Thoughts on VMworld

As promised, I’ve been formulating some closing thoughts about my first VMworld conference.

Overall, it was a fun experience. Going to conferences “at home” always prove to be more difficult logistically than going out of town. I was still on the hook for some of my morning and evening home responsibilities, so I didn’t attend many of the evening events or the concert at AT&T Park. A bit bummed to have missed Imagine Dragons and Train, so maybe next time!

I can’t say I was a big fan of the system where you registered for a seat in sessions. While I could see this being a boon for the event planners, it was frustrating as an attendee. I had difficulty deciding if I wanted to try to get into other sessions as “stand by” and risk giving up a registered seat elsewhere.  While not a big deal on the first day, as the conference progressed I found that my interests changed and I wanted more freedom in attending other sessions.

Also, I found that many of the sessions weren’t very technical. I admit I did attend a few “business solutions” level sessions to get an overview of some of the topics I wasn’t very familiar with, but even the “technical” and the “advanced technical” left me wishing for a bit more meat.

I attended sessions mostly around NSX, vCloud Hybrid Service and VSAN. With all of these technologies, VMware is clearly looking to make it as easy as possible for existing companies already virtualizing on VMware to embrace making their datacenters more automated. None of the ideas are “net-new” and many of the vendors that were in the Solutions Exchange area already have products that are functioning in that space or providing similar features, but I can understand why VMware would want to be able to provide similar technology options to their customers directly. I spent some time chatting with some vendors and the attitude was cordial, but at the same time it was clear that many will just be waiting to see if VMware can prove themselves in the market.

Looking at NSX, Windows Network Virtualization capabilities that are included in Windows Server 2012 and System Center 2012 SP1 compare directly with the VMware offering. In the R2 release (coming October 18th) it’s been extended to include a free network virtualization gateway in Windows Server 2012 R2 and integrate top-of-rack network switch configuration and remediation. Also in the R2 release, there is full support with the Cisco Nexus 1000V while using network virtualization.

With regards to vCloud Hybrid Services, VMware seems to be directly targeting customers who are looking at using AWS for public cloud. By making it easy to move virtual machines into vCloud instead of AWS, they are open to capture companies that have lots of VMware infrastructure in place and are just starting to look at utilizing public cloud services. A marketing message that I got from the Solutions Exchange show floor was that AWS was a great “playground” for developers, but production level applications belonged in your datacenter and then scaled to the vCloud.

However, with less than a half-dozen US-only datacenter locations mentioned for vCloud, I can’t see the solution being a suitable for companies looking for a more global footprint. Right now, Windows Azure has eight datacenters in the US, Europe and Asia, with and additional 6 centers in the works for Japan, Australia and mainland China. Azure is available for use by customers in 89 countries and territories.

VSAN is offering some compelling features for pooling storage from multiple disk locations and using different tiers of storage like SSD and traditional spindles to provide a virtualized storage solution. Without reinventing the wheel, I found a few interesting links on the web that you might want to reference for more information about how it works (also here) and some products it could compete with.

From Microsoft, there is the StorSimple product which allows you to use an appliance to introduce tiered storage levels as well as connect to the cloud for an additional level of storage. For an option that doesn’t require an appliance, Storage Spaces was introduced with Windows Server 2012 and will be updated with additional features in Windows Server 2012 R2.

Overall, I really enjoyed the opportunity to attend VMworld and take the time to see what other product and offerings are going to be “on the menu” for IT Professionals working to make their datacenters more streamlined and cost effective.  For more detailed information about how Microsoft and VMware compare and contrast, make sure you check out the IT Evangelist Blog Series – “VMware or Microsoft?”

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Certification Notes: For the Summer, Consider 70-417

Looking for something else to read about? Need to add something else to your list of things to accomplish?

If you hold any of the current certifications list below and haven’t thought about taking an exam in a while, you might want to check your calendar and thing about upgrading your certifications this summer. Several of the exams required for these certifications will be retired on July 31, 2013 and the certification will then be considered “legacy” and no longer attainable once August roles around.

  • MCITP: Server Administrator on Windows Server 2008
  • MCITP: Enterprise Administrator on Windows Server 2008

The 70-417 exam is the upgrade exam for to bring all these certifications up the new MCSA: Windows Server 2012. This exam also will also upgrade:

  • MSCA: Windows Server 2008
  • MCITP: Virtualization Administrator on Windows Server 2008 R2
  • MCITP: Enterprise Messaging Administrator 2010
  • MCITP: Lync Server Administrator 2010
  • MCITP: SharePoint Administrator 2010
  • MCITP: Enterprise Desktop Administrator on Windows 7

While this might not affect your current certification status, it’s always a good thing to check in on retiring exams regularly and reassess your goals for staying current with technologies.

GPT, UEFI, MBR, oh my!

One of my first tasks in my new role is to get started building out my demo laptop. I was issued a nice workstation-grade Lenovo W530. It came preinstalled with the standard Microsoft Windows 8 Enterprise image. As my demo machine, I want a base OS of Server 2012 instead, so I set out wipe the machine and reinstall.

Since the preinstalled OS was Windows 8, the BIOS was configured for Secure Boot from UEFI Only devices. In addition, UEFI is required if you want to use GPT style disks instead of the legacy MBR style disks. So this Lenovo came out of the box configured with every modern bell and whistle.

First things first, I need the Lenovo to boot from USB. So to add that support, I jumped into the BIOS and went to the Boot menu under Startup.  It shows the list of boot devices in the list, but it’s necessary to scroll down some to find the excluded items and add back in the appropriate USB HDD.

The next important decision is whether to install Windows Server 2012 on the GPT disk or use DISKPART to reconfigure it back to MBR. (The DISKPART commands to convert from GPT to MBR and vice-versa are readily available using your search engine of choice.) GPT supports larger disk sizes, but the solid-state disk in this machine isn’t that large, so I could go either way. However, you need to know which you are doing because it determines how you set up your bootable USB and your BIOS.

If you are converting your disk from either MBR or GPT, this will wipe all your data. Make sure starting with a clean slate is REALLY what you want to do.  Also, while my goal is to install Server 2012, these settings and instructions would also apply if you are trying to install a different version of Windows 8.

For Lenovo, the BIOS settings need to go like this for GPT:
  • Secure Boot – Off
  • UEFI/Legacy Boot – UEFI Only

Also, your USB media NEEDS to be formatted FAT32. (This limits the size of a single file on the USB to 4GB, so watch the size of your image.wim file if you customize it.)

And like this for MBR:
  • Secure Boot – Off
  • UEFI/Legacy Boot – Both (with Legacy First)

Your USB media can be formatted NTFS, FAT32 isn’t a requirement.

Take note, if you boot from NTFS media and try to install the OS on a GPT disk, you won’t be able to select a partition to install to, you’ll warned that you can’t install to a GPT disk and have to cancel out of the installer.  Even if you are doing everything correctly from FAT32 media, you’ll get a warning that the BIOS might not have the drivers to load the OS. This warning is safe to ignore – you can still continue through the install process and the setup will create all the necessary partitions to support GPT.

Once all my pre-reqs were sorted out, I reboot the machine and the Server 2012 install files start to load.  After I clicked INSTALL to get things going, I received an error message that read:

The product key entered does not match any of the Windows images available for installation. Enter a different product key.

Well, huh? Now granted, it’s been a while since I’ve attempted to install a Server OS on a laptop, but I surely didn’t miss a place to enter a product key! After some research I found this KB article, where it details the logic for locating product keys when installing Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012.

1.Answer file (Unattended file, EI.cfg, or PID.txt)
2.OA 3.0 product key in the BIOS/Firmware
3.Product key entry screen

Turns out the Lenovo has a preinstalled OEM license for Windows 8 Pro in the firmware. Seems that this saves OEM from having to put stickers on the bottoms of machines with software keys and ensures that the OEM licenses stays with the machine it was sold with. Enterprises that deploy images with another licensing model usually are using some kind of deployment tool and image with an answer file, allowing them to bypass the check against the firmware key.

For my scenario, I wanted the quickest easiest way to provide my key. Turns out the PID.txt file is a no-brainer. You can reference this (http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/hh824952.aspx) for all the details, but all you need to do is create a text file called PID.txt with these two lines:

[PID]
Value=XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX

Put your product key in for the value and save it your \Sources folder of your install media. From there it was smooth sailing. After your OS is installed, feel free to turn back on the Secure Boot back in the BIOS.