SharePoint, Workflow and Microsoft Search Server

This content is 16 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

Earlier this week, I headed into Microsoft’s offices in London for an evening meeting of the SharePoint User Group UK.  I’m not a SharePoint expert by any stretch of the imagination (I’ve looked at various SharePoint products over the years but have no implementation experience) but I am interested in the product’s development – particularly as it seems to me that it is finally starting to gain some traction with customers.

The first session was a deep dive into developing Workflow with SharePoint and InfoPath, presented by Chris O’Brien.  To be perfectly honest, this went a little too deep into developer concepts for me to follow, but Chris has written about it on his blog for anyone who wants the details.

The second session was presented by Andrew Woodward, who looked at Microsoft Search Server 2008.  I’m particularly interested in this as it’s only a few months since I spent some time learning about implementing enterprise Search using Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS) 2007 and the replacement of MOSS for Search with Search Server provides many new options for federated search that will be eventually be backported into the main MOSS product (initially via Microsoft Update and then as part of MOSS 2007 service pack 2).  What’s particularly interesting is the positioning of Microsoft Search Server 2008 Express as a free product – meaning that even small businesses can afford to implement SharePoint for enterprise search (and also potentially allowing for the creation of SharePoint appliances, much like the Google Search Appliance).  There’s more about Microsoft’s enterprise search products (including Search Server) on the Microsoft website.

Overall, the evening was interesting (and well attended) – for future events, check out the SharePoint User Group UK website.

Dell customer service fails again

This content is 16 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

A few years back I had the misfortune of using a Dell Latitude D600 notebook computer for my work.  At the time I wrote about the problems I experienced with Dell customer service and it seems that Michael Dell’s return as CEO isn’t doing much to improve the customer experience.

Then, last week, I bought a Dell PowerEdge 840 server.  I did it because it was cheap.  So, one might ask what am I complaining about but, even though £391.98 is very inexpensive for a server, I expect some service when I’m trying to buy something from someone.

I suppose I’m spoilt because normally I buy many servers at a time, have a technical account manager to help me select the right options and it’s someone else’s money if I miss something and need to buy some more components.  Oh yes, and I buy HP servers where possible.  This time I was spending my own money and wanted the best deal possible.

As I worked through Dell’s "build your system" website, I wanted some technical support for the RAID connectivity options which, after telling me that the server supports up to 2 cabled or hot-plug SAS or SATA hard drives, the website listed as:

  • C1B – Motherboard SATA cabled, min 2, max 2 Hard Drives connected to onboard SATA controller.
  • C1C – Motherboard SATA cabled, min 3, max 3 Hard Drives connected to onboard SATA controller.
  • C1D – Motherboard SATA cabled, min 4, max 4 Hard Drives connected to onboard SATA controller.

I was confused.  If the server only supports 2 cabled or hot-plug drives, then why is there a no-cost option to have 3 or 4 hard drives connected to the on-board SATA controller?  So I called Dell.  Only to find after about 8 (no kidding) menu options on the phone system that the "small business" department I needed to speak to was closed and only works from 9 to 4.30 Monday to Friday (part-timers…).

I bought the server anyway because the discount was due to expire (it’s since been extended) and called back on Monday. After making 4 menu selections I got to a person who was somewhere in South Asia and sounded helpful but was clearly following a script.  She redirected me to someone in Ireland who sounded annoyed that I was taking up her time and told me that my query was a technical one (not sales). She put me through to technical support, who were confused when I said that I didn’t have a service tag because my system was still being built but put me through to the PowerEdge department anyway.  They were busy but after 5 minutes on hold I spoke to a person who was helpful but didn’t really fill me with confidence in his advice as first of all, he told me that the PowerEdge 840 supports up to 4 drives (good) but that the options may be for different backplanes.  Then he checked and said that the system supports 2 drives on the motherboard but drives 3 and 4 would need a separate RAID controller.  As that seemed to contradict the options at purchase time and he couldn’t comment on the "build your system" website, I’m still no clearer.

I guess I’ll find out how many drives I can get in this server (and what the C1B/C/D options mean) when it arrives next week…

Googling for information

This content is 16 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

Just before Christmas, someone showed me how to use Google (yes… the search engine) to convert values between units (e.g. kilometres into miles). I didn’t know that feature was there in Google and it turns out there are many more useful search features too – things like the weather forecast, films at the local cinema, etc. (as well as the well known stuff like definitions, inbound links and Google’s cache).

Windows Server 2008 {is coming soon}

This content is 16 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

Windows Server 2008 logoIt’s been a couple of weeks since I posted anything on this blog as I decided to spend Christmas with my family (i.e. not with the computer) and didn’t have any posts ready to publish.  I’ve also been suffering recently from a combination of writer’s block and too much work so, as a consequence, I have many things in my head but very little written down… mostly about Windows Server 2008. As it will be part of a very significant product launch in a few weeks’ time I thought it was about time I updated my previous post looking forward to Windows Server 2008 and highlighted the main advantages of Microsoft’s latest Windows Server release, although I have to confess that much of this is based on Microsoft’s marketing message (with a little of my own opinion for good measure).

A couple of months back, I watched Bill Laing, General Manager for Microsoft’s Windows Server Division, give a keynote presentation to the press on Windows Server 2008 during which he looked back over the history of Windows Server:

  • Windows NT was really a file and print server product with some application support, finally starting to gain acceptance with NT 4.0, which launched in 1996.  In those days, enterprise applications ran on large (typically Unix-based) computers or mainframes and the main competition for departmental deployments was Novell NetWare.
  • Windows 2000 marked a significant change with the introduction of Active Directory and scalability improvements.
  • Even though IIS had existed as a standalone product and then in Windows 2000, Windows Server 2003 was a turning point for Windows application hosting, with Internet Information Services (IIS) 6, 64-bit hardware support, and specialised SKUs (e.g. Windows Storage Server) as well as a web edition of Windows Server.
  • Windows Server 2003 R2 was a midpoint release with new tools for administrators.
  • Windows Server 2008 is a major new update that Microsoft is pitching as a customer focused release.

Bill Laing highlighted a number of hardware inflection points around 64-bit hardware support, multiple processor cores, power consumption and virtualisation.  In addition, he cited customer feedback as the main reason for providing role-based server management, the ability to remove the desktop experience and only run essential server services, and of course the old favourites (or "foundational attributes" as Bill Laing referred to them) – reliability, management and performance.

So, how has Microsoft responded to this famed customer feedback?  They are pitching the major improvements in Windows Server 2008 as follows:

  • your platform {reliable} – looking first at Windows Server as a server platform, Microsoft has provided a solid foundation with:
    • A new management experience.  Server Manager provides a simple point of administration for role-based deployment.  Out of the box, Windows Server 2008 has 17 optional roles (e.g. Active Directory, file, print, web, etc.) and 35 optional features (e.g. multi-path input/output, desktop experience, clustering, etc.).  Windows PowerShell is integrated within the operating system (removing what I consider to be one of the main barriers to adoption of this extremely powerful technology).  Microsoft has also made improvements in the area of power management (now enabled by default) and is working with developers to ensure that applications are written to be more efficient in their use of power (polling vs. quiescing, etc.).
    • Reliability. A new server installation option – Server Core – allows organisations to run servers with only essential Windows services and a limited user interface, supporting selected server roles for command-line (or remote) administration.  There is also a new networking stack, with improved TCP/IP performance and scalability.  Finally, failover clustering (renamed to avoid confusion with other clustering technologies) has been improved from both the implementation perspective and in the provision of support for clusters.
  • web experiences {stunning} – another major change in Windows Server 2008 is IIS 7.  IIS7 uses a modular architecture to improve application performance and aid extensibility.  There are also new IIS management and deployment tools.  This is backed up with new Windows Media services for advanced streaming and caching as well as web application services for communications and workflow integration.
  • infrastructure {virtualised} – whilst other vendors (i.e. VMware) may benefit from their experience of the x86/x64 virtualisation technologies, there is little doubt in my mind that Hyper-V represents a huge step forward for Microsoft.  Furthermore, Microsoft is pitching its virtualisation story as a multi-level approach from the point of view of:
    • Licensing – since Windows Server 2003 R2, Microsoft has adjusted its Windows Server licensing model to support virtualisation (despite claims to the contrary from competitors).  The Microsoft virtual hard disk (.VHD) format is also available with a royalty-free license.
    • Infrastructure – new virtualisation technologies (such as Hyper-V) work with hardware support from Intel and AMD to allow agile virtualisation solutions that better utilise server resources.
    • Management – System Center Virtual Machine Manager helps customers to ease the process of virtualising their infrastructure and to better utilise the available resources, providing the same management tools for both virtual and physical machines.
    • Interoperability – working with both Citrix (XenSource) and Novell (SUSE Linux), Microsoft is able to support heterogeneity across the data centre).
    • Applications – in addition to virtualising server resources, Microsoft SoftGrid and Windows Server 2008 Terminal Services as technologies for application and presentation virtualisation.  Windows Server 2008 Terminal Services includes both Terminal Services Gateway and Terminal Services RemoteApp support.
  • your data {secure} – finally, security.  The days of insecure Microsoft operating systems are long since gone (in fact, Windows Server has always been pretty good) but new technologies in Windows Server 2008 include the server component of the network access protection (NAP) supported by Windows Vista for health validation and compliance checking, read-only domain controllers for secure delegated branch office deployment of Active Directory, fine grained password policies, and Active Directory rights management services for protecting documents during cross-organisational collaboration.

It’s also worth noting that Windows Server 2008 represents a turning point in the shift to 64-bit computing.  Unlike with desktop operating systems, where there is a vicious circle of vendors that won’t write 64-bit device drivers until there is proven demand and users who won’t adopt 64-bit technology until there is vendor support, in the x86/x64 server world there is broad support for 64-bit technologies and Windows Server is the last planned release of a 32-bit server operating system.

As an IT consultant, I agree with Microsoft that there is increasing pressure for IT departments to become more agile and return some benefit to the business – to reduce the cost of "keeping the lights on" and increase the organisation’s ability to innovate.  Microsoft thinks that Windows Server 2008 is more than just an operating system upgrade – that it is key to optimising the infrastructure – and I have to agree.  I was critical of Windows Vista when it was launched (actually, I was critical of the way that Microsoft left its XP customers waiting for a service pack… and we’re still waiting…) but I really can see advantages in the new technologies that Windows Server 2008 brings.  Will organisations deploy Windows Server 2008 right away?  I certainly hope so – there are many compelling reasons to use the new technology but, perhaps more significantly, the release of Windows Vista over a year previously has allowed many of the issues with the common technologies to be ironed out ahead of the server product release.

Finally, what’s with the curly braces smattered throughout this post?  Heroes happen {here} is the theme for the Microsoft marketing around the Windows Server 2008, Visual Studio 2008 and SQL Server 2008 joint product launch.  For those of us on this side of the pond, a UK launch site has also been released with press and customer events planned for 27 February and IT Professional events from 19 March onwards.   I’m also hoping to work with Scotty McLeod and Austin Osuide to step up the Windows Server Team events in 2008 and of course, watch this space for more detail on some of the technologies that I mentioned in this post.  In the meantime, check out Microsoft’s Windows Server 2008 Technical Overview.