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A nice little graphic popped into my inbox the other day – as well as being quite informative , It marks a little bit of a swansong for Trainsignal – I’ve enjoyed their training videos for many years but they have recently been acquired by Pluralsight. I’m sure the calibre of the videos will remain the same , even if us IT Pro’s do have to share with the Devs Winking smile

 

 

Top virtualization skills to boost your career – An infographic by the team at Trainsignal


If there is one thing that all VMware monitoring solutions have in common , it is a connection to vCenter. The vCenter Web Service is a single point of contact between the outside world and the key performance API’s. What you do with that data once you have collected it varies from application to application , but they will all make that underlying connection to vCenter.

 

This puts vCenter into a bit of a special position within the infrastructure , namely a Single Point of Failure (SPoF)  As the ecosystem has grown up around vSphere , admins have become more and more reliant on vCenter – their backups depend on it , their monitoring depends on it and in some cases their orchestration layer depends on it. That’s a serious number of dependencies to have on a single box. Protecting vCenter from a hardware point of view is quite straightforward , just deploy it as a virtual machine. If you are going down the vCenter appliance route – this is your only choice.

Even if you do cover many of the bases when it comes to protection of the vCenter, there are still a few cases where you might loose it , e.g. storage corruption , back end database failure or even worse a catastrophic failure of the management cluster. When things are all going pear shaped , you still want someone to keep an eye on the business while you are fixing it.

This is where System Center really comes to the rescue – because it is an end to end monitoring framework , its going to be looking at the big picture , sometimes from the application stack downwards. The Health of the virtual infrastructure is simply a component of the picture. Letting the corporate central Operations Centre folk keep an eye on things while you concentrate on fixing the root cause of the outage is going to lead to a faster fix all round , with the subject matter experts doing what they do best !

However , if vCenter is down – how can we monitor the estate ? None of the tools will connect to a web service that isn’t there. With the Veeam Management Pack, we can make use of the Recovery Action feature and some PowerShell , in order to automate our own Veeam Virtualisation Extensions to go and talk directly to the hosts if they can’t talk to vCenter. Lets walk through an example.

 

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Here is my little test setup – I have a couple of vCenters , with a few hosts and VM’s underneath. I’m monitoring it in SCOM 2012 quite happily.

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The Veeam Extensions service is merrily talking away to vCenter, bringing in events , metrics and topology information.

Merrily that is until ( fanfare : Dun dun Dah! ) disaster strikes, or in my case I suspend my vCenter appliance.

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At this point with the standard version of the management pack, You would see the following alert & you would be left without vSphere level monitoring until you could bring vCenter back to life. No host hardware information , no datastore health.

 

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I have managed to persuade the R&D Wizards at Veeam to let me in on a very sneak preview of some upcoming functionality that should be appearing in the not to distant future. In the improved version , the alert above will trigger a Recovery Action . This action will run a PowerShell script to change connection points from the vCenter , to the hosts directly. SCOM has been configured with a credential profile for a root level account on each host.

 

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Once this script is complete , the VESS connection looks like this. The vCenter connection has been disabled (unchecked) – no harm in that, as it’s offline anyway. And direct-to-Host connections have been automatically created by the monitor Recovery Action, using our PowerShell interface.

 

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A short while afterwards , this change is reflected in the SCOM Topology.

 

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note how we are looking at the hosts as individuals. Without  vCenter , there isn’t any vmotion so virtual machines will remain on the hosts they started when vCenter became unavailable. Monitoring teams can continue to keep an eye on the health of virtual machines and hosts for the duration of the outage.

 

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Once vCenter is available again , the collectors run the recovery action in reverse in order to resume monitoring via vCenter.

 

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Notice how the vCenter & datacenter names for the virtual machines have changed back.

 

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As an added bonus , we are able to execute tasks on underlying virtual machines even when vCenter is not available ( such as power on / power off ) – giving us the ability not only to look at the environment , but administer it , even when the centralised administration function is not available. Admins can control power states and manage snapshots without having to manually connect to each host in turn. The rest of the System Center suite has no dependency on vCenter either , The Veeam MP is able to drive data into System Center Orchestrator and System Center Service Manager to maintain host / vm CMDB.

 

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By using Microsoft System Center Operations Manager 2012 , along with Powershell automation , we are enabling an Enterprise systems management team to continue to function during periods of vCenter outage. Keep watching for further releases and watch those SPoF’s !


It seems the world of homelabs has had a few innovations recently , especially with the advent of near silent hardware like the Intel NUC. However , what if you want to go beyond that ? We cant all afford colo hosting or have a lab at our place of work. Wouldn’t it be great if you could just rent some cloud resources for it ? the problem is that most virtual server hosting firms wont actually let you have an ESX environment unless you really shell out for the big bucks. It seems there is now an answer – baremetalcloud providing on demand , dedicated hardware. Thanks to some strong words , softly spoken by Lab Guru Mike Laverick , he’s managed to secure a bit of a discount for the first 100 folks to give it a spin. The platform supports pretty much anything you want , including the most excellent Autolab ( as sponsored by Veeam ) which could you Less than a dollar an hour to run. Given the average cost of a home lab that you have to pay for when you are not using it , this could work out quite effective. Head over to Mike’s site for a detailed guide and use the promo code [b]MAGICMIKE100[/b] for a potential discount !


After recent harasment by some friends of mine , I’ve decided that I really need to get back to some more regular updates. It has been reasonably tough over the fast few months as work has kept me pretty busy. I’ve spent my summer in a few different parts of the world , most recently South Africa – working with the Veeam Teeam based down there , meeting customers and eating some interesting game meats at a restaurent called…. crocadile anyone ?

Over the course of the last year or so , I’ve delivered a good number of presentations for work , but recently was asked to do something a little different. As part of an event, I was required to produce a Demo Video of one of our products , in this case , our management pack for Microsoft SCOM. This in itself is nothing new , we have a whole host of similar videos. The twist on this was that it had to be short , real short – in this case 3 minutes or so. This gave me a bit of a tricky situation – risk going fast and have the customer feel like they were in training for “the Matrix” , or only show what might prove to be an unrepresentative portion of the product.

After a little internal brainstorming with the rest of the technical team , I settled on a few keys points and started to record. Just like an iPhone advert, “some sequences may have been shortened” ;)

This is my first attempt at producing a video like this with camtasia , I hope to try and do some more – perhaps showcasing a few of the upcoming cool new features in the product.


Well the year is starting to wrap up – Twitter avatars look a little snowier and analysts are digging deep into their prediction boxes in the attic to see what 2012 is going to “be the year of <insert technology>”.

 

If you make no other resolutions in the coming 2 weeks or so , make this one , “I will attend a user group meeting” – for example the next London VMware User Group meeting is on the 26th of January, so its a nice early one to tick off the list. If you’d like to sign up for the meeting , head on over to here and sign up. If you feel you need a little more convincing on why a user group is for you, then read on.

 

7 Reasons why you should go to a usergroup

1. Its an educational event – Not only is there a chance to pick up some handy info from the sponsors and members presentations , for instance “how to build 1000 hosts in 10 minutes with VMware auto deploy” by Alan Renouf from VMware , or dabble in “A little orchestration after lunch" with Michael Poore – you could even brush up on those skills to complete a certification such as with Gregg Robertson’s VCP5 Tips & Tricks session.

2. Its a social event – a chance to meet with people who share similar sets of day to day issues as yourself , so its the perfect place to bounce an idea around with a peer group of very bright people

3. Its a fun event – from Alaric’s jokes at the welcome to the laughs and war stories at the pub afterwards its good humour all the way – just because we work in IT doesn’t mean that we’re socially crippled!

4. Its a free event! even lunch and a swift half at the pub later is covered

5. Its an interactive event – Its not just a day of PowerPoint overload , you can get involved with the hands on lab sessions , on this occasion sponsored by the guys over at Embotics, I’m sure you’ll have built a self service cloud portal before you can say “boo!”

6. Its a networking event – People pay quite a lot of money to marketing companies to be able to have “breakfast” with like minded peers for the purpose of networking – being in IT we’re much more practical , we’ll do it for free at the usergroup! Find out the gossip , who’s hiring & who wants to be hired. You might just find that next rockstar position you’ve been promising yourself!

7. Its a community driven event – think you can do better than the guy on stage ? got something worth saying ? well you have the opportunity to prove it at a user group – We love the sponsors, but what makes it a *user* group is the member driven content – it could be a panel / open roundtable or just an aspect of your day to day techie life that you think you’ve done well and would like to tell people about

 

Hopefully there is something that will strike a chord above – and I’ll see you on the 26th!


I used to spend my life in conference calls – its a symptom of working for a global organisation , where your boss and co workers are separated by thousands of miles. It got so frequent I almost felt like I was hearing the familiar bleep every time someone left the room. Occasionally calls would be accompanied by some form of online component , be it livemeeting , WebEx , gotomeeting or any number of similar collaborative tools. More often than not these would be used to display meeting minutes , or to check that colleagues working from home had actually bothered to get dress that morning!

In contrast , a meeting in the office itself used a much more simple tool – a whiteboard. Nothing says brainstorming than 3 or 4 guys fighting for the marker pen by a 6 by 4 foot expanse of shiny white potential. The cloud at the top of any diagram would inevitably get doctored to become “the internet sheep” but a good diagram would remain , almost like a trophy for a few weeks afterwards.

What I think I’m trying to say is that I miss my whiteboards. When I’m not visiting customers, I’m at home in the “office” ( spare room ) and I’ve been banned from putting whiteboards up for now, so I started to think about the alternatives. The thought struck me while I was watching some Training CBT’s , which of course feature the presenter using a tablet as part of an onscreen whiteboard.  Almost all of the tools I use for online collaboration allow some form of whiteboarding, and for everything else , there is always MS paint !

I needed to get myself a tablet , but not break the bank – a quick hunt of my local tech forum confirmed that the weapon of choice for a serious “tabby” as I shall now refer to tablet users seems to be the Wacom Series – they look like pretty handy bits of kit , but at an equally handy price. I know I’m not going to be making heavy use of my tablet for any illustration or photo retouching so an A4 sized beast is probably out of scope – still even the smaller tablets looked a little bit out of the price range for what was still an experimental purchase.

 

Trusty Trust…

Whilst hunting for a second hand tablet on eBay, I noticed a fair number of tablets by the familiar , if a little “cheap and cheerful” brand Trust. The tablets seemed to be pretty reasonably priced at about half the cost of the equivalent Wacom , and with some surprisingly positive reviews. I eventually found the same tablet for almost half the price on Amazon The photo is slightly misleading as I wouldn’t say the surface bends quite that far – I was almost under the impression you could roll the tablet up , which would have made it very portable. It is flexible , but I’m still not sure what sort of purpose the flex servers , other than weight saving. The pen requires a single AAA battery , but its not really affected the balance of it.

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In terms of usage , it was very straightforward – the Windows 7 Installs on both my laptop and desktop picked it up straight away , though there is a supplied driver on CD for some extra tweaking. At the moment I am having more success with the tablet on my laptop rather than desktop – my desktop uses two monitors , which effectively cuts the tablet resolution in two – its still ok for annotating a PowerPoint slide , but I wouldn’t really feel happy drawing a diagram with it. Speaking of drawing, I realised one key element – If you can’t draw on a whiteboard , using a tablet isn’t going to make it much better! I’ve been doing a few test diagrams , and while I think they are probably a bit more personal than freehand with a mouse , I’m not sure if I would really feel happy presenting them to a customer – perhaps I might be better of sticking with Visio after all….


 

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Everyone who is anyone knows that the social highlight of the Vmworld Conference is the Veeam Party – this gets better and better every year and this years one at Copenhagen is no exception.

Numbers are limited so its an invite only gig – but if you are going to Copenhagen and haven’t received an invite yet , then don’t give up hope…

 

I am shamelessly self promoting myself on twitter to break the magic 1000 follower barrier – somehow a viral rumour started that I would wear a mankini at the Veeam Party if this happened. This plan has been vetoed by both of my managers – domestic and employer ( thankfully )  so I’ll be saving you all a fortune in therapist fee’s !

 

However if I do hit 1000 followers before the Veeam Party , I will chose one of the new followers at Random and they will get an invite to join myself ,the Veeam team and a host of VMworld rockstars at an exclusive venue in Copenhagen for a great night out! I will also be making a donating to a worthy & geeky cause ( the vCommunity Trust )

 

admin  note : you must be able to make it to Copenhagen on the 18th for the Party – chances are you will be at VMworld , but if not , I’m not paying for your Transport Smile

 

So for your chance to join in the fun ( and find out what I’m up to ) , all you have to do is Follow @chrisdearden on Twitter and if I hit 1000 before the 18th I’ll choose a winner and get in touch !


No I don’t have the date wrong – There’s a much better thing to do at the beginning of November than trying to blow up a bit of your garden with pyrotechnics. The London VMware User group as stepped up to produce what the committee hopes to be the first of many UK VMware User group days.

 

To be held at the National Motorcycle Museum in Solihull , West Midlands this full day event will have not only a Keynote from VMware’s Joe Baguley , but 4 Tracks of Partner & Community sessions with more Rockstars the Glastonbury !

 

The VMUG “scene” in the UK is going from strength to strength and I’m sure this event will be no exception. Best of all, its free to attend , including an evening reception the night before hosted by Veeam

 

To Sign up for the event , head over to The MyVMUG site for registration. Look forward to seeing you there !


I got wind of a new project launched by Veeam from one of the many, many, many tweets that flooded by tweetdeck during VMworld US week – when my fellow vExpert, Blogger & Colleague Rick Vanover hinted that Veeam was due to launch another free community resource, I was keen to discover !

 

Having made the transition to vendor world, finding content as a blogger can be a little bit more of a search. For some reason, many of Veeam’s competitors don’t seem to want to give me a sneak peak of their products Winking smile ,however in this case the product in question isn’t one that Veeam will be selling !

 

When we shifted into virtualisation, many of us from the physical server world had to make a little bit of a leap of faith into the new mind-set around virtualisation, now that we’ve made it, its is almost second nature to us. If you cast your mind back to those days of 7u file servers, imagine how alien the concept would be that they could be represented as a handful of files running of a single half height blade. Fast wording that concept to today and many people have yet to make that similar leap of faith when it comes to image based backup of VM’s

 

The Backup Academy as developed by Veeam to provide administrators with the foundations and fundamentals of Virtual Machine level backups, no matter who you choose for the solution. Veeam are by no means the first vendor to produce “neutral” training, EMC for example have paved the way with  Their Cloud Certifications last year.

The solution consists of a series of Videos produced by well known community contributors and trainers, such as David Davis, Eric Siebert & Greg Shields . The Academy Professors will be an ever growing list of subject matter experts around the backup and management of virtual machines.

Users of the site will be able to take an exam based on the content and even get a certificate for passing. I personally see the academy as a great way for current backup admins & virtualisation specialists to move to the next level – now that you have made game changing strategies to your production infrastructure, why not do the same for your backups ?

 

to find out more, head to http://backupacademy.com

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One of the more fundamental tasks a good IT professional should undertake is also often one of the least favoured. For a long time I’m sure there was a direct pathway in my brain between “Writing Documentation” and “boring school work” – whilst my education was not quite "Tom Brown’s School Days” Its certainly not something I would class as my favourite pastime. On the whole if I an application has been designed reasonably well you may not think that detailed documentation is really needed, however consider the plight of your peers – during any knowledge transfer stage, detailed documentation is an absolute godsend and will earn you many many management brownie points.

With a half decent screen grabbing utility and a copy of your preferred note taking software, I have often looked on with dread at the task of documenting a multi step wizard, for example cloning a virtual machine. Clicking through each step, taking a screen shot , then noting the exact response isn’t the most fun way to spend an afternoon.

 

I bumped into an old colleague on a long train journey last week & as we were swapping war stories ( one of an IT Pro’s favourite ways of passing the time ) we got round to talking about documentation and he told me of a novel way to make use of one of Windows 7’s hidden Gems..

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I believe the tool was intended as one for end users to be able to document a problem to then pass to a support desk. However its also an excellent way to record a process for documentation resources.  Simply run PSR from the start menu – then click start Record. The resulting file will open in IE or you can edit with Microsoft Word.

Good news for non windows users , the tool also works in Server 2008 R2 – So you should be able to connect to a windows server to run through the wizards where possible.

 

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Above is a screenshot I took using PSR on a windows 2008 VM – I particularly like the way that the area I clicked is outlined in green ! Hope this helps with some of the knowledge transfer pain!

For a tool that helps documentation , there really isn’t that much on it from Microsoft. As good place to start would be

http://windows.microsoft.com/en-US/windows7/How-do-I-use-Problem-Steps-Recorder