Category Archives: Technology

Windows 7 is OK

I’ve been playing around with Windows 7 for a few weeks now.  I have tried to concentrate on features and configuration because I want to understand how it works, and how Microsoft intends some features to work.  Windows 7 is Vista with a new taskbar and some reaaranged menus. 

I like:

  • I like how quickly it installs and boots, though I wonder if it will load as quickly after I install some apps. 
  • I like the search feature.  It works well. 
  • The “Library” is a good idea, though I bet it’s going to trick some users at first. 
  • I also like all the new tools that have been added to the software like powercfg -energy.
  • I like how customizable the appearance is.

I don’t like:

  • That I can’t open multiple windows by clicking on an icon in the taskbar.  It works if I hold shift.  That’s very annoying.
  • Jumplists are meh.
  • Features that Microsoft considers major innovations like “Snap” , “Shake“, and “Aero Peek” (which is borderline useless) that are nothing more than minor additions to old technology.
  • XP mode only works with machines that have very specific hardware “virtualization” features.
  • That’s it not much of an improvement over Vista and the classic Windows platform.
  • Microsoft’s online “tutorials” and “walk-throughs” are WEAK, and disorganized, and really frustrating!!!

What does that mean for my companyand I?  An upgrade is likely in the works….  Windows XP is going out of support in a few years (though none of my current HW will be around then).  I want to get off of the old Windows XP platform and so does the IT management in my company.  Users feel like we’re “Out of date” on the desktop and Office (they don’t buy that Office 2007 is the latest version).  This put together with a Microsoft “Enterprise Licensing Agreement” means that we’re moving forward with Windows 7.  I plan to post about my experience with Windows 7 and the upgrade.

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InfoWorld: The MacBook Air is the Starbucks laptop

I just read the InfoWorld review of the Macbook Air.  It’s a good review if you’re considering a MacBook Air.  Here’s the bottom line.  The MacBook Air is a great laptop for showing off at Starbucks and basic computing.  Otherwise, buy something more substantial.  Here’s the two quotes that should tell you if you should consider buying a MacBook Air.

“It’s unfair to classify the MacBook Air as a laptop. It’s not, unless you’re Mini Me. It’s an ultraportable, along the lines of the Sony Vaio TZ, though it has a larger screen than the Vaio. It’s also faster and cheaper.”

“I figured the best place to work with the Air would be a coffee shop, which is essentially its native environment.”

 Want one?  Apple Store

Where do the candidates stand on technology? Most of them won’t tell you.

It’s extremely important for IT guys and gals to understand where the candidates stand on technology issues.  I am going to link to each of their technology pages here.  Overall, I am disappointed with the lack of focus on technology.  The Democrats are much better than the Republicans.  All of the Democrats except Kucinich make a mention of technology or “innovation.”  Barack Obama is the only candidate to feature technology as an issue on his website.  Mitt Romney is the only Republican to have information about technology on his website, but it’s not an issues page.  I linked to it anyway.  Have a look:

Democrats

Republicans

  • Mitt Romney: http://www.mittromney.com/News/In-The-News/TechCrunch (Interview with TechCrunch) 
  • Rudolph Giuliani: I can’t find anything obvious or through search.  Did somebody say 9/11?
  • Mike Huckabee: I can’t find anything obvious or through search.
  • Duncan Hunter: I can’t find anything obvious or through search.
  • John McCain: I can’t find anything obvious or through search.
  • Ron Paul: I can’t find anything obvious or through search.
  • Fred Thompson: I can’t find anything obvious or through search.

Based on whether the candidates feature technology, Obama and Romney are the leaders for their party.  Obama is the only candidate to feature technology as an issue, so he is the leader.  If you can find information that should be added, let me know.

I upgraded from ESX 3.0.2 to ESX 3.5 and it was a pain.

I upgraded our ESX servers over the Christmas break.  I had to install a new ESX server, so I took the opportunity to upgrade the rest of our environment.  It was a pain in the ass.  There were a few bugs that caused me problems.  Details below:

I decided to wipe the ESX servers and install 3.5 fresh from the CD.  I did the upgrade from 2.5.2 to 3.0.1 this way and it worked well.  I upgraded the Virtual Center server from 2.0 to 2.5.

VMotion caused me a lot of problems.  I was not able to ping the VMotion port after the upgrade.  This happened to varying degrees on all of the servers.  The last server was the worst.  It was driving me crazy.  I had enabled VMotion and named it properly.  It just would not work.  Eventuall I called support.  They ran vmkping to the IP address of the VMotion port on the server while I pinged the IP address from my workstation.  This seemed to magically enable the VMotion port.  Running just vmkping or just ping didn’t work.  The combination of the two worked for some bizarre reason.

“No Active Primaries” message when I tried to add a server to the Cluster.  This one perplexed me for a while.  It comes from the way clustering works.  Clustering doesn’t work perfectly in mixed 3.0/3.5 environments.  The first server added to a cluster is considered the “primary.”  When I initially created the cluster, ESX1 (server name) was the first server in the cluster.  When I did the upgrade, I took ESX 1 out of the cluster.  It didn’t pass the role of “primary” onto one of the other servers.  So when I tried to add ESX1 back into the cluster, it gave me the “No Active Primaries” error.  I fixed this by removing all of the servers from the cluster and adding them back in.  This thread pointed me towards a solution:  http://communities.vmware.com/message/701671;jsessionid=AA7526EEA3E0EE5EAFAFDB7A761815ED

“Unable to read partition information from this disk”: I got an error like this when I was installing ESX on a machine attached to a SAN with raw drive mappings.  I disconnected the server from the SAN and started the installation over just to be safe.  A good piece of advice… Always disconnect the server from the SAN when you are reinstalling ESX.  There is a decent possibility that you’ll accidentally overright your LUN’s.

 I had some other general problems, but nothing too serious.  Let me know if you have any questions or issues that I can help with.

Must read blog for the 2008 election season

If you’ve read my About Me page, you know that one of my interests is politics.  I’ve found a blog that’s is the best of both worlds for a politics loving geek like me.  It’s called techPresident.  Here’s what they say about themselves:

TechPresident was started by Andrew Rasiej and Micah Sifry as a new group blog that covers how the 2008 presidential candidates are using the web, and vice versa, how content generated by voters is affecting the campaign.

The 2008 election will be the first where the Internet will play a central role, not only in terms of how the campaigns use technology, but also in how voter-generated content affects its course. TechPresident.com plans to track all these changes in real-time, covering everything from campaign websites, online advertising and email lists to the postings on YouTube and who’s got the fastest growing group of friends on MySpace.

Our team of bloggers is made of veterans of the 2004 and 2006 elections, ranging across the political spectrum. Their expertise covers everything from website design to the latest in mobile tools and social networking sites. And we’ll look closely not just at what the campaigns are or are not doing, but what voters and activists are doing online to independently affect the election.

There is also a long list of contributors.  Have fun and Remember to Vote!

Microsoft is stalling in the SaaS area

I received an InfoWorld article called “Microsoft exec: Desktop application software is not dead.”  The short story is that Microsoft claims that Google and others cannot provide the same level of service and quality through web based apps as Microsoft can through installed apps.  While Microsoft is technically correct in the short term, this will change.  Let me predict what Microsoft is going to do right now.  Microsoft will develop a fully functioning version of Office.  Then they will market it as a brilliant idea that they thought of and perfected.  Microsoft will claim that they did it first and they did it best, when in reality neither will likely be true.  Until then, expect Microsoft to deride Google, IBM, Sun, and others.  What’s new?

TROJ_DLOADER.SPI is showing up on a few machines a day.

We’ve been getting sporadic, but steady reports of the TROJ_DLOADER.SPI virus being detected on machines.  Trend Micro claims it’s not “in the wild.”  That’s not true.  I haven’t seen this many virus reports for XP in a long time.  Trend Micro’s fix is to update DAT’s and scan the machine.  I’ve tried to figure out what other anti-virus program providors are calling this virus to see if they recommend a different fix.  The virus appears to come from webpages.  Here’s a sample error:

Threat Alert from Anti-Virus ServerOfficeScan detected TROJ_DLOADER.SPI on PCname in my domains.

File: C:\Documents and Settings\<username>\Local Settings\Temporary Internet Files\Content.IE5\XFE1E8MF\_YzFvdDRpbmc_NzI4X2FvXzM5NThfMF8xMDIyOF9hb18_a2V5aW4_[1].exe

Detection date: 11/13/2007 14:33:05

Action: Virus successfully detected, cannot perform the Quarantine action

 I’ll keep an eye on this.  Let me know if you see anything.

 UPDATE: I got some more info on this.  Some of our SA’s have been tracking it.  The virus alerts come up when people visit a certain media industry website.  The site either pops up another site, or somehow redirects to “malware-scan.com”.  Don’t go to that site unless you want to get infected.  You should consider blocking that site using Websense or other tools.  I hope this additional info helps.

My boss: “We should research Desktop Linux.”

What????  My boss dropped this bomb on us last week.  I was shocked.  There was no context for that remark.  No one had brought this up seriously before.  There was talk about migrating from Netware to AD.  There was talk of VDI.  There was even a rumor about Macs.  But this was new.  My first thoughts were:

  • how well did my boss think this out?
  • Am I willing to go to war with our users?
  • Am I willing to take such a high profile risk for really no return?
  • There’s a good chance that this is going to suck.

After the meeting adjourned, I took a moment to find out when Windows XP goes “End of Life.”  It turns out that XP goes End of Life April 8, 2014.  Also, I don’t foresee a justifiable reason to upgrade to Vista in the next three years.  That means that a Desktop Linux project doesn’t make financial sense until at least 2011.  That gives us three years to migrate off of XP.

I took the rest of the day to think about it and brought it up the next day.  I found out that my boss hadn’t really thought about it at all.  He was just throwing the idea out there as something to think about long term.  He understood my point of view and I think that’s going to be the end of that for a while.

Coincidentally, that afternoon I received the InfoWorld Editors Newsletter titled Is Desktop Linux for Real? from Steve Fox at InfoWorld.  Freaky huh?

Virtual Desktop Infrastructure, Client Consolidation, and Blade PC’s… Oh My!

I’ve begun researching VDI because I believe that the PC is no longer necessary in medium to large environments that can operate with less than workstation class performance.  The potential advantages of replacing PC’s with Thin Clients that connect to full fledged XP installations are compelling.  I’ve been researching all of this for a couple weeks now, and I have to say that VDI, CCON, CCI, is in a pre-1.0 state.  I’ll explain it all below.

There are three terms going around to describe Client Consolidation technology.  They are:

  • VDI: Virtual Desktop Infrastructure
  • CCON: Client Consolidation
  • CCI: Consolidated Client Infrastructure

They all essentially mean the same thing.  My definition of CCON is centralizing desktop/PC systems by hosting them in the data center.  All computing functions other than KVM are hosted and managed in a computer room away from the user.  The user uses a client device or application to access the centralized computer.  There are multiple terms battling to be the methodological name for this technology.  VDI was the first term that I saw used.  VDI is the trendy name in my view, and has been co-opted by VMware and turned into a product.  CCON is the name used by an IBM employee named Massimo Re Ferre’ who is a heavy contributor to VDI technology research.  Client Consolidation happens to be the name of IBM’s implementation of VDI (what a coincidence).  CCI is a product name used by HP after they abandoned the use of VDI.  Another name that’s out there is “Centralized Computing.”  Centralized Computing is the term used to define the days of mainframes and dumb terminals. 

My preference for the academic name of this technology is Client Consolidation (CCON).  I believe that CCON is the most descriptive, most open name of all.  CCON is general enough to encompass all of diverse technologies in this area.

There’s a lot of overlapping information and noise out there.  I want to explain the bottom line as I see it.

The technology “models” (Re Ferre’, 2007) for CCON are:

  • Shared Services (Citrix)
  • Virtual Machines (VMware, Xen, others)
  • Blade PC’s/Blade Workstations (HP, ClearCube)

You will ultimately have to select one (or more) of those methedologies for a production rollout.

Client consolidation is all about the use of RDP to connect to Windows systems.  RDP is what it’s all about (some solutions prefer/support ICA).   If you know how to use Remote Desktop, you’re most of the way to understanding what CCON is all about.   Everything after this is about services and features built around the use of RDP accessed Windows systems (VM’s, Blade PC’s).

The components of CCON are:

  • Client Access Devices (thin clients, repurpossed PC’s)
  • Connection Broker (software)
  • Host Systems (VM’s, Blade PC’s)

 VDI-CCON

Client Access Devices are straight forward.  You need a device that can understand how to connect to remote systems using RDP.  The client device can be a full blown XP/Vista PC, or a thin client running the proper client software.  You’re going to hear a lot about Windows XPe in this space.  XPe is a stripped down version of Windows XP often used for development and loaded onto many thin clients. 

Host systems are also straight forward.  You can run your XP/Vista/Other hosts as VM’s or on Blade PC’s.

Connection Brokers is where all the fun is.  Connection Brokers handle the setup, and advanced features of CCON.  Brokers decide (based on policy) which VM/Blade should be assigned, the features that are available to the user, and in some cases the robustness of the service.  I think of Brokers as travel agents.  A client shows up to the broker with a request.  The Broker knows how to handle the request based on requirements and makes all of the arrangements including the connection.  The broker is usually finished at that point, though the broker is an intermediary in some solutions.

That’s basically what CCON is all about.

CCON is barely at a 1.0 level.  There’s very little information out there (other than Citrix) and all of the solutions are patch up jobs.  There’s no long standing, widely accepted solution.  Most of the solutions that I have found have been assembled piecemeal.  The absolute best information that I have found comes from Massimo at http://it20.info/misc/brokers.htm.  He’s created a table with extensive descriptions of all the features he’s been able to confirm for brokers and clients.  It’s not a complete list of brokers and features, so do your own research and testing (HP SAM, IBM TMP missing).  Regardless, it is a must read if you are going down the CCON road.

Two other items of interest are VMware’s VDI forum and HP’s CCI forum.  Notice that there is very little activity at those forums.  That’s because most people still aren’t working on this.  Also, VMware’s product is in Beta.  That’s right…VMware’s broker is vaporware, yet they’re calling it VDM 2.0.  Now that’s good marketing.

That’s it for now.  Please let me know if you have any questions or if you have something to add.  There is so much information out there that I’m positive there is more to come.

If you’re looking for a Blackberry alternative, look here:

Tom Yager of InfoWorld did an exhaustive review of the Blackberry 8300 and 8800, as well as several alternatives.  This is a great resource for anyone considering an alternative to Blackberry.