How To Cloudify Something Relevant

TechEd attendees cannot live by tech alone. Last night we ventured out to Bourbon Street for a few hours for a bite to eat and beer in a novelty oversized cup. It's quite the experience with a mixture of souvenir shops, bars with bands and jazz, restaurants and an art precinct.

On the way through I took the opportunity to snap an eerie photo of the back of the St. Louis Cathedral. Then before saying goodnight New Orleans I briefly wandered through Harrahs New Orleans Casino (without gambling a dime).

Following a bit of session overload from Monday I thought I'd explore some of the TechEd vendor booths. I left that until after lunch where I met a senior architect from the world's largest computer services company. I found his stories of travel fascinating, highlighting favourite destinations, as his role takes him regularly to the corners of the globe. With the reward of my recent Lifehacker win fresh in my mind, I entered vendor booth competitions. The atmosphere resembled a carnival with magic acts, a prize wheel and giveaways. A photo opporunity with Leia and Chewbacca seemed to be quite popular and so I too found myself smiling alongside the princess and wookie.

Somehow amongst this ludicrousness there was serious technology to be discussed. All the big vendors are present as you can imagine. Microsoft even has separate booths for each of its individual tools. Smaller vendors would attempt to spark my interest and initiate conversation with lead questions. Do you have any whitelisting requirements? Does your company plan to migrate to Exchange 2013? Is security of devices a concern? They lured me in with the potential to win tech toys, whereas I walked away with several t-shirts instead. I then joined my fellow TechEd comrades, in our thousands, for an afternoon session.

In a packed theatre I heard Matt McSpirit compare Windows Server 2012 Hyper-V and VMware vSphere. Matt is the Technical Product Manager of Microsoft's Server and Tools division. Of most interest was the updated features that R2 would introduce. He began with an overview of the history of Microsoft's virtualisation before drilling into feature by feature comparison. The update will introduce virtual fibre, native 4K disk support and 64TB virtual hard disks in addition to some of the new features I mentioned yesterday such as VHDX resize. The Windows Server 2012 Offloaded Data Transfers (ODX) is a standards-based API that is similar to the vSphere API for Array Integration (VAAI).

Matt then mentioned VMware vSphere Storage Appliance supports up to tjree hosts. He emphasised that it is the closest equivalent but radically different to Windows Server 2012 Storage Spaces. There isn't any comparison at the moment. On the flipside Microsoft doesn't have an equivalent to VMWare's Transparent Page Sharing. This was dismissed since duplication is unlikely as newer systems support larger memory pages. Hyper-V in R2 also will introduce Storage QoS that VMWare has had for quite some time. Some other points made were:

  • vSphere vSwitch is not an extensible switch whereas Hyper-V's extensible switch lets partners plug in at different layers;
  • Hyper-V fully supports live migration with SR-IOV but with VMWare the VM is tied to the host;
  • Hyper-V in R2 has full dynamic memory support for Linux VMs;
  • Compression of VM memory before sending can halve the live migration time;
  • The upgrade from Hyper-V to R2 involves no VM downtime.

Earlier in the morning I began the day with two very different sessions. I started with 'Windows Server Storage for Non-Windows Clients' since about one-fifth of our client computers at Melbourne University are either Linux or Apple's OS X. It was also a good opportunity to hear what updates are included with R2. Presenter Mallikarjun Chadalapaka moved through the presentation deck so quick if I blinked I'd literally would miss the slide. He kicked off with the claim that Microsoft support heterogeneous environments and was investing in performance and scaling its server technology with non-windows clients. Windows Server 2012 R2's NFS & iSCSI inclusions wrre then the focus of the session.

The relatively small audience heard a brief history of NFS and that Windows Server 2012 and R2 supports v4.1 The latest version of NFS is v4.2. Microsoft relies on third party certification by OEMs such as HP. Improvements introduced with Windows Server 2012 include better management of ID Mapping. ADLS can now be configured with the Powershell cmdlet "Install-NfsMappingStore -InstanceName NfsAdLdsInstance". Other manageability improvements include the WMI v2 namespace provider that is built on updated profiles based from the Distributed Management Task Force's open standards. From a performance perspective Microsoft's internal testing showed a ~35% improvement in IOPS and response time compared to Windows Server 2008 R2.

Moving onto iSCSI the R2 release will contain version 6.3 compared to Windows Server 2012's 6.2 and 3.3 in 2008 R2. The #3 top new feature of Windows Server 2012 R2 is the iSCSI Target SMI-S provider. This will enable end to end storage automation using Virtual Machine Manager for both private or hosted cloud. It ships with R2 and you just need to install the iSCSI target role service. It's designed for dual active iSCSI taret clusters. At this point Mallikarjun was switching between low-level detail screenshots and back to concept overview slides. I recommend anybody that is interested further to view the presentation at Microsoft's Channel 9 site.

The session I gained most from today was Greg Shields' demonstration of integrating Remote Desktop Services (RDS) with Microsoft System Center 2012 using Virtual Machine Manager (VMM) Service Templates. Cloud overall can be a confusing topic. Shields stated private cloud is not technology but a way of thinking. When searching the web for resources 70 per cent of the information explains how to build a private cloud. The remaining 30 per cent shows how to build web services. He said this was great for developers and testers but leaves IT Pros scratching their heads. After some direct prompting, the large audience responded with an 'amen' to that.

Greg set himself the challenge to "cloudify something relevant". Using the criteria that it needed to regularly be rebuilt, rapidly deployed, scaled out and scaled in he ruled out Exchange and Active Directory. It's not everyday you want to be rebuilding your domain controllers. The use-case needed to adhere to the tenants of cloud computing: elasticity, agility and all the other 'ilities' he said in jest. The obvious answer for him was Remote Desktop Services (RDS). The reason is it needs rebuilding and isn't straightforward considering app installs - a lot of steps in the process. Using the VMM Service Template Designer he created a solution over four weeks.

The solution uses a private cloud, VM template, tiny bit of PowerShell and the VMM Service template. System Center VMM's 'Create Machine Tier Template Wizard' for the Guest OS Profile is equivalent to SysPrep in desktop terminology. Greg explained that Server App-V allows you to deploy packages with a server at the moment its deployed. This was part of his solution that also executed several reboots and commands. VMM supports variables, such as @[email protected] and @[email protected] Variables can even be added into scripts and VMM resolves them at the time of execution. Considering they're used in ConfigMgr I didn't think this was a revelation but Greg was overly excited. Each to their own I suppose. When he suggested a Fortran command can be executed it was clear he was in fact enjoying this all a little too much. The demo ultimately created a 'RDS Scalable' Cloud Service in VMM.

Instead of just being a cloned build tool, there was emphasis on easy scalability of each replicant. In the Create Machine Tier Template in Additional Properties a "Create an availability set for the tier" checkbox was selected. This option ensures that at least one of the servers is always available during maintenance or reboots. This feature places the responsibility of maintaining the entire service in the hands of VMM. The result is on-demand scaling that can then automated by combining with System Center Operations Manager (OpsMgr) and Orchestrator.

Since the solution uses VMM which is hypervisor agnostic, it works with Hyper-V, Citrix Zen or VMWare.

And so another day ends. The Channel 9 site recommends some activities in New Orleans to take advantage of. Time to begin checking through that list!


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