Send messages in the future and run multiple copies of Outlook

This content is 15 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 Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

Even though this blog is just a part-time thing (albeit one which is slowly taking over my life), I’m not yet able to give up my day job and become a full-time writer. Even so, I am in the fortunate situation that I do get fed a certain amount of information – information that I want to pass on, but which I can’t until after a certain deadline has passed, usually as the result of a non-disclosure agreement. A few days ago, Microsoft launched SCVMM 2008. I knew some things about SCVMM from public events but I was also told things under NDA and I wanted to get the word out as soon as I was allowed to. With my blog that’s easy enough to do (WordPress allows me to publish a post with a future date and time) but I also wanted to share information with colleagues via e-mail… so I needed a way to send an e-mail message in the future.

Microsoft Office Outlook 2007 Message Options including Do not deliver beforeAs it happens, I already have that capability in Microsoft Office Outlook (I just didn’t know I did) – and as described at My Digital Life, all I needed to do was set a Do not deliver before date and time in the message options. I went out for a while and came back to find that the message sitting in my Outbox had been delivered at the pre-appointed time (I tested first of all with some information that was not really time-critical – just in case!).

Whilst on the subject of Outlook, my friend, colleague and trusted advisor, Garry Martin, told me about a utility he had come across that allows multiple copies of Outlook 2003 or 2007 to run side by side using different profiles. Yes – that’s right – one copy of Outlook connected to, let’s say, work e-mail and the other to, perhaps, GMail. It’s called Extra Outlook! and I’ve yet to try this myself (GMail as a Google Chrome application shortcut is working well for me on my work PC and I use Apple Mail on the Mac) but it certainly sounds useful.

Microsoft Virtualization: part 7 (wrap up and additional resources)

This content is 15 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 Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

Over the last few weeks (it was originally supposed to be a few days… but work got in the way), I’ve written several posts on Microsoft Virtualization:

  1. Introduction.
  2. Host virtualisation.
  3. Desktop virtualisation.
  4. Application virtualisation.
  5. Presentation virtualisation.
  6. Management.

I thought I’d wrap-up the series by mentioning the Microsoft Assessment and Planning Toolkit (MAP) solution accelerator – a free inventory, assessment and reporting tool which can help with planning the implementation of various Microsoft technologies – including Windows Server 2008 Hyper-V (v3.2 is in a public beta at the time of writing) – to find out more about MAP try and catch (in person or virtually) Baldwin Ng’s session at the November meeting of the Microsoft Virtualization User Group.

Also worth noting is the 7 hours of free e-learning courses that Microsoft has made available:

  • Clinic 5935: Introducing Hyper-V in Windows Server 2008
  • Clinic 6334: Exploring Microsoft System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008
  • Clinic 6335: Exploring Microsoft Application Virtualization
  • Clinic 6336: Exploring Terminal Services in Windows Server 2008

Microsoft’s virtualisation portfolio is not complete (storage and network virtualisation are not included but these are not exactly Microsoft’s core competencies either); however it is strong, growing fast, and not to be dismissed.

The British government’s next step on the transition to an Orwellian nightmare

This content is 15 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.

<rant>As if CCTV on every street corner (which even police admit hasn’t significantly reduced crime) and speed cameras that track movements over 30 miles weren’t bad enough, I’ve just read about the UK government’s plans that, in order to buy a mobile phone, we will soon need a passport (on the pretence that this is part of the fight against terrorism and organised crime). As Gary Marshall points out, have the UK Government never heard of Skype, e-mail, chat over public WiFi, payphones (and do they think that terrorists don’t have passports)?

There are those who say that, if you’ve nothing to hide, you’ve nothing to fear. I’ve nothing to hide – I simply just don’t trust the government not to mix my details up with someone else’s in a monumental database administration error. Only when they can keep my personal details secure, stop leaving top secret documents on trains, etc. will I be happy for them to store more information about me.

In the meantime, I’m counting the days until we get the chance to vote this bunch of inept <insert expletive here> out of office…</rant>

Mary Jo Foley talks to Microsofties about their company’s future

This content is 15 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.

Mary Jo FoleyA few months back, I wrote a post about post-Gates Microsoft – highlighting an interview that Mary Jo Foley had given on Paul Thurrott’s Windows Weekly podcast. I’ve since bought a copy of Mary Jo’s book (Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft Plans to Stay Relevant in the Post-gates Era) and was lucky enough to be invited to Microsoft’s UK campus today to join in a session as Microsoft staff asked Mary Jo about her experiences of writing about Microsoft and where she sees the company heading under its new leadership.

Mary Jo started out by talking about how she got into covering Microsoft when, after graduating in the early-1980s with a journalism degree, she was covering the minicomputer and mainframe manufacturers for “Electronic Business” magazine. After getting bored of capacitors and resistors (who wouldn’t?), she asked her editor if she could write about software (then seen as a passing fad), called up Pam Edstrom and asked to meet Bill Gates. After being granted an interview with Bill (which went badly and was interrupted by none-other than Steve Jobs!), she built on this somewhat precarious start of covering Microsoft at various points in the company’s history to the point where, in 2001 she started the Microsoft Watch blog and newsletter, which went on to become the number one RSS feed for Ziff Davis. In 2006, Mary Jo handed over Microsoft Watch and moved to her current blog at ZDNet.

Picking up on the fact that Mary Jo says in the book that Microsoft bought Yahoo!, she explains that this is a typo – a few hours after the manuscript was finished (on 31 January 2008), the proposed Microsoft-Yahoo! merger was all over the news and she had just one week to redraft the entire book. Either way, Mary-Jo questions the wisdom of such a merger (what’s in in for Microsoft? Yahoo!’s search business, the portal – Flickr perhaps – but that’s a lot of money) and considers that the final outcome was the right one.

When asked what Microsoft’s biggest mistake in recent history has been, Mary Jo cites the US antitrust ruling from the mid-1990s. She believes that Microsoft may have been guilty (unlike in the EU case, which is sour grapes on the part of competitors – a view that I share) and that Microsoft could have saved itself from a lot of animosity and legal cost by coming clean.

As for where next for the Redmond giant, Mary Jo explains that software plus services in not just software as a service warmed over but concedes that Microsoft has done a bad job of explaining the differences whilst the competition is finally realising that an offline component is required in their cloud computing model – the real question is whether Microsoft manages to make clear it’s cloud computing strategy at the Professional Developer’s Conference (PDC) in Los Angeles next week.

Should Microsoft have been split up as a result of the antitrust rulings? Well, Microsoft were against this sanction at the the time, but Mary-Jo Foley believes that, with hindsight, the separation of Windows and Office would have made the company more agile, rather than to weaken it. As for the prospect of a new administration in Washington D.C. re-opening that particular can of worms, Mary Jo believes that, regardless of who takes over in the White House, if the Yahoo!-Google advertising deal is blocked by Microsoft, then Google will retaliate – possibly around Microsoft’s integration of Windows with Live services.

When asked how her level of access to Microsoft has changed over the last 20 years, Mary Jo notes that, whilst her access to top executives has dropped (inevitable in a fast-growing company with growing numbers of journalists asking for access), she enjoys a different relationship with each of the various Microsoft teams (not all of them positive). Indeed, whilst Microsoft says there are no blacklists for press contact, the company is run by humans and blocking access is human nature. One executive is said to have commented that Mary Jo Foley will talk to his team over his dead body. She didn’t elaborate on who said this (at least not in public) but she did say that she got to speak to the team in question and the executive is very much alive and well today!

Many Microsoft employees at today’s session were interested to hear Mary Jo’s view on the marketing of Windows Vista. She answered with a statement – when asked which team she would most like to work with at Microsoft, she says that she would least like to work with the Vista team and that they have messed in in many ways – both in product development and marketing. Even so, Mary Jo Foley believes that, with Windows Vista service pack 1 and the I’m a PC campaign, Microsoft is coming clean on the failings of Vista but it’s too late to undo the damage caused by public perception of the product so the best thing they can do is get Windows 7 out of the door. As for her view on the relative merits of the Apple Mac vs. PC ads and Microsoft’s efforts, she skirted around the Apple ads (other than describing them as aggressive and clever) but confessed to being very anti-Apple and commented that Apple users put up with a lot, adding that:

“If Microsoft did [the same as Apple], Microsoft would be skewered.”

[Mary Jo Foley, Microsoft UK Campus, 22 October 2008]

Mary Jo went on to comment that she likes the I’m a PC campaign with its clear messaging but thought the Seinfeld ads were horrible – and, whilst she is one of a small minority that likes the Mojave concept, she sees the effect of the negative campaigning by the press and Microsoft’s competition every time she writes something favourable about Vista. She also commented that many comments on her blog appear to be competitors and enthusiasts for other platforms “stirring the pot” as they see Vista as Microsoft’s weakness but that when asked for real-world examples of broken applications, no-one has come back with anything for her to write about. Meanwhile, Mary Jo commented that, as much as she likes Steve Ballmer, he does the company no favours when he suggests skipping Vista (although, in fairness, according to silicon.com he actually said “if people want to wait they really can” before continuing with “but I’d definitely deploy Vista”).

As for how to make Windows 7 a success? Mary Jo commented that the Windows team is one of those inside Microsoft that do not like her but that they do not want to make the same mistakes with Windows 7 that they did with Vista – i.e. talking too early about features that didn’t make it. Unfortunately, customers and partners know very little about Windows 7 right now (at least until the PDC preview is released) and that Microsoft really needs to be up-front with them: Windows 7 is “done” (in fact, on her blog today, Mary Jo suggests it could even ship earlyLong Zheng cites ninjas at Microsoft as his source!) and any new features suggested at this stage are unlikely to make it into the product (maybe into Windows 8 or 9 – who knows?) but that, if Microsoft is not clear about this, the end result will be a lot of disgruntled power users (is this sounding familiar?).

With Bill Gates now retired from full-time work at Microsoft, the conversation turned to Ray Ozzie – who seems to have been pretty much shielded from the press since taking over as Microsoft’s Chief Software Architect. Mary Jo commented that she has not been allowed to interview Ozzie yet (although that may change soon) but that he seems to be reluctant to be in the spotlight and prefers to take a hands-on role. So, who is the new face of Microsoft? Steve Ballmer is certainly visible as CEO but when Ray Ozzie, or Craig Mundie are mentioned, the response is generally something like “who?” (Mundie is Microsoft’s Chief Research and Strategy Officer). For the time being, love him or hate him, Steve Ballmer is the face of Microsoft 2.0 – but there seems to be no obvious successor for Microsoft 3.0 (or even 2.1).

Will software plus services change Ozzie’s profile? Maybe – Mary Jo certainly hopes that he will become more visible, answering questions and setting the tone but she says she’s not optimistic, asking if it’s possible to change the character of a person who one can feel does not want to be in the limelight.

Moving back to Apple for a moment – one ‘softie asked if, in the light of Apple’s “triumph of form over function”, Microsoft should change its pitch? On this, Mary Jo Foley said that Microsoft faces a dichotomy – the enterprise has been it’s focus and the basis of the company’s success to date but it seems to be trying to reinvent itself in the consumer space, with money pouring into Windows Live, Zune, Xbox, etc. As it increases its presence in consumer markets, Microsoft has to be careful to ensure that successful products like SharePoint do not fall by the wayside. As for Microsoft’s move into services, Mary Jo said that she doesn’t receive any proactive engagement from Microsoft’s services organisation (she covers a different audience) but that she hears a lot from partners who see Microsoft “eating their lunch”, especially in the managed service arena (e.g. with the launch of Microsoft Online Services). As Mary Jo Foley finds that partners make up a large percentage of her blog’s readership – often knowing more about what is happening in the market than Microsoft employees or customers – it seems clear that there is a fine line to be walked as Microsoft finds its place under changing market conditions.

As a blogger myself (one without any professional journalism credentials) I found Mary Jo Foley’s views on blogging (cf. journalism) particularly interesting. First of all – where is the line between journalism and blogging? Interestingly, Mary Jo does not see a professional distinction but sees blogging as the opinion side of reporting (complete with bias) with unbiased journalistic integrity as a counterbalance. Her employer, ZDNet, is a blogging network with journalists, vendors and amateurs writing for them. Sometimes readers are confused but Mary Jo contests that if something appears on a blog it should be considered as opinion – indeed she will even feature guest posts on her blog to provide a rebuttal. As for why she crossed the divide? Mary Jo answers by saying that “I’ve never believed that journalists are unbiased”.

Will blogging kill real journalism? Mary Jo feels that sometimes opinion attracts more interest than the real story but she certainly hopes this will not be at the expense of true journalism Рfew bloggers have the budget to follow a story for months at a time and provide an expos̩, whilst newspapers and magazines are recognising blogs as an additional channel and responding with commentary based on a mixture of opinion and fact.

I asked a follow-up question about those journalists who can sometimes appear disparaging of bloggers (with one particular name in mind but not spoken) and Mary Jo commented that amateur bloggers are more interesting as a group and tend to have their fingers on the pulse whereas professional journalists are somewhat removed. As examples she quoted Windows Connected and I Started Something as carrying more weight than, for example, the New York Times or Washington Post (markwilson.it still has a way to go before it reaches that league!). As for which blogs Mary Jo reads – all of the TechNet and MSDN blogs (skimming by author and headline) but particularly those in the UK, where ‘softies seem more willing to share opinion instead of regurgitating press releases (of course, given the audience, in a lecture theatre on Microsoft’s UK campus, that was certainly the right thing to say!).

When asked (by a prominent, and often outspoken, Microsoft blogger) how she deals with negative comments and if she ever feels like turning her back on blogging, Mary Jo said that:

“I only read my comments when I’m in a good mood”

[Mary Jo Foley, Microsoft UK Campus, 22 October 2008]

She then joked that the ZDNet moderators have asked her if she really wanted to say something when responding after a drink or few (Google Goggles only work on e-mail) before continuing to comment that she does receive some disparagement for being a woman commentating on technology (amazing in this day and age) but that mostly she has fun – interviewing great people and saying more or less what she would like on her blog, without censorship.

As for whether the growth in blogging helps to improve the public perception of Microsoft, Mary Jo believes it has helped a lot – Microsoft has more official bloggers than many corporations and they show a lot of self-restraint, with no obvious information leaks between Microsoft’s internal briefings (e.g. TechReady) and the upcoming PDC.

So what about Google – surely they are an increasing threat to Microsoft’s desktop and information worker business? Mary Jo agrees with Steve Ballmer’s inference that Google Apps are overrated (as a Google Apps user – I agree – they’re great for a small business like mine but do not represent a serious threat for the enterprise market). People want a credible challenger to Microsoft though, says Ms. Foley, and whilst Google is dominant in some places, Google Apps is not one of them – it’s a response to the price of Microsoft Office, rather than to a latent demand for an online word processor or spreadsheet.

But is Mary Jo still using Google Chrome? Yes (ditto).

As for Microsoft’s push into the virtualisation space – when asked how Microsoft is doing and what the impact will be on VMware and others, Mary Jo cited the IDC report that shows Microsoft taking a 23% market share as scary and amazing (I agree – even as a virtualisation MVP, I find the figures pretty incredible although Mike DiPetrillo’s vehement dismissal of them also tells me that VMware see Microsoft as a bigger threat than they are prepared to admit – virtualization.info presents both sides of the story). Mary Jo continued by commenting that VMware’s decision to place ex-Microsoft number 3, Paul Maritz as CEO was “brilliant” and continued by saying that he is a “very smart guy” (Valleywag uses typically colourful prose when Owen Thomas writes of Maritz “Ignore his cuddly-programmer looks; he is fearsome, and deservedly hated by enemies.”).

Onto a lighter topic – when asked what she thought the “coolest” Windows application of the year was, Mary Jo didn’t consider herself to be a good judge – saying that she is not a power user or a developer; however she does see more interest in the browser-based applications that are coming to market.

I had the honour of presenting the final question to Mary Jo, asking her whether she agrees that Microsoft should split Windows into separate consumer and business products (an opinion promoted by at least one other Microsoft-focused journalist – Paul Thurrott – but which I feel could signal a return to the bad old days of businesses deploying cheap consumer-grade operating systems, like Windows 9x, in place of quality secure operating systems like NT). On this, it seems Ms. Foley and I disagree – she can see the sense in separate SKUs and features for home and work (for example, do businesses really need multi-touch?), whereas I can see that not all businesses want all of Windows’ many features but many businesses would like to use some slightly different functionality (how about a role-based deployment model, like the one used by Windows Server?).

Even if we don’t agree on this particular issue, I found it interesting how, even though I haven’t been one of Mary Jo’s subscribers to date, on the whole my opinions as an amatuer blogger who sees a lot of what Microsoft is up to (as a partner, customer, and unofficial evangelist) correlate with those of a professional journalist who has been watching Microsoft for 25 years. That’s not meant to sound conceited – it just means that I can take some solace that I’m generally not too far off the mark.

I don’t have a full transcript of the session but these notes record most of the questions and answers (not the exact words – some of the commentary is mine). For me, it was a fascinating discussion on many levels: how Microsofties (in the UK subsidiary) view their company from the inside; how Mary Jo (as a journalist covering Microsoft) sees the company from the outside; and how others (who interact with Mary Jo through her blogs and magazine articles) feed back on the Microsoft products and technologies.

I’m extremely grateful to those within Microsoft’s UK organisation who invited me to the session today – and look forward to Mary Jo Foley’s views on Microsoft over the coming months and years. It’s clear that her position as a prominent Microsoft commentator gives her some unique insight and perspective into the workings of the world’s largest software company – and even those who work there are interested in hearing it.

Microsoft Virtualization: part 6 (management)

This content is 15 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.

Today’s release of System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008 is a perfect opportunity to continue my series of blog posts on Microsoft Virtualization technologies by highlighting the management components.

Microsoft view of virtualisation

System Center is at the heart of the Microsoft Virtualization portfolio and this is where Microsoft’s strength lies as management is absolutely critical to successful implementation of virtualisation technologies. Arguably, no other virtualisation vendor has such a complete management portfolio for all the different forms of virtualisation (although competitors may have additional products in certain niche areas) – and no-one else that I’m aware of is able to manage physical and virtual systems in the same tools and in the same view:

  • First up, is System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) 2007, providing patch management and deployment; operating system and application configuration management; and software upgrades.
  • System Center Virtual Machine Manager (SCVMM) provides virtual machine management and server consolidation and resource utilisation optimisation, as well as providing the ability for physical to virtual (P2V) and limited virtual to virtual (V2V) conversion (predictably, from VMware to Microsoft, but not back again).
  • System Center Operations Manager (SCOM) 2007 (due for a second release in the first quarter of 2009) provides the end-to-end service management; server and application health monitoring and management (regardless of whether the server is physical or virtual); and performance monitoring and analysis.
  • System Center Data Protection Manager (SCDPM) completes the picture, providing live host virtual machine backup with in-guest consistency and rapid recovery (basically, quiescing VMs, before taking a snapshot and restarting the VM whilst backup continues – in a similar manner to VMware Consolidated Backup but also with the ability to act as a traditional backup solution).

But hang on – isn’t that four products to license? Yes, but there are ways to do this in a very cost-effective manner – albeit requiring some knowledge of Microsoft’s licensing policies which can be very confusing at times, so I’ll have a go at explaining things…

From the client management license perspective, SCCM is part of the core CAL suite that is available to volume license customers (i.e. most enterprises who are looking at Microsoft Virtualization). In addition, the Enterprise CAL suite includes SCOM (and many other products).

Looking at server management and quoting a post I wrote a few months ago licensing System Center products:

The most cost-effective way to license multiple System Center products is generally through the purchase of a System Center server management suite licence:

Unlike SCVMM 2007 (which was only available as part of the SMSE), SCVMM 2008 is available as a standalone product but it should be noted that, based on Microsoft’s example pricing, SCVMM 2008 (at $1304) is only marginally less expensive than the cost of the SMSE (at $1497) – both quoted prices include two years of software assurance and, for reference, the lowest price for VMware Virtual Center Management Server (VCMS) on the VMware website this morning is $6044. Whilst it should be noted that the VCMS price is not a direct comparison as it includes 1 year of Gold 12×5 support, it is considerably more expensive and has lower functionality.

It should be noted that the SMSE is virtualisation-technology-agnostic and grants unlimited virtualisation rights. By assigning an SMSE to the physical server, it can be:

  • Patched/updated (SCCM).
  • Monitored (SCOM).
  • Backed Up (SCDPM).
  • VMM host (SCVMM).
  • VMM server (SCVMM).

One of the advantages of using SCVMM and SCOM together is the performance and resource optimisation (PRO) functionality. Stefan Stranger has a good example of PRO in a blog post from earlier this year – basically SCVMM uses the management pack framework in SCOM to detect issues with the underlying infrastructure and suggest appropriate actions for an administrator to take – for example moving a virtual machine workload to another physical host, as demonstrated by Dell integrating SCVMM with their hardware management tools at the Microsoft Management Summit earlier this year).

I’ll end this post with a table which shows the relative feature sets of VMware Virtual Infrastructure Enterprise and the Windows Server 2008 Hyper-V/Server Management Suite Enterprise combination:

VMware Virtual Infrastructure Enterprise Microsoft Windows Server 2008/Server Management Suite Enterprise
Bare-metal Hypervisor ESX/ESXi Hyper-V
Centralised VM management Virtual Center SCVMM
Manage ESX/ESXi and Hyper-V SCVMM
VM Backup VCB SCDPM
High Availability/Failover Virtual Center Windows Server Clustering
VM Migration VMotion Quick Migration
Offline VM Patching Update Manager VMM (with Offline Virtual Machine Servicing Tool)
Guest Operating System patching/configuration management SCCM
End-to-end operating system monitoring SCOM
Intelligent placement DRS SCVMM
Integrated physical and virtual management SMSE

This table is based on one from Microsoft and, in fairness, there are a few features that VMware would cite that Microsoft doesn’t yet have (memory management and live migration are the usual ones). It’s true to say that VMware is also making acquisitions and developing products for additional virtualisation scenarios (and has a new version of Virtual Infrastructure on the way – VI4) but the features and functionality in this table are the ones that the majority of organisations will look for today. VMware has some great products (read my post from the recent VMware Virtualization Forum) – but if I was an IT Manager looking to virtualise my infrastructure, then I’d be thinking hard about whether I really should be spending all that money on the VMware solution, when I could use the same hardware with less expensive software from Microsoft – and manage my virtual estate using the same tools (and processes) that I use for the physical infrastructure (reducing the overall management cost). VMware may have maturity on their side but, when push comes to shove, the total cost of ownership is going to be a major consideration in any technology selection.

Microsoft releases System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008

This content is 15 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.

System Center Virtual Machine ManagerAround about now, Microsoft is due to announce that they have released System Center Virtual Machine Manager (SCVMM) 2008 to manufacturing. For those watching Microsoft’s virtualisation strategy unfold, this is an extremely important release – many of the critics of Hyper-V have been concerned about the management tools but SCVMM integrates with other System Center tools to provide a fully-featured management solution for both Hyper-V and VMware ESX – so organisations can manage their physical and virtual workloads as one, whether they are running a Microsoft or a VMware virtualisation platform.

I’ll write separately about the various System Center management products and how they complete the Microsoft Virtualization story but this post looks at some of the features in SCVMM 2008.

Originally released in 2007, SCVMM is a recent addition to the System Center family of management products and provides centralised management for virtual machines whilst integrating fully with other System Center products to allow administrators to use the same interface and common foundation that they use for managing a physical infrastructure in the virtual world.

Built on Windows PowerShell, making the product fully scriptable, SCVMM uses the concept of jobs which are executed against virtual machine hosts and guests for centralised management.

With the 2008 product release, Microsoft has added cross-platform management functionality(Hyper-V, Virtual Server and VMware ESX – note that the VMware management does require Virtual Center in order to provide the necessary APIs and does not include non-task-oriented functions, such as cluster creation), integration with Windows Server 2008 failover clusters (including intelligent placement), delegated administration and performance and resource optimisation (PRO) to provide guidance for administrators for automatic or manual actions when alerts are raised, integrating with the management frameworks provided by leading server hardware providers.

Microsoft’s algorithm for intelligent placement of virtual machine workloads uses the CPU, memory, network and disk requirements for virtual machines to project the required resources and then balance this with the defined resource thresholds for each host, before providing a rating for each host, according to its suitability for servicing a given virtual machine workload. It also takes into account the prospect of cluster node failure, whereas competitive solutions will allow resource overcommitment to artificially increase the consolidation ratio (but may be creating a problem if a node does fail). Through integration with SCOM, SCVMM can be used to discover potential virtualisation candidates and the product also includes the ability to perform physical to virtual (P2V) and unidirectional virtual to virtual (V2V) conversions.

Delegated administration should be a key consideration for infrastructure deployments and SCVMM enables this with a role-based model, including self-service. Templates may be used for rapid provisioning of new virtual machines and the web portal provides a quota system for users to create and destroy VMs, based on administrator-defined rules.

As for how to buy SCVMM – it will be available from November 2008 as a standalone product, or as part of the Server Management Suite Enterprise (SMSE) which allows organisations to use several System Center products to build a complete management solution for the entire infrastructure, both physical and virtual.

Management is clearly a strong element of Microsoft’s virtualisation story and SCVMM addresses many of the issues that the basic tools provided with Hyper-V cannot. With the added advantage of the “Windows that you know” – i.e. familiarity for administrators – and, according to Microsoft, a greatly reduced total cost of ownership, SCVMM not just a perfect companion to Hyper-V but it also provides management tools for legacy virtual infrastructure and finally brings enterprise virtualisation features within the reach of most organisations.

A quick look at Windows PowerShell 2

This content is 15 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.

Richard Siddaway‘s recent TechNet presentation (around the datacentre in 80 scripts) was a first opportunity for me to have a look at what’s coming in the next version of Windows PowerShell.

I’ve written previously about PowerShell (as an introduction to the concept and from an IT administrator standpoint) but, just to summarise, in a logical diagram of the Windows Server System, PowerShell would sit between Windows Server and the rest of the Windows Server System as the integration and automation engine (and PowerShell support is part of Microsoft’s common engineering criteria for 2009 – it’s already widely used by Exchange Server, SQL Server and by recent System Center products – and there is growing third party support too).

Whilst PowerShell is really an automation engine, it’s commonly expressed as a command shell and scripting language which underlies the graphical user interface. PowerShell is based on the Microsoft.NET Framework but does not require a knowledge of .NET programming. As for whether it will eventually replace cmd.exe as the CLI in Windows – maybe one day but not for a while yet (maybe not at all – Unix has several shells to chose from for administration).

Key PowerShell features include:

  • cmdlets – small piece of functionality which perform a single function (and use a verb-noun naming structure).
  • Providers -functaionality to open a data store as if it were a file system (e.g. certificate store, registry, etc.).
  • Extensiblity – there are around 130 cmdlets in the PowerShell base and functionality can be added as required (Exchange, SQL, etc.) in the same way that Microsoft Management Consoles are built up from various snap-ins. A Windows Installer file registers a DLL and PowerShell accesses it as a snap-in (using the add-pssnapin command in the profile) and from that point on the additional functionality is available in PowerShell.
  • Pipeline – the pipeline is used to pass .NET objects between cmdlets (non-programmers – think of objects as “blobs of stuff” with methods and properties to do things with them!)

Windows PowerShell was originally released in November 2006 and was finally included within Windows Server 2008 this year (it wasn’t ready in time for Vista). At the time of writing, PowerShell 2.0 is still a community technical preview (there have been two releases – CTP and CTP2) so there may be changes before release, but some of the improvements we can expect to see (and this list is not exhaustive), based on CTP2, are:

  • Remoting. New remoting capabilities require PowerShell to be installed on both the client and the server and use Windows Remote Management (WinRM), which is based on WS-Management (check that winrm is running with get-service winrm). At present, remoting requires administrator rights for both configuration and use.
  • Jobs. PowerShell jobs run asynchronously and can be started using the psjob cmdlets (get-command *.psjob to list available cmdlets), some cmdlets support the -asjob parameter (get-help * -parameter asjob) where that option is provided.
  • Runspaces. Jobs can also be used with PowerShell’s remoting capabilities in RunSpaces, which create a persistent connection between the local and remote machines in order to speed up the response. Remote commands are invoked using invoke-command. For example, to create a runspace and execute a script as a job, I might use the following code:
    $r = new-runspace -computername mycomputer
    invoke-command -runspace $r -scriptblock {remotescript} -asjob

    after which I could use get-psjob and other cmdlets to manipulate the job (e.g. check on progress, receive data, etc.).
  • Script cmdlets. Cmdlets can now be written in PowerShell, rather than being compiled from a .NET language.
  • Transactions. In the same manner as SQL Server, Exchange Server and Active Directory apply a database transaction-logging mechanism, PowerShell now has the potential for transaction-based processing (i.e. carry out an action, if it completes then OK, if not then roll back). This functionality is implemented at the provider level so is not universally available (at the time of writing, only the registry supports this).
  • Graphical PowerShell. A new tool, with script editor, interactive prompt and results pane.
  • WMI. Improved support for Windows management instrumentation (WMI) through type accelerators ([WMI], [WMIClass] and [WMISearcher]), the ability to pass credentials with get-wmiobject and new wmi-focused cmdlets (invoke-wmimethod, set-wmiinstance, remove-wmiobject). In a simple example to launch a process using WMI I might use the following code:
    $c = [WMIClass]”Win32_Process”
    $c.create(“win32program.exe”)
    and to clear up afterwards I might use:
    get-wmiobject -class win32_process -Filter "Name='win32program.exe'" | remove-wmiobject

It should be stressed that PowerShell 2.0 is still under development (it’s a community technology preview – not even a beta) and that things may change. It may also break things – there are also some naming clashes (e.g. with the PowerShell Community Extensions), new keywords (e.g. data) and it’s more complicated than the original version. Even so, PowerShell 1.0 already has tremendous potential and I’d be using it more often if I was doing more administration work. As more products use PowerShell for automation then knowing how to use it will become an ever-more important skill for Windows administrators – version 2 is definitely worth a look and if you want to know more about PowerShell then I recommend checking out the PowerShell UK user group and the PowerShell team blog.

Free eBook from Microsoft Press

This content is 15 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 TCP/IP Protocols and ServicesMicrosoft Press is celebrating it’s 25th anniversary with a free eBook of the month offer. This Month’s offer is Windows Server 2008 TCP/IP Protocols and Services by Joseph Davies and, although I haven’t read it yet, I probably will (at least in part) as the TCP/IP stack has changed considerably in Windows Vista and Server 2008.

Find out more, or sign-up for future offers on the Microsoft Learning website.

An introduction to Service Management for technology-focused architects

This content is 15 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.

As an experienced infrastructure architect working on a service-led pre-sales exercise, I have struggled to get to grips with what the overall solution looks like and have had to learn a lot about delivering IT Services in a very short time. This article is intended to express the basics of service management for architects who, like myself, are more familiar with technology than service. It’s not a complete reference, and a service architect may be dismayed by my interpretation of the processes; however it is based on advice and guidance from a specialist service management consultancy and I am grateful to Keith Webb for his assistance in reviewing and editing the article.

The IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) takes service management best practice and presents it in a format that can be applied to IT (and non-IT) service support and delivery. Organised as a number of processes, ITIL describes:

  • Incident Management.
  • Configuration Management.
  • Problem Management.
  • Change Management.
  • Release Management.
  • Service Level Management.
  • Availability Management.
  • Capacity Management.
  • IT Service Continuity Management.
  • Financial Management for IT Services.

Looking at the way that service is often implemented, end users may raise a service request or incident (for example via a website, or by calling a service desk) or incidents may be reported automatically (e.g. an alert generated by an IT system). The incident or service request will be reported to a service desk and an incident record created and stored in the service management tool. Typically, the service desk will have access (via the Configuration Management Database – CMDB) to user information (from various directories – e.g. the Human Resources system or Active Directory) and asset information – the incident record will link to these as appropriate.

From an incident management perspective, the service desk will own the relationship with the end user through to resolution and closure, managing the communications and ensuring that the incident/service request is resolved to the user’s satisfaction (and closed after a pre-defined interval if user contact is not possible). Drawing on resources such as a known error database, the service desk’s aim in incident management is to ensure that service is restored as soon as possible according to defined priorities and within timescales agreed with the business. This can be achieved by what is known as a first time fix (where the incident is resolved by, and does not leave, the service desk); however some incidents will need to be assigned to second/third-line support teams for further tests/investigation. In such cases, it is the responsibility of the service desk to manage the incident through to resolution and closure, even if the incident is assigned elsewhere in the organisation.

Configuration management makes use of the CMDB to record information of any assets (typically in the live environment) the organisation wants to control – this may include people, documentation, hardware, software, network equipment, locations, service management information, contractual information, “howtos”, etc. and, whilst the assets may well be recorded in an asset database, this tends to be more about financial details (date purchased, end of warranty, etc.) and the CMDB builds out on this asset data to provide a more complete record – including relationships between services and relationships between configuration items which combine to provide a service. Some items may not exist in the asset database (e.g. a PC, a monitor or a printer may be considered too expensive to track and inexpensive to purchase, so might be managed as a consumable) and it is part of the configuration management role to agree with the organisation which items are to be controlled (and hence stored in the CMDB). Whilst the CMDB is a relational database, providing a hierarchical structure of the relationship between assets (e.g. a server is a piece of hardware with a number of individual components, and certain software installed, configured in a particular manner, and connected to various networks, to provide a service as defined in a particular document, etc.). These relationships can quickly become complex, and the CMDB does not necessarily store all the records (e.g. certain configuration items may exist in another repository, linked from the CMDB) and the real value of the CMDB is the relational nature which allows for extremely flexible reporting. In reality, whilst various products may feed into the CMDB, the CMDB itself tends to be built around a service management tool such as BMC Remedy or HP Service Center.

Problem management examines incidents (either at one time, or over a period) and attempts to identify the root cause of a problem. Over time, this may feed into the incident management process but the two disciplines have distinctly differing attributes – whilst incident management is about providing quick fixes to restore service, problem management is about examining the underlying cause and may take an extended period of time. Problem management has both reactive and proactive aspects: the reactive aspect is concerned with solving problems in response to one or more incidents and the proactive aspect is concerned with preventing incidents from occurring in the first place.

Where an incident leads to a change being required, a change record is created (in the service management tool, by the service desk or the change team) and the change management process is invoked. The change team will typically assess the risk, impact of doing/not carrying out the change, urgency, requirement and effect on other services relating to a change, owning and managing any related testing and communication with users of the service until a request for change is rejected or implemented.

Sometimes, a number of changes may be packaged as a release, as part of the release management process. Release Management undertakes the planning, design, build, configuration and testing of hardware and software to create a set of release components for a live environment. A release may be as small as a tiny code change to a script or it could be a service pack, a number of software components, an application, or even a piece of hardware.

Service level management is the name given to the planning, coordinating, drafting, negotiating, agreeing, monitoring and reporting of services and their associated Service Level Agreements (SLAs) and service targets. It is also the on-going review of service achievements against those targets to ensure that the required and cost-justifiable service quality is maintained and gradually improved. As well as reporting on service targets (e.g. number of incidents which are resolved as first-time fixes, percentage availability of a service during the past month, etc.), service level management includes a degree of relationship management – agreeing the required levels of service with the customer. For example, a KPI for first-time fixes which is too high may be counterproductive as it will encourage rapid call closure rather than problem management (which would be expected to improve the overall level of service over time). Tools may be used to monitor or alert via alarms when service level limits (e.g. time to respond, time to resolve, etc.) are being approached for a given incident.

Capacity management is about providing appropriate capacity (the right level, at the right time) in an infrastructure component or service and needs to be aware of the business plans as these may have a serious impact upon service. For example, a major marketing campaign may increase the load on a website or a call centre and appropriate capacity will need to be provided in order to continue to meet defined service levels.

Availability management is linked to capacity management but is aligned with service continuity. If a service is judged to be business-critical and requires high availability, then additional components may be provided to increase the resilience of the solution but the use of such components needs to be balanced with introducing additional cost to a solution, affecting profitability (even if service is over-delivered against the agreed levels, it is unlikely that this will result in extra revenue). As new technologies emerge which provide dynamic solutions to capacity and availability management (e.g. server virtualisation) become mainstream, a new generation of service management tools will be required to cope with dynamic discovery and reporting as the CMDB is constantly updated to reflect changes to controlled configuration items.

IT service continuity management is concerned with managing an organisation’s ability to continue to provide a pre-determined and agreed level of IT Service to support the minimum business requirements following an interruption to the business. As organisations become more dependent upon technology, which is now a core component of most business processes, continued availability of IT and the delivery of IT services is critical to their survival. This is accomplished by introducing risk reduction measures such as resilient systems, and recovery options including back-up facilities.

Financial management for IT services accounts for the cost of service provision, providing a valuation of the services being delivered, the valuation of the assets that are in use in enabling those services to be delivered and the costs of operating and supporting those services. Financial Management also looks at to recover those costs, where applicable, in a controlled manner. It provides the sound stewardship of the monetary resources of the organisation. It supports the organisation in planning and executing its business objectives.

ITIL 2 is a non-proprietary framework of service management best practices – it is not mandatory but organisations may increase their effectiveness by adopting and adapting the disciplines that are most appropriate to the environment. ITIL 3 is an extension of ITIL 2 (i.e. it includes all of ITIL 2 and more).

ISO/IEC 20000-1 is an auditable standard, aligned with ITIL 2 and organisations can both gain or lose ISO/IEC 20000-1 accreditation as a result of their adherence (or otherwise) to the required standards.

A solution may consist of a number of service towers, each of which may implement various ITIL processes. In practice, the processes will be similar across the various towers; however the specifics may vary. There will be economies of scale where multiple towers are implemented using the same tools (i.e. introducing service efficiencies) and the business will typically be able to supply volumetric data which will aid in distinguishing the number of people required to deliver each service.

Why digital rights management is anti-consumer

This content is 15 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.

I’ve had a few rants on this blog about why DRM-protected consumer goods (i.e. music and video) are A Bad Thing (e.g. here and here) but this comic from xkcd.com really makes a good point (which Walmart customers will appreciate – even if the company did later decide to keep the DRM servers running, how long can they be expected to do so for?):

Steal This Comic - from xkcd.com

(This comic is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License.)

7digitalFor UK downloaders looking for DRM-free music, I recommend 7digital (but have no affiliation with them).