environments I didn't find anything too surprising in the document.

The other half of the announcement was an explanation of what the SVVP is, and how it is going to help you when you need to call Microsoft for support. The SVVP is the Server Virtualization Validation Program. Similar to the move by Citrix to expands the ranks of it's application ISV partners, Microsoft has created a program to enhance cooperation among TSanet members with a focus on virtualization. The cost of entry is not too bad, as they are requiring a TSanet membership (this appears to be $1500 annually), and $250 per virtualized configuration. It will not be a logo program, but rather a list of certified vendors and applications maintained by Microsoft. I think this will help reduce finger pointing between application vendors that are members, but it is not a seismic shift in policy, as Microsoft still reserves the right to require a virtual instance to be reproduced outside of the 3rd party virtualization environment. Some industry heavyweights have already joined the program, including the expected such as Citrix and Cisco, and at least one surprise, Sun Microsystems.

Now for the curveball. It was very subtle, hidden in the kb article associated with the press release. I don't know if you noticed that when I mentioned reproducing a problem, I didn't say "on physical hardware". Microsoft has announced that you now have the choice of reproducing the problem on physical hardware *or* in Hyper-V. Now, that is a brilliant move by Microsoft, that may lead to beachheads of Hyper-V in otherwise pure VMware or XenServer shops.

Citrix Throws Down the Gauntlet

How many times have you heard "I don't know if my application works in Citrix?", or XenServer, VMware, Windows 2003...and so on.

Usually getting on the approved list involves heavy investment, and a good relationship between the companies involved in the agreements. Definitely not something your smaller or more specialized application vendors can afford, or in some case have any interest in. This usually leads to testing in our corporate environments. I have even had application vendors go as far as request documentation on how we installed their product, so they could market their product as having a Citrix install procedure.

Citrix has thrown down the gauntlet with a new approach, which will get all of us out of the business of providing functionality testing for vendor applications in our environments. Citrix is now offering a free partnership level, which provides access to Citrix testing labs for 3-7 days.

I applaud this move, and I would love to see other vendors adopt this approach.

Read more about this announcement at :

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

That's Why They Call It the Bleeding Edge...

As almost anyone running VMware must already know - VMware had a major bug in ESX 3.5 Update 2. I find it surprising that anyone is already running this update in production, as it was just released on 7/25.

My company was not affected, because we have a "forum vetting" policy for all new non security related updates. It's an unwritten rule that we always wait at least a month before progressing any major update, and we thoroughly check the company forums and non company sources for experiences that might be similar to what we will experience. This policy has paid dividends on the rare occasion when a major release has suffered issues. Using this method, we were able to avoid major issues with Windows 2003 SP1 and the some of the HP service packs and firmware in the past. By no means am I advocating using the internet as the sole source for testing, but it certainly is valuable as an additional check.

I have to give credit to VMware despite the circumstances today, as they are on top of making people aware of the issue. We received a call from our assigned SE this morning alerting us to the issue. Some issues are unavoidable, I'm just glad VMware handles them in the correct way.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Virtualization Certification Trifecta

For a long time, there was only one player in the Virtualization certification market - VMware with their VCP. I was waiting for them to broaden their certification beyond the initial certification, so I was please to see the announcement of the VCDX program.

VMware is no longer the only one in the virtualization certification race, as Citrix has released their Xen CCA, and Microsoft is preparing a virtualization certification as well.

So how do those certification programs compare in difficulty and return on investment?

Let's start with the first program out of the gate - the VCP.
  • Difficulty: I found this certification to not be incredibly difficult for people that have spent a good amount of time with VMware, and have had access to the official training materials. This certification has some "paper certification" protection in the sense that to be a VCP you must have completed some form of official training. I'm not sure I completely agree with this requirement, as I have seen some passionate fans of the product being held back by the lack of training budget.
  • Return on Investment: Very high in my opinion, but I think that large company HR departments aren't looking for the VCP yet , it seems to be more the consulting companies specializing in Virtualization that know to ask. A quick search of found 96 of the 1547 VMware jobs in the US looking for a VCP. Just for a point of reference - a search for MCSE found 1801 results. Here's an interesting article on the value of the VMware certification:
Now the VMware VCDX - of course the tests are not fully released so this is all speculation based on the announcements that were made.
  • Difficulty: I think this will be the king of Virtualization certifications for the near future. I think that for the rest of 2008 and probably well into 2009 there will be less than 1000 of them. I think the most difficult part for the majority of people will be the Submission of a successful VMware Infrastructure design plan.
  • Return on Investment : I think this will be very high for high end consulting jobs, and elite enterprise customers - I don't see it being a big draw for the average job. Oddly enough - there are already 4 jobs from looking for the certification. The VMware Enterprise Administration exam is just being released this month.

Citrix CCA in XenServer - They appear to have recently released a new revision of this exam - A02 that is focused on the XenServer Enterprise Edition 4.1 product.

  • Difficulty : While I have not taken this exam (yet), from the material available it appears to be very similar to the VCP in difficulty level, without the requirement to take the training class that tends to restrict some people.
  • Return on Investment : Hard to say. It appears to be a niche skill right now, and most of the people that are actually looking for Xen on are actually VMware consulting companies. I found no jobs looking for Xen CCAs It is possible that companies are training up internally rather than searching for external talent.

Microsoft's 70-652 Technical Specialist : Windows Server Virtualization, Configuring. The test is planned to be released this August. (link courtesy of Mark Bradley)

  • Difficulty: Based purely on the published exam objectives, I would place the difficulty somewhere between VCP/Xen CCA and VCDX. I think anyone with a background in Windows clustering will tend to have a advantage on this exam.
  • Return on Investment : Time will tell. There are already 16 jobs on looking for Hyper-V and the Microsoft marketing machine is only getting started. I think the strength of Microsoft name and marketing arm will drive the value of this certification very quickly.
I would definitely like to go for the trifecta of Virtualization Certification, with a VCP, XenServer CCA, and a MS TS in Hyper-V. Having a little product diversity never hurt the resume.

I would be interested to hear other people's opinion on the value of the various certifications, so feel free to leave a comment, I would be especially interested to hear from my new readers in the UK and Australia as to how you see the value of the various certifications in your local job markets.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Learning from Idiots...ITidiots that is.

A good friend of mine, Mark Bradley introduced me to a trio of video podcasters from the UK who are collectively referred to as the ITidiots.

Their HD feed is located at :

As you can see to the lower right of my blog, I have added an RSS feed of their latest episodes in HD. I find them very entertaining and informative on a wide range of subjects, including certification. Anyone who is still chasing their 2003 MCSE should check through their back catalog of episodes - especially on DHCP, DNS and their 5 part review of the dreaded Microsoft 70-290 exam. They may not go into tremendous depth, but it definitely a enough to get your feet wet in a subject you may not have previously known. Mark has mentioned that the forums are very interactive, and they gather some of their subjects from user input.

In case you prefer the regular definition episodes - here is there feed for that:

They also have a show specifically about the Mac - but that is against my beliefs, so you'll have to go to their website at for more information on that subject.

Think you're ready for a Microsoft Cluster Assessment? - Part 2

In part one, I discussed some of the technical things I learned from our latest Microsoft Cluster Assessment ( In the second part I am going to discuss some of the less tangible aspects of the assessment.
So Microsoft breaks it the operational aspects into three major categories

  • Supportability and Best Practices
  • Recovery Best Practices
  • Nodes, Cluster and Site Recovery Procedures
  • The bottom line of all these items: Documentation.

One of the things Microsoft stressed was a cluster build document for each type of cluster. In general we had always built clusters like IKEA furniture - i.e.

  • Assemble component A (the operating system)
  • Assemble component B (Windows Clustering ),
  • Assemble component C (SQL )
  • Combine them into one big happy set of clustered servers.

Microsoft recommends having end to end documentation for each type of cluster you build, rather than a modular documentation set.

There is also a heavy focus on Disaster Recovery, if you don't have any DR or BCM plans, prepare to see quite a bit of red on your final assessment.