Monthly Archives: June 2008

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iPhone tip, hacks and v2.0

I haven’t written anything about the new 3G iPhone (except the iPhone version 2.0 software announcement) for a few reasons:

  1. I was on holiday when it was announced and have yet to catch up on all the coverage.
  2. I’m not sure if I need 3G or GPS (note the emphasis on needwant is an entirely different issue).
  3. I’m not sure what I’m going to do with my 1st generation phone if I do upgrade…

One of my friends has sold his v1.1.4 iPhone on eBay this week (unlocked) for a whopping £233 – not bad for a second-hand mobile handset – leaving him plenty of cash in the kitty for the upgrade (even if the old handset he’s using until he can get his hands on a new iPhone is driving him mad). Mine has a small scratch on the side (left by a grain of sand that got caught between the phone and the case it lives in) but is otherwise immaculate – it’s had a screen protector since day one and always lives in a case. Even so, I don’t think it will fetch as much as my friend’s – but hopefully it would be enough to cover the cost of the upgrade.

I did think of keeping the v1.1.4 iPhone as a spare handset – with the v2.0 software but then again I hope I’ll never need a spare iPhone. I could give it to my wife but she doesn’t like the iPhone form factor and the various extended family members that I’ve spoken to don’t seem that bothered either.

I also toyed with unlocking it and using with the SIM for my business cellphone but the two-dozen or so of my colleagues who have done this have been tracked down “asked” not to use the iPhone on the Vodafone
network (bizarre – as the Vodafone network must have many iPhones in use on it and I’m sure they don’t get upset about other unauthorised/untested handsets). Perhaps changing the IMEI to my officially sanctioned Nokia 6021 would work. But then again, maybe they will have another way of tracking me down and I’m sure that “asked” will become “instructed”.

Then there’s the whole issue of whether Apple or O2 will require me to have the old handset with me when I upgrade. I sure hope not, because selling mine before the price tanks on July 11 will make a lot of sense… so I’m considering taking it to the pawn shop (as long as I can get enough for it to cover the cost to upgrade) – and I can always buy it back if I need it!Hit the home button twice on an iPhone and access iPhone controls without unlocking the screen

So many choices! And I still don’t know if I will upgrade or not.

In any case, I wanted to share some iPhone tips – and one source is the excellent iPhone Hacks website – but I stumbled across a hidden feature myself a few days ago, completely by accident (this phone is running v1.1.4 and is not unlocked or jailbroken). I have a PIN code set on my phone, but that’s a real pain if I need to pause the iPod functionality on the phone for some reason (slide to unlock, enter the PIN code, then access the iPod controls). Then I found that, if I hit the home button twice in quick succession, it lets me access basic playback controls without unlocking the screen. Neat.

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I hate long goodbyes

Before I go any further, let me set one thing straight… for the majority of Microsoft’s enterprise customers, there are very few reasons why Windows XP should be deployed on new PCs in preference to Windows Vista.

Vista has now been available to enterprises for over a year and a half, has long since passed the first service pack release, and many of the initial difficulties are now resolved. It’s not perfect, but very few software products are. For that matter, neither is Windows XP (nor for that matter are Mac OS X or the various Linux distributions).

Sadly, for Microsoft, the general perception of Windows Vista is not a good one. Ask anybody who ran Vista from day 1 and they will have stories of the problems that they have had because ISVs and IHVs were too slow to update their applications and device drivers (hey, they only had 5 years notice…). But ask the same question from anybody who waited a few months and it’s a different story – Vista runs perfectly well on most modern PCs (and I don’t mean an exotic machine with a fantastic custom hardware specification – I mean pretty much any business PC purchased in the last few years, as long as it has enough memory). Unfortunately there is a saying that perception is reality.

So today is the last day that you can buy Windows XP. Except that it’s not really. In an open letter to Windows Customers entitled “An Update on the Windows Roadmap”, Bill Veghte (Senior Vice President for Online Services and Windows Business Group at Microsoft) explains that:

“It’s true that we will stop selling Windows XP as a retail packaged product and stop licensing it directly to major PC manufacturers. But customers who still need Windows XP will be able to get it.”

So you can get XP. But why would you? The simple fact is, that if you are looking to deploy a new Windows desktop in the next few months, then basing your plans on XP is building a problem for later.

In terms of the product cycle and future roadmap for Windows XP (Professional, 32-bit):

  • Support for Windows XP RTM and SP1/1A has already ended.
  • Support for Windows XP SP2 will end on 13 July 2010.
  • Although no official announcement has been made by Microsoft, it seems unlikely that there will be a fourth service pack for Windows XP. On that basic, mainstream support for Windows XP SP3 will end on 14 April 2009 and extended support (i.e. security patches only) will be available until 8 April 2014.

Some of my recent customers are just starting rollouts based on Windows XP SP2. By the time they have completed their rollouts, XP will be on extended support. And if they don’t move to SP3 soon, then they will be unsupported. In most cases the reason they are not considering Vista is application compatibility – in which case they should really be looking at application upgrades, or possibly using desktop/application/presentation virtualisation technologies – but why does a move to Vista have to be wholesale? A co-existence strategy involving managed diversity on the desktop is the way forward for many organisations.

So, I’ll finish up by repeating what I said at the head of this post:

“For the majority of Microsoft’s enterprise customers, there are very few reasons why Windows XP should be deployed on new PCs in preference to Windows Vista.”

Additional reading

Waffle and randomness

Bill Gates’ last day at Microsoft

So, after a 2 year transition, today is the day that Bill Gates steps down from his full-time job at Microsoft (although he will remain Microsoft’s chairman and will be involved in select projects based on direction from CEO Steve Ballmer and the rest of Microsoft’s leadership team).

The original founders of MicrosoftI commented on Gates’ departure a couple of years back and more recently wrote about Mary-Jo Foley’s concept of Microsoft 2.0.

It’s 33 years since Microsoft was formed and 30 years since the famous photo with most of the founding employees was taken in Albequrque. 30 years is a long time in IT. The remaining Microsoft Founders- shortly before Bill Gates' retirementCome to think of it, 30 years is most of my life (I’m 36) and I was interested to read about how the famous photo had been recreated for 2008.

Meanwhile, Stephen Levy has written an article for Newsweek entitled “Microsoft After Gates. (And Bill After Microsoft.)”.

There’s a Microsoft video looking back at Gates’ life – and forward to the future but I prefer the version from the 2008 CES keynote:

Some people love to hate Microsoft. Some people can’t stand other people being successful – and it’s difficult to deny that Gates has been successful. For 14 years now, I’ve followed a career in IT, during which I’ve worked largely with Microsoft products, so I’d like to say “thank you and good luck” to the world’s most famous geek as he does what all of the world’s richest people should do at some stage in their life and changes his focus to work with helping those who are less fortunate.

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Why Hyper-V does not mean the end of VMware – but at last it provides some competition for ESX

Microsoft has been very careful in its statements about comparing Hyper-V with ESX. Jason Perlow’s Hyper-V review is a little more forthright and the graphics are great!

I don’t think that VMware is the new Netscape (although it seems IDC might think so) – they will be back with bigger and better things, and then Microsoft will push forward again in the next release of Hyper-V. Even so, all of a sudden, this is a two horse race, and VMware will start to see their market share decline.

And to all those who are comparing Hyper-V with VMware Virtual Infrastructure – get real – that’s not comparing apples with apples. More realistic comparisons are:

  • Hyper-V and ESX.
  • Hyper-V Server (not yet released) and ESXi.
  • Virtual Infrastucture and Hyper-V plus various System Center components.

As for the argument that it’s all about TCO, I’ll leave that to the vendors and analysts to go into the detail but, from a simplistic view, Hyper-V and System Center are much less expensive to purchase than Virtual Infrastructure 3, the technical skills required for support are less specialised (read less expensive) and I find it hard to see how a broad management suite like Microsoft System Center is more expensive to run than a virtualisation-only management product like VMware Virtual Center together with the other products that will be required to manage the workload itself.

Critics say that virtualisation is about more than just the hypervisor and that management is important (it certainly is), then they deride Hyper-V (which is really just a hypervisor and basic management tools) by comparing it to virtual infrastructure’s management features. Their next argument is typically that Hyper-V won’t support desktop virtualisation and, from what I’ve seen, Microsoft is pretty much there on a credible solution for that too – as well as profile, presentation and application virtualisation, with partners like Citrix, Quest and AppSense filling in the gaps.

It’s not all over for VMware but they do need to find a new business model. Quickly.

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Resources for deploying Hyper-V

Further to yesterday’s post about how Hyper-V has shipped, I thought I’d highlight that John Howard has blogged extensively on obtaining Hyper-V, changes at RTM, upgrade considerations and more.

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Microsoft releases Hyper-V to manufacturing

Hyper-VWhen Windows Server 2008 shipped with only a beta version of the new “Hyper-V” virtualisation role in the box Microsoft undertook to release a final version within 180 days. I’ve commented before that, based on my impressions of the product, I didn’t think it would take that long and, as Microsoft ran at least two virtualisation briefings this week in the UK, I figured that something was just about to happen (on the other hand I guess they could just have been squeezing the events into the 2007/8 marketing budget before year-end on 30 June).

The big news is that Microsoft has released Hyper-V to manufacturing today.

[Update: New customers and partners can download Hyper-V. Customers who have deployed Windows Server 2008 can receive Hyper-V from Windows Update starting from 8 July 2008.]

Why choose Hyper-V?

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I think Hyper-V is one of the most significant developments in Windows Server 2008 (even though the hypervisor itself is a very small piece of code), and, whilst many customers and colleagues have indicated that VMware has a competitive advantage through product maturity, Microsoft really are breaking down the barriers that, until now, have set VMware ESX apart from anything coming out of Redmond.

When I asked Byron Surace, a Senior Product Manager for Microsoft’s Windows Server Virtualization group, why he believes that customers will adopt Hyper-V in the face of more established products, like ESX, he put it down to two main factors:

  • Customers now see server virtualisation as a commodity feature (so they expect it to be part of the operating system).
  • The issue of management (which I believe is the real issue for organisations adopting a virtualisation strategy) – and this is where Microsoft System Center has a real competitive advantage with the ability to manage both the physical and virtual servers (and the running workload) within the same toolset, rather than treating the virtual machine as a “container”.

When asked to comment on Hyper-V being a version 1 product (which means it will be seen by many as immature), Surace made the distinction between a “typical” v1 product and something “special”. After all, why ship a product a month before your self-imposed deadline is up? Because customer evidence (based on over 1.3 million beta testers, 120 TAP participants and 140 RDP customers) and analyst feedback to date is positive (expect to see many head to head comparisons between ESX and Hyper-V over the coming months). Quoting Surace:

“Virtualisation is here to stay, not a fad. [... it is a] major initiative [and a] pillar in Windows Server 2008.”

I do not doubt Microsoft’s commitment to virtualisation. Research from as recently as October 2007 indicates only 7% of servers are currently virtualised but expect that to grow to 17% over the next 2 years. Whilst there are other products to consider (e.g. Citrix XenServer), VMware products currently account for 70% of the x86 virtualisation market (4.9% overall) and are looking to protect their dominant position. One strategy appears to be pushing out plenty of FUD – for example highlighting an article that compares Hyper-V to VMware Server (which is ridiculous as VMware Server is a hosted platform – more analogous to the legacy Microsoft Virtual Server product, albeit more fully-featured with SMP and 64-bit support) and commenting that live migration has been dropped (even though quick migration is still present). The simple fact is that VMware ESX and Microsoft Hyper-V are like chalk and cheese:

  • ESX has a monolithic hypervisor whilst Hyper-V takes the same approach as the rest of the industry (including Citrix/Xen and Sun) with its microkernelised architecture which Microsoft consider to be more secure (Hyper-V includes no third party code whilst VMware integrates device drivers into its hypervisor).
  • VMware use a proprietary virtual disk format whilst Microsoft’s virtual hard disk (.VHD) specification has long since been offered up as an open standard (and is used by competing products like Citrix XenServer).
  • Hyper-V is included within the price of most Windows Server 2008 SKUs, whilst ESX is an expensive layer of middleware.
  • ESX doesn’t yet support 64-bit Windows Server 2008 (although that is expected in the next update).

None of this means that ESX, together with the rest of VMware’s Virtual Infrastructure (VI), are not good products but for many organisations Hyper-V offers everything that they need without the hefty ESX/VI price tag. Is the extra 10% really that important? And when you consider management, is VMware Virtual Infrastructure as fully-featured as the Microsoft Hyper-V and System Center combination? Then consider that server virtualisation is just one part of Microsoft’s overall virtualisation strategy, which includes server, desktop, application, presentation and profile virtualisation, within an overarching management framework.

Guest operating system support

At RTM the supported guest operating systems have been expanded to include:

  • Windows Server 2008 32- or 64-bit (1, 2 or 4-way SMP).
  • Windows Server 2003 32- or 64-bit (1, or 2 way SMP).
  • Windows Vista with SP1 32- or 64-bit (1, or 2 way SMP).
  • Windows XP with SP3 64-bit (1, or 2 way SMP), with SP2 64-bit (1, or 2 way SMP) or with SP2 32-bit (1 vCPU only).
  • Windows Server 2000 with SP4 (1 vCPU only).
  • SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10 with SP1 or 2, 32- or 64-bit.

Whilst this is a list of supported systems (i.e. those with integration components to make full use of Hyper-V’s synthetic device driver model), others may work (in emulation mode) but my experience of installing the Linux integration components is that it is not always straightforward. Meanwhile, for many, the main omissions from that list will be Red Hat and Debian-based Linux distributions (e.g. Ubuntu). Microsoft isn’t yet making an official statement on support for other flavours of Linux (and the Microsoft-Novell partnership makes SUSE an obvious choice) but they are pushing the concept of a virtualisation ecosystem where customers don’t need to run one virtualisation technology for Linux/Unix operating systems and another for Windows and its logical to assume that this ecosystem should also include the leading Linux distribution (I’ve seen at least one Microsoft slide listing RHEL as a supported guest operating system for Hyper-V), although Red Hat’s recent announcement that they will switch their allegiance from Xen to KVM could raise some questions (it seems that Red Hat has never been fully on-board with the Xen hypervisor).

Performance and scalability

Microsoft are claiming that Hyper-V disk throughput is 150% that of VMware ESX Server – largely down to the synthetic device driver model (with virtualisation service clients in child partitions communicating with virtualisation service providers in the parent partition over a high-speed VMBus to access disk and network resources using native Windows drivers). The virtualisation overhead appears minimal – in Microsoft and QLogic’s testing of three workloads with two identical servers (one running Hyper-V and the other running direct on hardware) the virtualised system maintained between 88 and 97% of the number of IOPS that the native system could sustain and when switching to iSCSI there was less than a single percentage point difference (although the overall throughput was much lower). Intel’s vConsolidate testing suggests that moving from 2-core to 4-core CPUs can yield a 47% performance improvement with both disk and network IO scaling in a linear fashion.

Hardware requirements are modest too (Hyper-V requires a 64-bit processor with standard enhancements such as NX/XD and the Intel VT/AMD-V hardware virtualisation assistance) and a wide range of commodity servers are listed for Hyper-V in the Windows Server Catalog. According to Microsoft, when comparing Hyper-V with Microsoft Virtual Server (both running Windows Server 2003, with 16 single vCPU VMs on an 8-core server), disk-intensive operations saw a 178% improvement, CPU-intensive operations returned a 21% improvement and network-intensive operations saw a 107% improvement (in addition to the network improvements that the Hyper-V virtual switch presents over Virtual Server’s network hub arrangements).

Ready for action

As for whether Hyper-V is ready for production workloads, Microsoft’s experience would indicate that it is – they have moved key workloads such as Active Directory, File Services, Web Services (IIS), some line of business applications and even Exchange Server onto Hyper-V. By the end of the month (just a few days away) they aim to have 25% of their infrastructure virtualised on Hyper-V – key websites such as MSDN and TechNet have been on the new platform for several weeks now (combined, these two sites account for over 4 million hits each day).

It’s not just Microsoft that thinks Hyper-V is ready for action – around 120 customers have committed to Microsoft’s Rapid Deployment Programme (RDP) and, here in the UK, Paul Smith (the retail fashion and luxury goods designer and manufacturer) will shortly be running Active Directory, File Services, Print Services, Exchange Server, Terminal Services, Certificate Services, Web Services and Management servers on a 6-node Hyper-V cluster stretched between two data centres. A single 6-node cluster may not sound like much to many enterprises, but when 30 of your 53 servers are running on that infrastructure it’s pretty much business-critical.

Looking to the future

So, what does that future hold for Hyper-V? Well, Microsoft already announced a standalone version of Hyper-V (without the rest of Windows) and are not yet ready to be drawn on when that might ship.

In the meantime, System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008 will ship later this year, including suppoort for managing Virtual Server, Hyper-V and VMware ESX hosts.

In addition, whilst Microsoft are keeping tight-lipped about what to expect in future Windows versions, Hyper-V is a key role for Windows Server and so the next release (expected in 2010) will almost certainly include additional functionality in support of virtualisation. I’d expect to see new features include those that were demonstrated and then removed from Hyper-V earlier in its lifecycle (live migration and the ability to hot-add virtual hardware) and a file system designed for clustered disks would be a major step forward too.

In conclusion…

Hyper-V may be a version 1 product but I really do think it is an outstanding achievement and a major step forward for Microsoft. As I’ve written before, expect Microsoft to make a serious dent in VMware’s x86 [and x64] virtualisation market dominance over the next couple of years.

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More on marking tracks as podcasts in iTunes

Some time back, I wrote about how I was struggling to mark tracks as podcasts in iTunes (unless iTunes had downloaded them itself from a feed). I never really got to the bottom of that but whilst I was on holiday recently, I missed a couple of episodes of the BBC 4 comedy show “The News Quiz” and the BBC’s Friday Night Comedy feed only contained the most recent episode.

A friend helped me out with the missing file (he had downloaded it as normal using iTunes) but, when I added it to iTunes, I noticed it was placed in the correct place in the feed. So, it seems that there is some metadata somwhere to mark the details in iTunes, but how I access that for older (pre-iTunes podcast support) episodes I’m still not sure…

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It’s OK to use a Mac at Microsoft (really)

Just before I went on my holidays, I changed my password for the Active Directory domain that I log on to at work. I wrote it down (bad practice, but I have a lot of passwords to remember…) but when I returned and tried to log on it didn’t work. I tried the old one too, but after 2 weeks of going cold turkey with no Internet access, my fingers had forgotten the old password (as had my brain) so I kept trying various options. No good. Locked out of my work PC – I thought I’d have to log a support call (oh joy!) and visit the office to access the network…

The next day I wa due to be attending an all-day event at Microsoft, so I got my personal notebook PC (an Apple MacBook) ready with all the things I would need, and went to sleep for the night.

As is the way with these things, my slumber was disturbed by the sudden realisation that, because I had been disconnected from the network when I changed my password, my cached credentials on the computer used the old password, but my VPN connection would use the new one. And I could remember both the passwords. But, needing as much beauty sleep as I can cram in (beleive me, I need it), I settled back down and took the MacBook with me to Microsoft anyway.

So, there I was, at a Microsoft event with 250 other people, in the middle of a dark room using a white notebook PC with a big Apple logo lit up for all to see. I wasn’t making a statement. It was running Vista (at least in a virtual machine!). And I was using OneNote to take meeting notes – honestly!

Thanks to Steve Lamb – who was presenting that morning – for somehow weaving his MacBook Air into the content of his presentation and making me feel better about using a Mac on the UK Microsoft Campus. MacBook with a note over the logo to highlight that Vista is the running OSNow I have some idea how Paul Thurrott felt at last year’s Windows Server 2008 Worldwide Technical Workshop when he even put a note over the Apple logo to put the presenters’ minds at rest and explain he was running Vista!

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Overseas roaming advice for UK iPhone users

As this post goes live on the blog, I’ll be on my way home from what should (hopefully) have been a great two weeks in France with my family (banned from the Internet – hence the need to set up some posts in advance and keep the site alive whilst I’m away).

My iPhone is a quad-band GSM phone so I can use it pretty much anywhere in the world (subject to coverage); however international roaming can get a bit pricey, so I checked out the best way to avoid excessive charges before I left the UK.

AT&T don’t allow US iPhone users to roam internationally unless they ask for it but UK iPhones are automatically enabled for O2′s International Traveller Service (ITS). Any calls are in addition to the monthly charge but the rates are not too bad – after all, I’m not going to be chatting for hours, this is really just for emergencies. There’s the usual overseas rules about having to pay to receive calls (which complicates the visual voicemail functionality and can result in additional charges, so O2 recommended I turned off voicemail divert before leaving the UK by dialling 1760 and then using 1750 to turn it back on again when I get home).

The real killer could have been data roaming. You see, whilst the EU has been putting pressure on mobile operators to reduce their charges for roaming across networks, very little has been done about data charges, which for O2 users are currently priced at £3 per MB in the EU (and £6 outside the EU).

I called O2 before I left the UK and their advice was to switch off data roaming (Settings, General, Network, Data Roaming, Off). They also recommended that I turn off automatic e-mail checking (Settings, Mail, Auto-Check, Manual) – although accessing Mail and Safari from a Wi-Fi network will not result in any charges (other than whatever wireless hotspot charges apply – there are no roaming arrangements between The Cloud – O2′s UK Wi-Fi partner – and overseas Wi-Fi providers). They also advised me that SMS is the most efficient method of communicating without extra charges as receiving a text costs nothing and, when sending, O2 take them from the normal allowance but at four times the rate (each text will count as 4 messages, so the 500 texts in my tariff become 125 for use overseas).

Hopefully, by following this advice, my next bill will just be for the standard £35… although if all I want is texts and the odd phone call, I could just put my SIM in another handset – as the BBC’s Rory Cellan-Jones found when he turned off data roaming on his iPhone:

“I turned off data roaming – and immediately found that what I was left with was a not very smart phone.”

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We’ve been thinking about launching a podcast…

One of the things I’ve learnt over the last few years is that blogging takes time. Time is not something I have a lot of right now and, rather than reducing my workload, I’m thinking of increasing it by adding a podcast to the mix!

Actually, it was the Australian-based tech-writer James Bannan, whose work has appeared in APC Magazine (amongst other places), who dropped me a line to suggest we create a podcast and I figured it could be fun. James and I met at last year’s Windows Server 2008 Worldwide Technical Workshop and are slightly unusual in that we are technicians first and “journalists” second whereas the majority of podcasters are the other way around. (I put the J word in quotes because, even though it’s appropriate for James, I don’t use it to describe my writing…)

I listen to (or watch) quite a few podcasts myself and I’ve got a reasonable idea of what works well and what makes me unsubscribe but I thought I’d ask the question here on the blog. If James and I were to start an IT podcast (perhaps monthly – as weekly would have too big an impact on our other activities), would you listen to it? What would you like to get out of it? How long should each episode run for? Where do you like to get your podcasts from (e.g. iTunes, or somewhere else)? And in what format (MP3, AAC, etc.)? Are there any topics you like us to cover?

Leave a comment on this post and we’ll try and incorporate some of your suggestions if possible.

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