Useful Links: August 2009

A list of items I’ve come across recently that I found potentially useful, interesting, or just plain funny:

Red Hat Enterprise Virtualisation (aka “me too!”)

Earlier this month, I managed to attend a Red Hat webcast about their forthcoming virtualisation products. Although Red Hat Enterprise Linux has included the Xen hypervisor used by Citrix for a while now (as do other Linux distros), it seems that Red Hat wants to play in the enterprise virtualisation space with a new platform and management tools, directly competing with Citrix XenServer/Essentials, Microsoft Hyper-V/System Center Virtual Machine Manager and parts of the VMware portfolio.

Red Hat Enterprise Virtualisation (RHEV) is scheduled for release in late 2009 and is currently in private beta. It’s a standalone hypervisor, based on a RHEL kernel with KVM, and is expected to be less than 100MB in size. Bootable from PXE, flash, local disk or SAN it will support up to 96 processing cores and 1TB of RAM, with VMs up to 16 vCPUs and 256GB of RAM. Red Hat is claiming that its high-performance virtual input/output drivers and PCI-pass through direct IO will allow RHEV to offer 98% of the performance of a physical (bare metal) solution. In addition, RHEV includes the dynamic memory page sharing technology that only Microsoft is unable to offer on it’s hypervisor right now; SELinux for isolation; live migration; snapshots; and thin provisioning.

As RHEV approaches launch, it is expected that there will be announcements regarding support for Windows operating systems under Microsoft’s Strategic Virtualisation Validation Program (SVVP), ensuring that customers with a heterogeneous environment (so, almost everyone then) are supported on their platform.

Red Hat seem keep to point out that they are not dropping support for Xen, with support continuing through to at least 2014, on an x86 platform; however the reality is that Xen is being dropped in favour of KVM, which runs inside the kernel and is a full type 1 hypervisor, supporting guests from RHEL3 to 5, and from Windows 2000 to Vista and Server 2008 (presumably soon to include Windows 7 and Server 2008 R2). RHEV is an x64 only solution and makes extensive use of hardware assisted virtualisation, with directed I/O (Intel VT-d/AMD IOMMU) used for secure PCI passthrough together with PCI single root IO virtualisation so that multiple virtual operating systems can achieve native I/O performance for network and block devices.

It all sounds great, but we already have at least three capable hypervisors in the x64 space and they are fast becoming commodity technologies. The real story is with management and Red Hat is also introducing an RHEV Manager product. In many ways it’s no different to other virtualisation management platforms – offering GUI and CLI interfaces for the usual functionality around live migration, high availability, system scheduling, image deployment, power saving and a maintenance mode but one feature I was impressed with (that I don’t remember seeing in System Center Virtual Machine Manager, although I may be mistaken) is a search-driven user interface. Whilst many virtual machine management products have the ability to tag virtual machines for grouping, etc., RHEV Manager can return results based on queries such as, show me all the virtualisation hosts running above 85% utilisation. What it doesn’t have, that SCVMM does (when integrated with SCOM) and that VirtualCenter does (when integrated with Zenoss) is the ability to manage the virtual and physical machine workloads as one, nor can RHEV Manager manage virtual machines running on another virtualisation platform.

The third part of Red Hat’s virtualisation portfolio is RHEV Manager for desktops – a virtual desktop infrastructure offering using the simple protocol for independent computing environments (SPICE) adaptive remote rendering technology to connect to Red Hat’s own connection broker service from within a web browser client using ActiveX or .XPI extensions. In addition to brokering, image management, provisioning, high availability management and event management, RHEV for desktops integrates with LDAP directories (including Microsoft Active Directory) and provides a certificate management console.

Red hat claim that their VDI experience is indistinguishable from a physical desktop including 32-bit colour, high quality streaming video, multi-monitor support (up to 4 monitors), bi-directional audio and video (for VoIP and video conferencing), USB device redirection and WAN optimisation compression. Microsoft’s RDP client can now offer most of these features, but it’s the Citrix ICA client that Red Hat really need to beat.

It does seem that Red Hat has some great new virtualisation products coming out and I’m sure there will be more announcements at next month’s Red Hat Summit in Chicago but now I can see how the VMware guys felt when Microsoft came out with Hyper-V and SCVMM. There is more than a little bit of “me too” here from Red Hat, with, on the face of it, very little true innovation. I’m not writing off RHEV just yet but they really are a little late to market here, with VMware way out in front, Citrix and Microsoft catching up fast, and Red Hat only just getting started.

Windows 7 warning about scheduled reboot after Windows Update

How many times have you left Windows running with open applications (or typically several open browser tabs loaded up with work in progress) only to find that it has installed an update and rebooted overnight? Of course, this setting can be altered using group policy, in the registry, or through the Windows UI but some of my systems get rebuilt so regularly I just forget!

Scheduled updates reboot warningConsequently, I was pleased to see last night that my netbook had popped a message in Action Center warning me about the scheduled reboot (and prompting me to change the settings).

I’m not sure if Vista does something similar but this Windows 7 feature saved me from frustration this morning.

Basic math lesson for American software companies

Adobe, Apple, Microsoft, et. al. please take note that the US Dollar price for your product multiplied at the current exchange rate, plus 15% value added tax (UK sales tax at today’s rate) is a lot less than the price you charge us for your software.

For example:

A 20-25% uplift is pretty bad (and the VAT will be back to at least 17.5% at the end of January 2010) but Apple and Microsoft are clearly not pushing this as far as they can… let’s look at what Adobe charges:

  • Adobe Photoshop CS4 is $699 in the States (which is £373.03, or £428.98 if we include the VAT) but, get this, Adobe charges us £615.25 – that’s almost a 45% premium… it’s a good job they’re offering free shipping at the moment if I spend more than £350.

Just to be clear, I didn’t deliberately pick the most expensive products to make software vendors look bad. These are the latest operating system releases from Apple/Microsoft and probably Adobe’s best-known product. No wonder the UK is the third-most expensive country in the world.

System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008 R2 is released

Last month, when Windows Server 2008 R2 was released to manufacturing, Microsoft promised that System Center Virtual Machine Manager (SCVMM) 2008 R2 would be released within 60-days. I doubted it would take that long (especially as a Microsoft spokesperson had mistakenly told me that it had already been released) and, earlier today, Microsoft announced the release to manufacturing of SCVMM 2008 R2, with generally availability in October (in plenty of time for Windows Server 2008 R2 GA).

As well as supporting new functionality in Windows Server 2008 R2 Hyper-V and Hyper-V Server 2008 R2, SCVMM 2008 R2 can be used to manage VMware vSphere 4 hosts.

To learn more about the product’s capabilities, check out the technical overview webcast that Microsoft is running next month or download an evaluation copy and more information is available on the SCVMM 2008 R2 website.

Windows 7 eye-candy

Windows 7 has some great new themes and I’ve been enjoying the image of Stonehenge in hoar-frost-covered fields from the UK set but I noticed some more eye-candy recently: The How To Geek site features some “awesome desktop wallpapers” (I found them via Windows 7 Hacker); and awesome seems to be the word as AddictiveTips has “26 Awesome Windows 7 Themes” (not all of which are themes – some are just wallpaper). Just like Rob Margel, I’m particularly taken with Clean Green.

Backing up my tweets

Twitter logoOver the last month or so, I have gone Twitter crazy. I’ve been transformed from someone who didn’t “get it” into someone who uses Twitter as his main source of news… leaving behind a big pile of unread RSS feeds from blogs (which is exactly why this blog integrates with my Twitter feed). I’d like to further integrate Twitter with this blog (using something like Twitter Tools) but I’m still on an old release of WordPress and still have a way to go on testing the new site (although you can catch a a sneak preview as I inch forward in my development).

In the meantime, I wanted to archive my “tweets” in order to keep a backup as well as to manually transpose the useful ones (not all of the inane babble) into a blog post – sort of like the ones that come from my Delicious feed (although I use Postalicious for that).

I tried various scripts in Python (this one looked hopeful but it uses a deprecated API call), and PowerShell (incidentally, James O’Neill and Joe Pruitt have done some interesting stuff using PowerShell to interface with Twitter) but eventually I realised that a simple curl command could pull all of my Twitter status updates into one or more local XML files. Stage 2 is working out how to apply XSLT (or some other developer magic) to the XML and present it the way I would like, but at least I know I have a local copy of my tweets. The command I used is simple:

curl -O -k -u username:password “[1-32]”

(thanks to Damon Cortesi for posting thismore information on the statuses user_timeline method can be found in the Twitter API documentation.)

I’d like to give one more piece of advice though: the Twitter API restricts the number of calls you can make in an hour to 150. With TweetDeck polling every minute or so, and this command pulling multiple pages of updates through the API, it didn’t take long for me to hit my limit during testing, so you may like to use the maximum page size of 200 tweets (up to 16 times to pull the maximum of 3200 updates that Twitter allows):

curl -O -k -u username:password “[1-16]”

This gives me the data in XML format but I noticed that I can also get hold of it in JSON, RSS or ATOM format – unfortunately I can’t seem to retrieve results based on multiple parameters (e.g. so Google Reader (or another RSS reader) is limited to the last 20 updates.

Just before I sign off, I’ll mention that, as I was writing this post, I saw that I’ve even begun to open my colleagues’ eyes to the power of Twitter… David Saxon (@dmsaxon) has just joined the party (mind you he pretty much had to after asking our IT Security guys to remove the proxy server restrictions on Twitter use during core working hours today…). Welcome to the fold Dave.

You can follow me on Twitter @markwilsonit.

Coalface Tech: Episode 4 (Windows 7 and Server 2008 R2)

Coalface Tech podcast graphic
Remember the Coalface Tech podcast that James Bannan and I kicked off? Well, after a long break, we finally got another episode out. To be fair, I didn’t have a lot to do with it – the logistics of scheduling podcast recordings between the UK and Australia, battling with VoIP technology, editing audio, losing our hosting provider and fitting it in with work and family life was all a bit too much. Episode 3 was recorded but, by the time we had it ready, it seemed a bit past its sell by date, so James has recorded episode 4 with a new member of the team: Craig Fiegert, who is a Melbourne-based consultant.

The closure of APC Pro magazine caused us some issues and we’ve moved everything across to the domain (which is currently working off James’ site). For existing subscribers, we hope to be able to put some redirects on to point to the new feeds but, for the time being, you can either listen to Episode 4 via the web or resubscribe at:

Coalface Tech (MP3 podcast) Coalface Tech (MP3 podcast).
Coalface Tech (AAC podcast) Coalface Tech (AAC podcast with chapter markings and context-sensitive links, etc.).

The iTunes feed (which is the one that gets us recognised) should be back and running as soon as the redirects go in and I’ll also look into submitting the podcast to the Zune Store. Meanwhile, Google Feedburner will tell us if anyone is actually listening!

In short – thank you for bearing with us. Hopefully we’ve got through the worst of the infrastructure issues and James hopes to get new episodes out more regularly now. I’ll still be involved in the background and will make an occasional appearance but, until then, enjoy James and Craig’s discussion of Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2.

Super User completes the Stack Overflow trilogy

Super User logoA few months ago, I wrote about Jeff Atwood’s new site for sysadmins, Server Fault and, this week, Jeff launched the third site in the Stack Overflow trilogy: Super User. Like its predecessors, Stack Overflow (for software engineers) and Server Fault (for IT Admins), Super User is a sort of forum-meets-wiki-meets-blog-meets-digg site but this time it’s aimed at power users. There’s more information over on the How-To Geek site but this is a great example of community-based tech support (i.e. no Experts Exchange-style charging for user-generated content, or Yahoo! Answers-style lack of credibility).

Vista Squad has rebranded

The Vista Squad was a popular UK user group for the Windows client and related topics. Of course, now that Windows 7 is here, Vista is old hat and so they have rebranded to the curiously named “Edge” user group.

Existing requests to the old website should redirect to the new domain and the meeting structure will remain the same. Sadly they seem to have dropped the dynamic Lego characters from their logo… that’s a shame because all the other UK UGs have such dull logos.

You can also find follow the Edge User Group on Twitter @edge_ug.